Wine Label Design – Tapping Into The Power Of Real

by Paula Sugarman, Owner/Creative Director of Sugarman Design Group

What is the best way to create a distinctive brand message for your winery?
One is to tell the truth. Sounds too simple, doesn’t it? Part of the romance of wine is its connection with the real people who make it and the places they choose to do it. Particularly today, it provides grounding in a world that is otherwise moving too quickly. The same phenomenon is driving the current grow local/buy local produce movement. In today’s article you will see some truth-full labels which may inspire you to tell your own story in the form of a label.

Stuart Spencer, owner and winemaker of St. Amant Winery, chose to make many of his labels a tribute to another time. Like the inky red wines in his bottles, the stories his labels tell are rich with family and vineyard history, creating a strong visual connection for eight distinctly different labels. Stuart carved out some time to chat about the thought behind his wines and branding. His clarity was both pragmatic and romantic.

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St. Amant Winery was started by Stuart’s father, Tim Spencer, in the early 1980’s. St. Amant was his wife Barbara’s maiden name, he thought that name had a better ring to it than Spencer. Tim and Barbara planted grapes in Amador County in 1972 and opened their own winery in 1990. They moved it to Lodi in 1996 where Tim became known as a pioneer in Lodi farming. Tim passed away in 2006 and Stuart is carrying on the family tradition.

Stuart’s first goal with the wine label design was to develop an easy way to identify the wines internally. The labels needed to be distinctive from each other so they could tell the wines apart.  “No more honest mistakes” he said. Necessity is the mother of invention, so a great idea for branding was born.

Since each of their wines has a distinct reason for being, Stuart chose subject matter for his labels that is also distinct, relating to the wines inside the bottle, and holding personal meaning for him. These qualities also make them memorable and resonate with consumers and fans of his winery. Most of the images are photographs he shot himself and were enhanced by his label designers at 6 West Design in Lodi, California. They created a two piece front label, the top part is dedicated to imagery, the bottom is a separate band which prominently identifies the varietal and other information. The images all have a romantically lit, hand tinted quality that puts them somewhere between a photo and an illustration. Most of them tell a story that is rich with some historical significance. Here are a few of my favorites:

The Road Less Traveled Tempranillo
It was the story of this label that inspired me to learn more about St. Amant. The old work boots belonged to Stuart’s father, Tim Spencer, and remain a loving testimony to his life. I can’t think of a better way to be remembered.

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Marian’s Vineyard Old Vine Zinfandel
Every old ranch has some kind of farm equipment from the good old days, but it’s not often appreciated in this way. This photo is the tail end of a 1920’s sulphur duster which is on the St. Amant vineyard property. On the left is the final label image which was enhanced by the designer. The sepia tones add richness and historical reference to the original photo which is on the right.

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Mohr-Fry Old Vine Zinfandel
This image gives me a curiously eerie feeling. It’s really just a photo of the old zinfandel vines. Stuart says a lot of people wonder what it is.

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Tools Of The Trade Barbera
The corkscrews in this image are from a pre-prohibition era winery in Lake County which is still owned by the St. Amant family.

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There are many ways to create distinctive branding. Like the wines they represent, the St. Amant wine label designs have special significance because of their connection with real people and place.  They are unique to St. Amant, something all wineries should strive for when establishing their brand identity. I look forward to the next generation of St. Amant labels and the stories they will tell.


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Paula Sugarman is owner and creative director of Sugarman Design Group, a California graphic design studio specializing in brand identity, wine label design and food package design.

- www.sugarmandesigngroup.com

4 thoughts on “Wine Label Design – Tapping Into The Power Of Real

  1. Paula Post author

    Jerimiah, let’s get this straight. I don’t write this blog to showcase my own work, ie; we did not design these labels. And before you flame, you might take into consideration the point of purchase. These wines are sold in the tasting room, only in the context of that particular winery and that particular experience. They will never be on the shelf in the big box stores competing against thousands of other labels. Yes, there are many other items which could have been used as imagery. So you can use them in wine labels you design. Have at it.

  2. Jerimiah

    The first thing I think about when drinking wine is not an old boot or old tire. In fact these are the farthest things from my mine. If I saw them on the shelf, I would 99% of the time pass on it as the imaging would turn me off.
    I think you made the labels for the client yet missed the mark. You should have been thinking of the clients needs and that was to sell the product to the the clients audience.

    Although the designs have some design continuity you also missed it here with the imaging. There is no correlation between the images and the wines that would be in them or each other. For instance you used wine cork screw and you should have continued this theme by using a sickle which would have been used to harvest grapes in the past. Or, you could have used the old baskets, decanters…

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