There's a shop in my neighborhood with a whopping wine selection. It must have 50 different Chardonnays on the shelf. That's a damn lot of Chardonnay to choose from. A casual consumer wouldn't know where to begin.
Wouldn't it be great to have a wine expert on hand every time you shopped? I could use a little help with Italian wines myself. Savvy wine retailers have staff working the aisles, but most wine consumers are on their own, and they're lucky if the shelves are posted with a handful of recommendations or reviews.
Retail shelves are the frontline of the battle for the consumer coin. For that reason, wineries spend a lot of time and money on labels.
For those of us who are serious about wine, the label design is insignificant. But for occasional drinkers, the label can be a significant part of the buying decision. If consumers have to choose among four or five Cabernet Sauvignons in their price range, going by the label is no worse than counting out "eeny meeny miny moe."
There isn't a lot of exact science on wine labels, what works and what doesn't—not that major producers aren't always trying to figure what to do next.
In the old days, all a label needed was a vineyard scene or (even swankier) a château. If the winery was really in a trailer park and didn't own a single vine, it didn't matter. Those classic old-school labels still appeal to some wine drinkers, such as collectors stocking an imposing cellar, but bottles stacked on store shelves need more pizzazz. Consumers are always looking for new and different wines. They crave the next big thing.
There are fads of course, like the critter labels popular a few years ago. You couldn't avoid the menagerie of penguins and goats and marsupials and lizards. Believe me I tried. Now there are plenty of wines with silly names like 7 Deadly Zins, Cleavage Creek, Fat Bastard and even Kung Fu Girl. Stu Pedasso was a favorite of mine.
But a snappy name or label does not a successful wine make. Artisan winemakers start in the vineyard, but major wine players think on a Hollywood scale. They target a specific audience (women or millennials for example), then research their preferences, create a wine and packaging that appeals to the target, and finally test market it before a final premiere.
That's how things work at Treasury Wine Estates and other big California wine companies. Francesca Schuler is the chief marketing officer for Treasury, which includes wineries such as Beringer and Penfolds, and she shared a few new projects with me to give you a better idea of how certain wines land on retail shelves.
There's Sledgehammer, a Cabernet and Zinfandel with a North Coast appellation that sells for $15. As the name implies, the wines are boldly flavored and its target consumer is young male professionals. Irreverent comic/actor Adam Carolla is the brand's "face." The label is brash red color and has big, vivid lettering.
Two labels—Emma Pearl and vin Parfait—have an eye on female consumers. After all, women reportedly buy 80 percent of the wine in the United States, according to research by Sonoma State University.
Emma Pearl is aimed at professional women age 35 to 44 with busy lives and kids. The labels are gracefully designed, and the wines are Central Coast Merlot and Chardonnay retailing for $16. The vin Parfait line consists of two wines, Chardonnay and a red blend; both have a touch of sweetness and sell for $14. The target audience is professional women age 21 to 34, single or newly married, and the label is frivolous and feminine.
These wines are already being test marketed around the United States and may be on a shelf near you.
For purists, these sort of market-driven wines are examples of crass pandering, and I can't argue with that. Yet even highly regarded wines like Bordeaux first-growths and California cult Cabernets are packaged to present a specific personality.
At the same time, the people drinking these new wines just may be the future purists. There's room enough for everyone.
As Schuler puts it, "You can spend a lot of time on packaging, but if the wine isn't any good, who cares? Ultimately it's what's inside the bottle the bottle that keeps them coming back."
What's your view on wine labels? Do they influence your buying decisions? Which labels do you think are most or least effective?
Derek Olson — Chicago, IL — May 11, 2011 12:28pm ET
Dry Creek Vineyard — Healdsburg — May 11, 2011 12:52pm ET
Philip A Chauche — Germantown, MD — May 11, 2011 1:41pm ET
Ryan Schmied — Miami, FL. USA — May 11, 2011 4:09pm ET
Tim Fish — Santa Rosa, CA — May 11, 2011 5:15pm ET
Geoff Kaplan — Annapolis, MD — May 11, 2011 10:31pm ET
Ivan Campos — Ottawa, Canada — May 11, 2011 10:33pm ET
Cutting Edge Selections — Ohio — May 11, 2011 11:40pm ET
Greg Flanagan — Bethel CT — May 12, 2011 7:51am ET
Tim Fish — Santa Rosa, CA — May 12, 2011 9:01am ET
Derek Olson — Chicago, IL — May 12, 2011 1:51pm ET
Jamie Sherman — Sacramento — May 12, 2011 5:40pm ET
Keir Mccartney — League City,TX — May 12, 2011 6:13pm ET
Whit Thompson — Rochester, NY — May 13, 2011 9:32am ET
Scott Hendley — Alexandria, VA — May 13, 2011 12:20pm ET
Tom Hailey — Raleigh, NC — May 14, 2011 1:43am ET
Kc Tucker — Escondido, CA USA — May 14, 2011 5:00pm ET
Leonard & Terry Korn — Cathedral City, California, USA — May 15, 2011 9:06pm ET
Don Rauba — Schaumburg, IL — May 17, 2011 11:16pm ET
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