The wine label is the last frontier in the battle for
By Jennifer Rosen
The wine label is the last frontier in the battle
for consumer’s wallets. It remains the deciding factor in most wine sales, despite writers who bust their butts trying to educate. There are approximately 11,000
different wines sold in the U.S.
and an estimated 75 percent of
purchasing decisions are made
at the point of purchase.
Enormous shelf competition
means that nowadays a bottle has to raise its hand and
shriek “Hey! Over here! Me!”
Labels are getting more and more outrageous. Three-dimensional and
trompe l’œil labels abound. The hologram on Lo Tengo from Argentina’s
Bodega Norton doesn’t just stand out from the crowd – it dances out, with
a couple that dances the tango as you rotate the bottle.
The fish on Australia’s White Point label are safe until you refrigerate
the bottle and a shark appears. The same gee-whiz gimmick makes a thermometer on Loire Valley’s Ten Degrees change color at the ideal serving
temperature. Chill down a bottle of Australia’s Rude Boy or Rude Girl, and
they lose their respective shorts and dress.
Another rude fellow, Fat Bastard, was originally the winemaker’s
appraisal of his latest Chardonnay that reflected the influence of an
Australian catch phrase on his vocabulary. Whatever the catalyst may be,
Fat Bastard continues to sell over 500,000 cases per year. In a recent global marketing study, entitled Premium Knowledge, research found that
"brands that tell a story, that tap into something archetypal and engage
the emotions are the ones that have the capacity to become truly global,"
according to the study's author, Lucia van der Post.
But that wouldn’t explain the meteoric rise of Australia’s Yellowtail
(imported by William J. Deutsch & Sons, Ltd.), which sprung, storyless from
the label stable of designer Barbara Harkness, who calls her ready-to-wear
According to the Global Color Survey,
a yellow label says Happy, making it a
better choice than, say, red, which
consumers associate with Stop and Danger.
brand service “Just Add Wine.” According to the Global Color Survey, a yellow label says Happy, making it a better choice than, say, red, which consumers associate with Stop and Danger.
As for the aboriginal mascot, importer William Deutsch was skeptical at
first. “Having a kangaroo on the front label is like having an Eiffel tower on
a French wine.” But his concern changed as the brand hit five million cases,
becoming the top red in America and capturing 30 percent of the Aussie
market share, more than to giants Southcorp and Rosemount combined.
The “little marsupial that could” is only the latest in a herd of animals
to bounce out of the jungle and onto a label.
Hair of the Dingo has a whimsical little dog and a name that implies
both its origin and when to drink it. Cat’s Phee on a Gooseberry Bush
seems like a weird name for New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc unless you
know it’s a common way of describing the smell of this grape. Fairview’s
Goats do Roam and Goat Rôtie from South Africa playfully jab the French
and their stuffy old appellations.
1. Fat Bastard logo
2. Hair of the Dingo Chardonnay label
3. Yellowtail logo
The spidery, old-world penmanship,
the aristocratic crest and gold lettering
that once guaranteed respectability
now scream stuffy!
Spatzendreck, from South Africa’s Delheim, is winemaker
Spatz Sperling’s nose-thumb at critics. Spatz means sparrow;
the label shows one cheerfully lifting his tail and depositing a
drop of, well, dreck, into the bunghole of a barrel.
Bonny Doon offers up playful titles and the endearingly
irksome artwork of Gary Taxali to challenge the imagination,
which seems to be working given a 22
percent rise in sales this year.
noteworthy 2002 Syrah, Boutieille Call,
proclaims itself to be a naughty bever-
age aimed to reacquaint oneself with
the pleasures of the world, while their
Monterey County Freisa insinuates a
pleasure of a guiltier sort.
spokesperson implies a range of flavor
in the blend, from sweet to acidic,
through his unconventional manners.
It’s the same kind of erratic behavior
that gives this wine its legs, only in a
much more tasteful sense, providing its drinkers the same satisfaction that the slathering tiger on the Bloody Good White
might have experienced after polishing off a pesky wine critic.
It’s hard to believe that these labels gone wild would pros-
per in a traditionally censored medium that reaches back to the
first toga-parties. Mouton Rothschild’s 1993 artist label – a
Balthus sketch of a supine, naked girl - was banned in America.
They might have taken note back in 1975, when Kenwood’s
first Artists Series label, another reclining nude was deemed
too racy for our sensibilities. Kenwood, a bit petulant, removed
her flesh and submitted a reclining skeleton, which was also
rejected. In 1995 the BATF suddenly relented on the original
picture, breasts and all, which is bizarre considering the barechested Queen of Clubs on Oz producer Peter Lehmann’s bottle
was told to leave her nipples at the border. The original artist
4. Ad campaign for Goats do Roam
5. Cat’s Phee on a Gooseberry Bush label
6. Bloody Good White label
7. Boutielle Call label
8. Sin Zin label
9. Spatzendreck label
was obliging enough to paint in a few more inches of shirt.
Canny labels just suggest. The Full Montepulciano, from
Abruzzo, Italy, shows only a narrow tie snaking through the air,
flung by someone just outside the picture.
And no one suggests like Norma-Jean. Her estate-licensed
Marilyn Merlot sells out quickly at any price, sometimes to
people who don’t even like the wine. They
can’t help it, they say, they love her.
Hitler and Mussolini are on an Italian
label that proclaims “One People, One
Empire, One Leader.” Rommel, Goering,
Stalin and Marx are just a few of the other
charmers who have graced producer
Bad taste sells, as Russian River’s Stu Pedasso could tell you, having
sold 7,000 cases in it’s first two years (say the name quickly and it sounds
like something else entirely). Witness California’s White Trash White
and Redneck Red, featuring portraits of trailer park royalty and the slogan “No catfish should be served without it.” Old Tart, England’s contribution to crass, features a shopworn floozy and the advice “Be smart,
enjoy the tart.” Her brother-in-smarms, the similarly depraved Old Git, is
re-dubbed Old Fart on our side of the pond.
Apparently consumers are sick of respect-
ing wine – they want to have fun with it. Tease
it. Pull its hair. How about a wine called Bob?
Look how well Two Buck Chuck did! The spidery, old-world penmanship, the aristocratic
crest and gold lettering that once guaranteed
respectability now scream “stuffy!” The message these days is: “We ain’t your father’s
Bordeaux.” Even Bordeaux is saying it. Check
out, in a screw cap if you please, Soyons
Simple. The translation Be Simple isn’t nearly
as catchy, but you get the point.
Nothing fancy about the big red truck on
France’s Van Rouge, and the Gnekow Family Winery pares it down to the
bone with their bottling: YN.
But the self-conscious simplicity of English bottling Great with
Chicken risks spilling into cutesiness, as Ideal with Friends, complete
with playschool drawing slogan, “A wine to share,” attests.
A wine from France in a red bottle, with a red label and red cork, calls
itself “Red.” The wine inside? Chardonnay. Apparently life is not always
simple. One Hungarian winery faces this fact squarely, calling its wine
“The Unpronounceable Grape.” That grape, for the record, is cserszegi
fuszeres, and I could tell you how to pronounce it but then they’d have
to change the label. And kill you.
10. Marilyn Merlot label
11. Bearitage label
12. White Trash White label
13. A temperature change on a bottle
of Rude Girl.
14. Old Git label
15. YN label