new northwest wine labels

Friday, April 08, 2011

It never fails to surprise – the extraordinary lengths to which wineries will go to redesign their labels. Tens of thousands of dollars can go into a single label redesign. And when a winery changes its labels frequently – as Columbia did back in the 1980s and 1990s – the cost has to be taking a major bite out of the budget.

On rare occasions, I have seen some truly outstanding labels that were basically designed by someone scribbling on a napkin. More commonly, I see junky homemade efforts that looked like someone's grade school art project.

A good wine label does many things well. It must serve its ultimate master, the federal government, whose laws dictate and censor constantly. It must please its owners, be they corporate or private, who often feel an emotional connection to what is essentially the "Welcome" sign on their products. It must speak to the consumer, who as often as not is rushing through a grocery store to pick up dinner and a bottle to go with it. And sometimes, a really outstanding label relates to what is in the bottle, with a graceful design, an array of technical data, or an image that connects to the history and raison d'être of the wine inside.

New labels are appearing this spring on a number of important Northwest wines. Here are three to look for.

Substance is a super successful brand with a clever, periodic table design. Christa Hilt, the Marketing Director, writes that “with several successful years under our belt and a unique, recognizable brand, we decided it was time to make some changes and improvements to the Substance brand.” Those changes include:

- A revised label. The front label is now smaller, only contains the varietal's two letter Periodic Table of Wine designation and we are using a linen paper stock that is 30% recycled and the liner of the paper stock is recyclable as well. The back label is longer and the layout of information is revised.

- New ECO series glass. We are sourcing this glass from Saint-Gobain, under their new brand called Verallia. Some examples of the green components of the glass includes reduced consumption of energy for manufacturing and emissions and every bottle utilizes at least 50% recycled glass.

- Using Stelvin Lux in place of corks and capsules (Stelvin Lux is a screwcap under a sleek covering). From our April 26th bottling on, all Substance wines will be screwcap.

New releases (the 2010 whites will be bottled soon and released around Memorial Day. The 2009 Substance reds are currently in the market; the most popular are the Cab Franc, the Tempranillo, and the Counoise.


Adelsheim is one of Oregon’s Pinot pioneers, and in recent vintages, has garnered some of the highest ratings for Oregon wines I have ever awarded. Visitors to the expansive tasting room outside of Newberg find a wide range of single vineyard bottlings not available elsewhere, and the winery has spent two years developing a label that would “incorporate the attributes of our brand and our products into a package that is authentic, elegant and expressive,” explains Catherine Douglas, Adelsheim’s Marketing and Communications Manager.

Adelsheim Single Vineyard Pinot noirs are available almost entirely directly from the winery through wine club programs and the tasting room. Club members will receive wines with the new packaging in their spring shipment. All Adelsheim labels will change and will be released as they come available in the fall of 2011 and spring of 2012. Here is a look at the new design. My own feelings – wait and see. The old drawings still have a compelling, homemade (in a good way) feeling to them. But time marches on.

L’Ecole No 41 is the iconic Walla Walla winery headquartered in the old Lowden schoolhouse west of town. After many years of tweaking the original label, drawn by a young nephew of the winery founders, owners Marty and Megan Clubb have gone in a whole new direction. For a detailed overview of the changes, I refer you to Sean Sullivan’s Washington Wine Report. He calls it "classy and elegant with a look that borders on timeless." I don't disagree, but having known the old label since its inception, I feel more than a little twinge of nostalgia for all it has represented over the years.

So... three new labels, two replacing well-loved and recognized designs from years gone by. Your thoughts?

6 comments:

Anonymous said...

Gotta say I'm not a huge fan of the changes at Adelsheim and L'Ecole 41. I agree that these labels represented the family nature and "homeyness" of these wineries. Not saying that that goes away with the new labels, but it certainly is diminished.

My favorite wineries and wines are from those establishments that feel inviting and have a unique story. Both of the L'Ecole and Adelsheim labels conveyed this and I will surely miss them. It doesn't change the quality of the wine though and as long as they keep pumping out good juice, I'll continue drinking it, regardless of the lable.

Anonymous said...

So, you don't like the new L'Ecole but on the top of the piece you make a dig on some of the one ones you dont like stating, "More commonly, I see junky homemade efforts that looked like someone's grade school art project." Correct me if I am wrong, but I think the original L'Ecole label you like so much was done by a grade schooler.

PaulG said...

Yes, the original L'Ecole was done by a school kid, and yes, I like it very much. So what? My comment about home made labels is accurate as far as I see it, and I see a whole lot of wine labels.

Anonymous said...

Coming from a long time distributor of l'ecole wines, the label change was long overdue. If I had .05 for every time i heard "I love the wine, but the label says $10 merlot, not $40...". Being that they make some the best wines in WA (and have that rich history), their brand can only benefit greatly from the change.

As for Adelsheim, I haven't seen the new packaging other than the one label above...I for one love the current package, especially the single vineyard PNs. I agree with Paul, they are/were compelling and different. I'm sure a company as rock-solid as Adelsheim thought this out completely- will be interesting to see how the changes are received.

Jo Diaz said...

I like the "Mrs. G" angle.

Kevin Cole said...

There may be a more packaging-dependent industry than wine, but I can't offhand think what it would be. With many of Washington's 700+ wineries having started as home projects, it's not a surprise that many are waking up to the reality that they'll either have to compete or be lost in the flood of wine from the northwest alone. Frankly, quite a few more in Washington and Oregon need to update/upgrade.

I might be a little biased on that as my wife is a wine label designer with a good few northwest clients, but I think we'll see a flood of new labels the next few years that make the changes of the last couple look small in comparison.

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