By: Gerald Dlubala
A wine bottle is more than just a vessel that gets wine into the hands of consumers. The wine inside that bottle reflects the winemaker, providing a story of their life and their passion. It creates an identity and image for the wine that becomes the brand. Creating a label that is reflective of these components is important for both the winemaker and the consumer. There are many options out there, whether purchasing the labels from a printer, going paperless, printing them in-house or a combination, each with advantages and uses. One thing stays consistent when considering a label—it needs to reflect the brand and image the winemaker believes in while also attracting the shelf-surfing eye of the consumer.
Professionally Printed Designs are Limitless
“A label designed to grab attention on the shelf is the name of the game, and that’s what we do best,” said Katie Harrington, Marketing Manager of Blue Label Packaging Company in Lancaster, Ohio. “The sky is the limit regarding wine labeling, and that presents an incredible opportunity for wine producers. We know that the labels are what grabs the consumer’s attention and encourages them to pick the bottle up. There are so many ways to do that now, that it’s only up to the imagination as to what comes through our door.”
“With the flexibility in budgets that we see from wineries, there are endless options, even for small runs,” said Harrington. “Self-adhesive and pressure sensitive labels are the most common in the wine industry, and we can always help the winemaker with sizing needs based on what they want to do, how they want to do it and how they apply the labels.”
After that, the choices are endless, starting with a choice between standard traditional paper labels through increasingly sturdier estate paper selections. Paper labels are still the most widely used in the industry, and because there are multiple types and combinations of paper to choose from, winemakers have a bit of an advantage when not having to keep their wines refrigerated.
“Paper textures with a linen or cobblestone feel are examples of great bases for eye-catching designs,” said Harrington. “The interesting thing is we’ve actually found that a label’s texture or combination of textures is at least equally as important as the design itself in establishing brand and product identity.”
The bevy of options carries on through label design as well.
“With new clients, we’re here to listen and then show you the possibilities regarding textures, color choices, design types and enhancements like die cuts, embossing, foil stamping, double-sided printing or a combination of any of these and more,” Harrington said. “It really is exciting as to what can be done, and then there are options for almost every step along the way as well. If you are interested in foil stamping but your budget doesn’t allow it, we can actually simulate that sheen and label pop by doing things a little different with a combination of color blocking and our translucent inks. Some winemakers choose to be unique with variable imaging, where every single label is different but themed or connected in some way. For example, we’ve had labels printed with each label featuring different sections of a map or different pictures that are all related and connect with their brand or image. And we’ve all seen the labels with printed codes so that the consumer can scan them and get information on the wine, winery, winemaker or whatever message the winemaker wants to pass along. Codes can also be added for tracking or origination purposes if needed. And if desired, finished labels can be coated with a UV varnish to protect the label from damage during shipping or to add texturized appearance like a gloss, satin or matte finish.”
Harrington told The Grapevine Magazine that Blue Label Packaging uses HP Indigo printers and can attain the entire color spectrum using their four or seven color units, making color choices endless. Unlike many label designers and printers, Blue Label does everything in-house. There is no outsourcing because of labor-intensive or highly technical functions that need to be incorporated.
“Label designs have become a very important marketing tool for winemakers, and the trends have shown some interesting choices and patterns,” said Harrington. “There is a prevalence in adventuresome packaging, with winemakers choosing to either go very minimalistic—using just one base color or a foil to distinguish their brand and leave the wine to provide the experience—or to go all out with the most ornate and design loaded label possible. They’ll use several passes on the same label for layering, coming up with scenes using foil, embossing, special die-cut layers or a combination of options. The labeled bottles are almost too much like art to discard after emptying.”
Harrington also said that recently, some wineries have begun to embrace labeling practices seen mostly in the brewing industry.
“One other thing that is just starting is the increased use of the shrink sleeves that are popular in the beer industry. They have their own tamper seal and provide 360-degree coverage, which in the label aspect means 360-degree label printing and decorating availability. Right now, we see it mostly in the small travel packs or four-pack small bottles, but it’s another option.”
Screen Printed Wine Labels Offer Simplicity but take Planning
Screen-printed labels are a natural transition from paper labels, allowing wineries to get rid of the need to purchase, set up, operate and maintain a labeling machine. Screen printing generally delivers a freshened-up look from original paper label artwork, transposed onto the wine bottle surface. After the bottles are loaded up with ink, they travel through a lehr-type oven, meaning a long kiln with an end-to-end temperature gradient, common in glassmaking production. As the bottle moves along the kiln’s path, the screen-printed label gradually cools, making it durable with no print or color errors or runs.
The advantage of using screen printed labels is the potential for simplification and added durability. The wine bottle can be used as the background color rather than starting with a colored paper background. Although screen printing can generally handle up to 10 colors, including pricier precious inks like gold and silver, the average winery uses only two or three, and rarely more than six. Screen printed labels are less likely to be damaged by scuffing or rubbing during transportation and distribution, and refrigeration, humidity or moisture are not as much of a concern as they are with paper labels. Once bottling is underway, the setup and management of the filling process are streamlined by one step since there’s no need to apply labels.
The disadvantage to screen printing is that it takes additional upfront planning and reliable logistical scheduling to make sure that enough bottles are printed and on location for bottling. Depending on the printer company and the number of bottles to be screen printed, the turnaround date on having bottles shipped out, printed and returned can range from one to three weeks.
Etching Provides Distinction & Elegance
Bottle etching is a process that delivers a distinctive version of a label or brand image by carving into the bottle’s surface. It can be done on filled bottles because it is a cold process, blasting a very fine silicate, like aluminum oxide, through a series of nozzles to permanently, but gently, engrave the label onto the bottle. Once the label is etched onto the glass surface, paint can be applied to complete a true work-of-art label. The number of passes and color changes the bottle goes through is determined by the complexity of the image.
Because etching is a labor-intensive and pricey option, it’s generally reserved for special occasions wines. Etched label bottles are great for fundraisers, gifts, wine club memberships, special releases or for display in tasting rooms. They can also be made to commemorate personal milestones like anniversaries, birthdays or wedding party gifts, or winery production milestones like bottles or barrels produced. Etched bottles are kept for their artwork as keepsakes, and, when coupled with matching etched glasses, can make an ordinary occasion elegant and memorable.
Self-Printed Labels for Flexibility and Convenience
Printing labels in-house offers the ultimate in flexibility and is a quality option for wineries that have multiple small runs with different products or like to change their label design or type frequently. Smaller run wine producers that prefer an on-demand, do-it-yourself approach to creating labels can do that with the right equipment. Companies like Primera Technology, a leading manufacturer of specialty printers, offer equipment that specifically caters to wineries that want or need to print their labels in-house. The printers are operated and controlled from a PC or laptop and are compatible with both Windows and Mac environments.
Machine costs run the spectrum based on what the winery wants to do and how fast it needs it done but generally start around $1,000. Production from a cartridge of color ink will always depend on the coverage needed for the label. So, as with a budget for a professionally printed label, it’s wise to consider the color choices and design complexity. Circular and nonstandard labels are accommodated by readjusting the print settings.
Printing labels in-house is an advantage for wineries that need label changes quickly or frequently produce specially bottled wines for private or public functions, seasonal specials, corporate gifts or any event requesting specialized labeling.