Wine I Purchased for the Label and Why

great label designs for wine and spirits

As a graphic designer of wine and spirits, when I buy a bottle just because I like the label, I get to deduct the expense as a business-related reference material. How sweet is that? With the new tax legislation, a rumor has been circulating that the usual deductions for small business owners are eliminated, but I've recently learned the claim is entirely false. Still, I take nothing for granted and buy “reference materials” with restraint. Usually a photo of an inspiring package design is enough for me to reference when I need a creative boost, but every now and then, I really do consider it necessary to buy the bottle and place it right in front of me while brainstorming. 

For those of you unfamiliar with brainstorming, let me assure you that what I end up developing in a creative exploration looks nothing like the items that may have inspired me. The creative process is fluid and round-about like the whimsical line in the illustration on the La Paca bottle above: you may start out with a hummingbird but end up with a face. 

In this modest collection of wine and spirits purchased last year for their labels, only one has a seriously killer design—The Kraken Black Spiced Rum. Everything is so well done here: the heads down eye catching squid, the dot pattern on the underside of the tentacles, the tiny ship in the upper left corner, the varnish on the brand name to give it sparkle, and the bespoke bottle shape with shoulder hoops. If you appreciate this kind of thing, do take a closer look next time you’re in the liquor aisle.

One bottle in my set has an underwhelming design, but I couldn’t resist the green flying pig. When you want your imagination to take flight, a pig with wings will surely help!

Front and center in my collection is La Peña red wine from Spain. I haven’t been to Spain but I have been to Argentina where there’s a great deal of art similar to the light-hearted, romantic and emotional art on this label. Honestly, I don’t know what this illustration is all about, but it doesn’t matter, because it gives me a happy feeling. For someone who likes to be very clear in my communications, the La Peña label reminds me that evoking an emotional response is of foremost importance in the wine and spirits industry. 

I purchased the Columbia Merlot for its terrific use of photography. Traditionally, photography and wine labels do not mix, but some contemporary brands are pulling it off, especially when the photograph is made to look like a work of art. In this case, the moody and mysterious mountain scene looks like a sophisticated watercolor. The brand name is embossed in gold, assuring the consumer that this wine is worth it. Subtly, the gold connects with the color of the actual bottle and ties everything together. The bottom label gives the impression that each bottle has been signed with the wine maker’s approval. Although the signature is obviously printed, we don’t care; it still looks classy.   

With Uncle Val's Botanical Gin, the batch and bottle numbers actually appear to be done by hand. This label design is all about the details and thoroughly hits the mark in the category of high end handcrafted spirits.

Hanson's Vodka packaging is also full of details but the overall look is not as classy as Uncle Val’s, which is appropriate for certain audiences. The seals, stamps, numbers and letters run every which way but are carefully fit together, communicating that a lot of work went into the creation of this vodka. Still the design is friendly enough to appeal to the millennial. I bet this brand is often the first vodka young couples buy for their shelves.  

Designing to a specific audience and price point is key in any industry. Sand Point's bottle is much better in real life than it is in this photo. Perfectly matched to the price, the design is not too fancy but tasty, with a great use of embossing and varnish. The precious illustration of a quail lingering on a swing gives the impression of a story, time and place where life is peaceful and delightful.

Speaking of a story, the bottles I choose to buy all have one thing in common. They all draw you in with the promise of a story that would be revealed if you were to look closer, if you were to use your imagination and if you were to buy and partake of the wine and spirits.