You probably cruised the aisles of your local wine shop or grocery store this past weekend. Did you notice the plethora of wines screaming “pick ME!!”? Well, some scream and some charm you with their elegant subtlety. It’s a wide spectrum of personalities and cultures – like the United Nations of Grape.
In any case, a wine label is meant to visually represent the juice in the bottle with a single snapshot. Legacy, aesthetic, description, and brand all play a role in what makes up a label’s design. In some countries, like France & Italy, the label is a critical piece to conveying government-regulated quality. As a result, what’s slapped on a given bottle of vino is far from a lazy decision made by a hungover intern.
A quality label design also requires a quality designer. So we went right to the source and had a chat with Simon Frouws, who chiefs up the design studio The Famous Frouws. Simon, who resides in the tiny island nation of Mauritius, specializes in package design for spirits, beer, and food. But he has a special touch for the intricacy of wine labels. As Simon will attest, there’s a lot more than meets the eye:
What is your discovery process of designing a wine label? Where does the inspiration come from?
My process is not to follow too strict a process. While it may sound strange, it’s worked out very well for me. Not planning too much allows for a degree of serendipity, and the ability to rebel against the initial idea if need be. I’m often pleasantly surprised by what I end up with as a solution. In fact, the solution often presents itself if you allow it to.
I listen carefully to the team at the winery. Out of a single well-chosen word, a magical idea can blossom. But trusting my gut instinct allows me to be courageous as well.
People often say, “There’s no such thing as a bad idea”. That’s not true. I don’t write down everything that pops into my head. Be ruthless. As a designer, I’m paid to provide a creative solution, not a multitude of half-baked options.
Inspiration can be found in anything, so it’s important to keep an open mind. I pride myself on drawing from a wide range of influences – art history, humour, foreign cultures, life itself.
Wine is holistic in both product and experience – from root to grape and catering to most of our senses. How does this factor into your label designs?
A label design, like the product, needs to tell a larger story to engage the consumer. Unless you’re a famous winery that transcends fashion, you have to stay fresh.
The marketplace is flooded with amazing wines, and equally amazing wine labels. The successful ones tend to stand out with a single-track statement. But there are many other factors too. For a high-priced wine, looking credible is of course very important. Colour is a big influencer. Typographic choices, etc.
How does designing a wine label compare/contrast from designing other types of booze labels?
It’s increasingly difficult for a label to stand out in the wine aisle. Good design has become almost ubiquitous. I liken it to the music industry. It’s highly competitive, the shelf space is minimal, and every single possible category and niche is already filled. And don’t get me started on trademarks!
While I have my fair share of wine label projects on the go, I’m currently creating packaging for a French brandy, a Mexican mezcal, a flavoured whisky from Oregon as well as a vodka and 2 gins. Craft gin is an especially popular category right now, and there’s a definite trend in winemakers dabbling in spirits on the side.
Is there a favorite label you’ve designed?
In terms of wine, these are some of my favourites (traditional, modern and in-between):
I’m also very proud of this range of tequilas that I worked on recently. Everything is custom drawn, even the font:
What should one look for when inspecting a wine label? Anything characteristic of the wine they’ll be consuming?
Modern wine labels have certainly evolved beyond their original function as mini billboards for the wine itself. Sure, there may be a sense of the character of the wine from the overall feel – e.g. looking traditional, modern, up-market, etc. but often they bear little resemblance to what’s inside the bottle. The labels in themselves are there to attract, entertain, engage and sometimes even challenge.
As an interesting anecdote to end with, I worked with a guy called Rob. He’s the stereotype of every hardcore biker – shaved head, tattoos, clad in leather, loves Death Metal and beer. When clients hadn’t provided the wine character and pairing notes for the back label, he used to spend 5 minutes on Google, and simply stitch together bits from existing labels. And, yes, most ended up going straight to print. So, don’t trust everything that you read!