Blog for experts: The last years of the best wine label

Blog for experts: The last 40 years of the wine label (I)

The label is what identifies wine label and presents the wine with a simple sight. It reflects the data as a means of communication between the producer and the consumer. In my 44 years of living with wine and its brands I have seen everything. However, Spain has not been the best example of sanity in the design of labels .

Frequently, the Spanish on duty, given the need to require a professional for any service, always has a friend who can do it for free or for a “friend price.” And so it goes. In the end we have to resort to the “yellow pages” to straighten the mess.

In the Spanish wine sector, three quarters of the same happens, especially in the art of designing a label to wear a bottle. All wineries have a brother-in-law who is a draftsman or painter – a fine brush, it is understood – that for reasons of kinship the aforementioned “cuñao” will have all the time to take him to the “art garden” as a trademark claim. He will try to convince him that these things come into the artistic realm and that the label must move away from the threshed schemes and convey the imagination of the artist. However, more than the imagination of the artist, it is the crazy surrealism of those who seek their own promotion (which better than a label to the world that not an empty art room) is behind the true function of the label such as selling the product With a clear, clean and unambiguous reflection of what lies inside the bottle before purchase.

wine label
Background and first labels

The label also has its history because the Egyptians already labeled the amphorae indicating the origin of the wine, harvest and the name of the winemaker. It is not until the eighteenth century when labeling is used massively as identification in the storage of bottles, although previously the wine was served on the table in anonymous bottles. The daily use of the label begins in the middle of the following century, but with the difficulties of adhering it to the bottle since the adhesives, due to the humidity of the warehouses, did not guarantee to fix the label on the glass container.  

In the final years of the nineteenth century and during the first third of the twentieth century, when wines were bottled at the destination points in the delegations of the wineries in Madrid, Bilbao or wine label Barcelona, ​​the appearance of the bottles was much better as it was packaged and hand tagged at the destination point in a display of craftsmanship topped with a sealing encapsulation.

When in the Seventy I began in the world of wine, the somewhat baroque labels abounded with Gothic allusions with parchment bottom crowned by a coat of arms emblazoned, often invented or of dark origin. Sepia and brownish colors roared for their respects. In those years, cross-band labels also became fashionable following the French model. The best known was the red “blue band” of Paternina, a wine label brand that was at the top of Rioja’s fame. Later, in the following decade, imitations of the Bordeaux label appeared, with the typical graphic illustration of the farmhouse or winery surrounded by vineyards – which did not exist – as a château. A model that was imposed because there was no other historical reference that the Bordeaux wines , being, with the port, the first wines to be packaged in glass. Also, the bottle offered a more villainous panorama, since the Bordelés type that was taller and slender was confused with a shorter and cheaper one that was sold in large volumes and precisely produced by the monopoly of French bottle manufacturers. The adhesion of the labels was deplorable and it was common for the paper to have separate or domed edges. It was the result of labeling machines that, in many cases were overexploited, using inappropriate tails. 

On the labels of large wineries, in general, wine label there has been some sanity in resisting changes or touch-ups. The image of Marqués de Cáceres wine has been the most palpable example. No one can say that design is the work of a creative “pirao”. Nobody would say that it was outlined 50 years ago by some creative New Yorkers and until today it has hardly changed. Its design was not so much for being a paragon of originality but for the tenacity of its owners in reinforcing a brand image sustained by an effective marketing policy and a discreet communication strategy. A strategy of few changes maintained with a stunning regularity that has earned it one of the most renowned Spanish brands in the world. Enrique Forner, the founder of this winery, argued with the maxim conceived by Asa Griggs Candler, who turned an old medicine into the current Coca Cola: “In many companies, to achieve glory it doesn’t matter to win; just fight. ” This example leaves me in doubt if the success of a label is due to its design or simply to the perseverance of its owners in not changing it. In the end, what is worth is the prestige of product quality.

Until the 1980s, a large part of the production and design of the national labeling was born from the Riojan printing presses specialized more in production than in design, adopting the same pattern for all its clients. The only artistic display was to manually or infographically retouch a photo of the facades of the wineries themselves. The so-called branding , an anglicism that refers to the creation of a brand, shone by its absence. The height of the racanería is the review of the year of harvest inserting it in the collar that was fashionable until the end of that decade. The cost of changing the collar every year was less than the change of label.

Then a real fury was born in giving a change to the labeling, more to give a new air of modernity to the brands, but fatally with the aim and retouching imposed by the client. On the other hand, the most powerful brands were put in the hands of British and New York designers, which showed certain conservative attitudes, but improving the balance in the positioning of the texts with emphasis on the types of letters and box size of the different strata Of the label. This work – with high fees – apparently simple, but of great commercial weight in its aesthetics, was not really considered by many wineries, who decided to hire Spanish snipers, many of whom, with undeniable artistic conditions, but without experience in the activity of label design

wine label
Art dreams

In the year 1990 began a decade of profound changes in the quality of Spanish wine and, in parallel, a concern for the design of both the packaging and the label. Of those stale prints, emblazoned shields, color strokes were passed, allusions of pastel tones with pictorial lithographs, but with little care in the distribution of the text. It was about breaking with the past without carefully examining the good side of tradition , with hasty changes without marking a more or less collective style of design. This collective style is only maintained with the Jerez bottle of wine and brandy, whose labels, although cumbersome and complicated in terms of text, almost all are recognizable by the brand and aesthetics.

In those years the first Spanish designers specialized in advertising “copy” began to work in this specialty with a certain dignity, imposing their rules with some courage and preventing any imposition of the client. Some of these labels were models of others, not so much for their aesthetic impact but for their media footprint due to the quality of the wine and its score in reviews and criticisms. That demand for change by the wineries, encouraged in part by the advertising agencies that began to enter a sector such as wine somewhat lazy in advertising investment, generated the proliferation of the aforementioned snipers with cheaper rates. The inexperience of these culminated in breaking with an essential element of wine labels, as is the preservation of certain classical or neoclassical rules that are not found in other products. Something that they respected, not only the British, but even the American designers, because a large number of California wine label respond to a neoclassical sense of design respecting the balance of texts, shapes and dimensions.

Except that the art director is a specialist in label design, it is difficult to combine art and marketing . The great virtue of experts in this genre lies in putting themselves in the place of the wine label consumer and, therefore, they tend to be less bold and more pragmatic. It is difficult for many winemakers to assume the cost of the creative fees of an all white label, clean, with hardly any illustration, without stridency and with little text. The reason is that they see it as a simple design, of apparent little work by the artist, when in reality they are the most effective labels for easy reading and without text that hinder their aesthetic balance. The most palpable example we have in the Rioja bottles of Counter and Preacher. On the main label, only the solid, one or two word mark, the rest of the data is outlined in the back label.

The great “pollution” of the labeling of Spanish wine came from the hand of excessiveness: vertical and narrow wine label looking for a plastic and an artistic reason that only the designer knows. A frequent practice at the end of the last century without taking into account that this label makes it difficult to read above the visual impact. Names in vertical and in some cases chopped along the label and that obsession so widespread of the handwritten mark, in most cases illegible. The last straw came with the adoption of Latin-language words, some hindered by the adoption of the “V” instead of the “U”. And the stubborn obsession to look for names of geographical places without taking into wine label account the beauty of the name and ease of reading, sometimes for sentimental reasons, sometimes because it is understood that every name has a reason, when in fact rarely the documentation of the winery informs the vicissitudes and origins of the brand.

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