In Vino Veritas: Judging The Juice By It’s Label

Wine labeling and branding may actually be a more difficult process than winemaking.

The business of branding wine is actually operates like pretty much any other business, just in an exaggerated way. Because there is so much competition and because it is a high volume product wine lives and dies by it’s ability to catch the consumer’s eye. The brands that are successful are so rarely the best products that many true wine lovers have to divorce themselves from being consumers in such an exaggerated way that they become known as snobs.*

What makes a wine successful? 

Price: I cannot stress this point enough, price rules liquor sales. The vast majority of customers want whatever is cheap or on sale that week. Cheap wine is 99 times out of 100 a low quality wine, just like cheap beer or cheap vodka. The only cheap wine that is high quality is unprofitable wine.

History: Gallo has been around for as long as American wine has been relevant. Everyone knows the brand and most people equate familiarity to quality. The problem is that Gallo and their other brands do not make high quality wines. What they really mean is they have been the lowest common denominator for years.**

Labeling: Wines with memorable names and labels sell better than great wines trying to sell on their own merits. It’s everything that our mom’s told us not to do growing up. Judging a book by it’s cover.  Countless times, in retail,  I was faced with a group of half drunk twenty something women who want to drink Girls Night Out, or Little Black Dress. These are both horrendous wines, but they have succeeded in capturing an important piece of the market by having cute labels with very specifically targeted names.

Here are a few wine labeling and branding strategies that work.

1. Pitch The Bitch: If you market to women your wine will be more successful. Women generally drink more wine than men, they also statistically spend less on wine than men. But here is the catch, men buy wine that they think women will like because, men like to have sex with women who are drunk on wine. No guy wants to drink or buy a wine with a cartoon penguin on the label, but they do. No guy wants to drink or buy a wine called Seduction, who’s bottle looks like a corset, but they do. Women are the target of wine sales because both women and men buy wine marketed towards women.***

2. Animals and Other Cutesy Shit: Countless numbers of times you will encounter wine customers who have no idea what kind of wine they want to buy, other than the fact that they vaguely remember a kangaroo on the label. This is how Yellowtail gets away with taking a dump in bottles and calling it wine. If you can handle your product being called, “That cat piss wine,” or “The foot wine,” or even “the one with the cactus on the bottle,” than you will be successful. If your wine’s name isn’t memorable, sometimes you just need to use something that has nothing to do with wine or even something that should not have anything to do with wine to make your product memorable.

3. Dress It Up: This is a marketing tactic as old as time. Putting lipstick on a pig. If you have a low quality wine and you want it to beat the wines in it’s pricing category as well as take market share from premium wine. All you need to do is make your low quality wine look like a premium. A heavier or slightly taller bottle, labels that are striking, and names that sound majestic are all ways to premiumize a non premium product. Vincor’s Copper Moon does this amazingly well. Its a slightly heavier grade of glass, the label is modern and clean so it stands out on the shelf from most of the other Canadian wine, and the name stays with you. It’s gut rotting swill that I wouldn’t subject a sewer to, but it succeeds because it looks more expensive than it’s similarly priced competition.

The reason I am telling you all of this is because I want people to drink good wine. The more people learn about how something is sold to them, the more likely people will support smaller wine operations who focus on making great products. I strive to support winemakers who care about their craft, not the marketing. But, when it comes to making money to support your craft, understanding how wine is sold is a great tool to have in your belt.

*There are wine snobs and then there are wine assholes. I am comfortable being a wine snob and offering small tidbits to the less educated as to allow them to make a more informed decision. Wine assholes like to show off their expensive collections but know nothing about wine. This would be akin to a person who owns a Porsche Panamera with an automatic transmission telling somebody who has lovingly restored a classic Alpha Romeo that he should totally get something newer.

** I kind of hate to pick on Gallo because they run a tight business(and they are not the only ones who do this), but they are exactly what I am talking about when it comes to great branding trumping quality. Without apology, Gallo makes sub-premium products, and many of those you may drink an not even knowing it. Barefoot, Apothic, Dancing Bull, Carlo Rossi, and McWilliams are all Gallo brands, and no real wine person would go within a mile of them.

*** We see this flipped on it’s head when it comes to beer. Beer is mostly marketed to men, but women also buy beer marketed to men because they want to make their boyfriend/husband happy. And presumably to get laid, but I assume that it is much less of a determining factor.