The Narrow Window Through Which A Wine’s Back Label Wiggles

labelI picked up the bottle of Cabernet Franc we drank the other night and that had yet to find its way into the recycling. I read the back label. It was one of those back labels that seems to be on every single bottle of wine. I could have written it in my sleep and anyone who drinks wine semi-regularly could have written the label.

“Our Estate vineyard…”, “Handpicked…”, “Unique Terroir…”, “…months in French oak barrels”, “Finishes in the mouth with supple tannins…”

I get the purpose of a back label. It’s either there to help sell the wine in the case of it being on a retail shelf or to confirm the good taste of the purchaser in the case of the bottle having been purchased at a restaurant. I get it.

And of course, the content of the label ought to reinforce the brand image. In the case of most wines costing $40 or more, that’s probably going to be a brand image that emphasizes a serious approach to grape growing, winemaking, terroir or the owner’s ego. It’s a fairly narrow window through which a wine’s back label seems to wiggle.

And so I’m reading this thing and I can’t help but think, “can’t you at least entertain me?” Make me think? Amuse me? Maybe…maybe even spur me to do something…even something small.

Then I thought of all the back labels I’ve written. Probably at least 100. I can probably think of one or two that diverged from this tedious norm. And I started to wonder….is it because it works? Or is it because the ubiquity of this style of back label leads us (marketers) to believe this is just how it’s done? It must be a bit of both.

I start to wonder…

Would employing comedy on a back label make the wine seem less serious than we want it to seem?

Would employing just a bit of mystery or opaqueness make the winery seem too pretentious? (is that possible?)

Would providing buyers with a puzzle to solve on the back label bring down perceived value of the wine?

Would using the back label to provoke buyers to buy other bottles of the same wine in order to collect different pieces of a puzzle that, when all collected, results in a prize be just too stupid.

I re-read the back label of the empty bottle. “Located on a hillside…”, “…in the cool morning air”, “…That delivers unique character to the wine,” “The wine was aged for 16…”, “…and notes of cocoa, anise and ripe blackberry flavors”.

Less serious, opaqueness, puzzles, stupid and collectible items weren’t seeming all too bad.

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13 Responses

  1. Thomas Pellechia - December 16, 2013

    How about dispensing with the verbiage that most probably don’t believe or even read anymore?

    Then of course, marketers will be left with a question: how will the consumer know what to think?

  2. Courtney Holmes - December 16, 2013

    I am up for the challenge if you are Tom! Let’s break the mold, have the label be a thing that makes you go “Hum?”

    But beyond that we need to ask ourselves why is the consumer reading the label? How can we meet and exceed their expectation. Humor is one way. How ’bout a Haiku or Sonnet?Maybe it isn’t the marketers that don’t want to step out of the box, but the winemaker? It can be scary stepping out of that box.

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  4. Chris Arlen - December 16, 2013

    There may be a hierarchy of things to include on the back label. For me that would be:

    1) Describe the foods this wine would soar with – and consequently which foods to avoid pairing it with unless one truly loves the taste of battery acid in the morning.

    2) Romantic description of the banal production data – so give me the facts but wrap them in a skein of guanciale

    3) The puzzle hook (based on your idea from this post) of how this wine is a piece of the meaning of life and unless I buy/drink the next in the series I’ve wasted a lifetime. Compel me to buy the next.

    Just a thought.

  5. Shawn Burgert - December 16, 2013

    I must agree Tom. A wine back that provides some type of value would be a nice change.

  6. Paul - December 16, 2013

    Very interesting… but it would have been nice for you to provide a couple of examples of those labels that diverge from the norm.

  7. Scott - December 16, 2013

    The timing of this post is so funny…I just today received the new back labels for my brand. Nothing on the back other than barcode, gov warning and other required TTB info. Oh, and the sentence, “small hand-crafted wines from the Sierra Foothills”

    I was pretty nervous about taking everything off that I thought told the story. But recently we realized that what told the story was, well…us. I’ll let ya know f there’s any fallout.

    Full disclosure, very few of our wines are sold on store shelves where the average customer would have absolutely no idea who we are.

  8. Terroirist: A Daily Wine Blog » Daily Wine News: Web Power - December 17, 2013

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  9. Docvino - December 17, 2013

    Why not put the contents like Ridge does? I agree many back labels have the same vague descriptors. We should DEMAND transparency by our winemakers. With liquor you can put just about ANYTHING in the ingredient list. I would like to think wine answers to a higher authority but is often not the “case”. Follow link to see what should be on EVERY label.

  10. Steve Burch - December 17, 2013

    I like the idea of shaking things up. I have put a literary style on back labels and a super simplified style. My favorites have always been by Randall Graham. Brilliant, funny and sometimes even related to the wine in the bottle. I have also (under duress) written a ton of “This wine, blah blah blah. Hints of , notes of . Hate them. The food thing is touchy. Food pairing is more about how you prepare the food. Not what you prepare. (See Tim Hanni’s book).

  11. Jordan - December 17, 2013

    How about a “subject to” checklist? Reverse osmosis? Centrifuge machine? Fining with isinglass?

  12. Jason - December 18, 2013

    I guess this is why I almost never read the back label.


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