I remember back in the early 1990s the only real “artist labels” on wine that mattered were those that graced the Mouton Rothschild and the Kenwood Vineyards Artist Series. Both were collectible not only for the wine in the bottle but also for the art on the label. And yet interestingly, I recall most of my colleagues in PR and wine marketing thinking that using art on the label was really nothing more than a gimmick and possibly something that might diminish the reputation of the wine in the bottle.
Flash forward 20 years. I can’t think of a good reason NOT to put genuine art on a label, either as a permanent image or as a changing image based on the varietal or the vintage.
I was reminded of this and reminded of how to best use art on a label after spending some time thinking about the wines of Phillips Hill Estate in Anderson Valley and talking to the owner, Toby Hill. Phillips Hill is a winery that has only been around for a few vintages. Only about 1500 cases of Pinot Noir are made annually. But, the wines are beautiful and they have the added benefit of being produced from grapes grown in some of Anderson Valley’s greatest vineyards including “Oppenlander” and “Toulouse”. But in addition to all this…they also carry art on the label.
The Phillips Hill art label is, in my view, the best kind of art wine label: The art on the label is produced by the the owner AND…it’s very good.
But this brings me back to why using art on a wine label is a good idea: It gives buyers of wine ONE MORE REASON to buy the wine; it gives the wine more appeal.
Now I’m not sure that Toby Hill needs to create more appeal for his wines. What’s in the bottle is very good. But, in this market when finding and keeping customers is a full time job, that little extra helps a lot. It gives the person who stumbles into your tasting room one more reason to buy the wine: They like the way it looks from the outside.
Anyone who tells you that all that matters is what’s in the bottle and that everything else is decorations probably hasn’t ever tried to sell or promote a bottle of wine. Wine is not just what’s in the bottle. Wine is a validation of your style. Wine is a validation of your mind’s eye. Wine is a security blanket. Wine is a validation of your lifestyle. Wine is an idea. Wine is a distraction. Wine is an intoxicant. Wine is a reminder. Wine is a piece of art. Wine is liquid in a bottle.
All that said, I think the art label does require a few things to be successful.
1. It should be good art. (I Know what you are thinking…)
2. The art should be connected to the winery in more ways than just being on the label.
3. The story behind the art should be on the bottle.
The Phillips Hill bottling meets these requirements, but in addition, it’s wonderful wine. But frankly, I’m a little surprised more wineries don’t embrace the art label of the “Artist Series”. In particular, this kind of bottling and labeling would work great for wines that are meant primarily for wine club shipments and winery tasting rooms since they may require more explanation and by distributing them this way they won’t disturb any branding that has been accomplished via a primary label.
In short, the message is this: Art on wine = Good.