Labels: Dressing Up Your Wine

Can a good label make your wine taste better? Not in the sense that it alters the chemistry involved in your senses of taste and smell, but your enjoyment of wine is more than chemistry. A California Institute of Technology experiment showed that expectations and psychology have a big impact on how much people enjoy a particular wine: test subjects liked wine better when told it was more expensive. This means we home winemakers need to present and serve our wines with pride if we are to get the most enjoyment out of them.

A good label on a clean bottle, without scuff marks of the previous label on it, is part of that presentation. It should be attractive and informative. An informative label answers questions about it. You don’t have a lot of room on the label so make sure you cover the basics, like “what am I drinking?” and “is it sweet or dry?” If you’re serving to other winemakers, then measurements like specific gravity (SG), titratable acidity (TA), and pH might be important. Attractive labels make people feel good about the wine and want to try it (and if the CIT results can be applied here, make it “taste better”).

The Image: Tell a story

My labels are usually text on artwork. I try to choose artwork that reflects the wine in some way. This relationship between the label and the wine can make a nice story to tell your guests as you serve the wine. That can mean showing the base fruit of the wine on the label – one of my apple wine labels featured a woman eating an apple. It can mean color and mood coming together the way a fun pinup of a woman blushing became the artwork for my “Raspberry Blush” wine. It almost certainly means different things to different people. To me, wine and mead are feminine so most of my labels are too – though I did use a self portrait on my first wine from grapes and the Dharma Initiative logo on a wine I bottled just as a new season of Lost was starting.

The Text: Explain and get them interested

Once I have the artwork, I choose the text style and color to match. Placement is just as important. You don’t want to trample over a beautiful sunset or a pretty smile with boldfaced text. The top and bottom are usually good places, and you can often say a lot on one side or the other without ruining or upstaging the artwork. What do you say? That depends on who you’re serving to. For other winemakers, you might include the basic measurements, the yeast, and other details about how you made it. If you mainly serve mead or unusual wine to friends who are unfamiliar with it, then a short explanation can go a long way. You might say something like, “apple juice and sugar can ferment into a terrific white wine!” or “men have been fermenting honey and water to make mead for centuries.” Remember, you haven’t got a lot of room so keep it short, tell them what they’re drinking, and pique their interest.

If you already make labels for your wine, I’d love to hear about them. If not, give it a try. You might find it’s just the finishing touch to set your wines apart.

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2 thoughts on “Labels: Dressing Up Your Wine

  1. John H.

    Hey, Erroll. It’s been awhile. I hope your holidays went well!

    I made a blueberry wine in 2009 from berries I got for free (best kind, methinks!). My first blueberry wine in 2008 was ill-accepted by most (a bit tart), so I was a bit nervous about serving this one when my sister and brother-in-law came from out of state for the holidays. However, this particular batch was “tested” prior to serving, and I let it sit in the gallon carboy under airlock with a three inch ullage for approximately 28 hours. This was apparently all the wine needed, as it tasted quite wonderful when time came to serve it. I even had people commenting with “Wow! That is really good wine!” when I thought it was merely passable.

    My point is that I wished that I had a good label for that wine, but I haven’t had the capability of producing a decent label in all the time I’ve been making wines. I wonder, therefore, if you would be so kind as to point me in the right direction. How do you do it? Is there a brand of label I should get? Perhaps one that has software to plot the label out prior to printing…? Or is there a better way of plotting the label on Word? I have a nice monochromatic laser printer attached to my computer, and I don’t mind using “prefab” labels so as to be able to have some color in the end result, if that’s advisable. What do you suggest that would take minimal investment and give maximum results?

    As always, my friend, thanks for taking the time to keep your blog up. It means a lot to me as a beginner winemaker.

  2. Erroll Post author

    Hi John,

    I have used Microsoft Publisher and Adobe Photoshop Elements to make labels. Publisher has more options for printing, including many presets for Avery labels. Elements allows more control over image and text editing. I just print to plain paper and cut the labels by hand (used to use scissors, now I have a cutter). I attach them to bottles with glue (plain old Elmer’s works, I use a glue stick). I’ve wondered about buying sheets of Avery labels and using Publisher or some other package that can automatically print them out. Some homebrew shops sell wine labels with artwork on them, but I’ve never used them so I don’t know much about them.

    Hope this helps, and thank you for the good wishes. I did have a nice holiday season, and I hope you did too. Congratulations on the blueberry wine!


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