Wine Branding

Wine branding: the ultimate guide

If you’ve ever walked the aisles of a liquor store, you know wine isn’t just wine. There’s all the varietals, then there’s all the varieties. Choosing the right bottle to drink with dinner can quickly become a daunting task. But there is one thing that can instantly set a bottle apart from all the rest: great wine branding.

Let’s be real—and this may shock you if you’re a trained oenophile (aka somebody who really knows their wines)—most people buy wine based on the label on its bottle. That’s why your wine branding needs to perfectly embody your winery’s identity. At a glance, a wine label should tell you everything you need to know about the wine: the varietal, the target consumer, the origin, the notes and the right kind of setting for the wine. How? Through thoughtful wine branding.

Whether you’re a hobby winemaker making just a few barrels for yourself and your close friends, a larger-scale winemaker looking to take your craft to the market or a graphic designer tasked with creating a delicious wine label, designing with your wine’s brand in mind is a sure way to guarantee it ends up in the right drinkers’ glasses.

Here’s everything you need to know about branding your wine from start to finish:

Understanding wine branding

We often have this perception of wine as being classy and fancy. Or at least, we did. But brands like Charles Shaw, better known as Trader Joe’s “Two Buck Chuck,” have changed that perception for consumers.

Charles Shaw wines

Charles Shaw wines from Trader Joe’s. Image via The Wine Idiot

With wine, there’s a big difference between inexpensive and cheap. When you hear the phrase “cheap wine,” what do you picture? For a lot of us, cheap wine means a big ol’ jug under the counter or a cardboard box with a plastic spigot. You’re not picturing Charles Shaw or Red Diamond, even though these wines cost about the same as the aforementioned “cheap” wines. Why? Effective wine branding.

minimalistic pink and white label for rose wine

Simple doesn’t have to mean boring, as lots of minimalistic wine labels demonstrate. Wine label design by ADD778 via 99designs by Vista.

Great wine branding, which includes a professional-looking and visually pleasing logo, label, color palette and bottle choice, instantly creates a good first impression.

Many modern winemakers like to go for a striking yet clean and simple look using sans serif fonts, bright colors and bold imagery. More traditional brands, on the other hand, communicate their classic style through design conventions like wordmark logos, classic imagery, serif fonts and muted colors.

Wine branding goes beyond label design. Little details about the bottle, like its shape and whether it’s a cork or a screw top, also guide buyers’ perception of your brand. Even the packaging it comes in, if it comes in packaging beyond the bottle itself, communicates where your wine fits into its market.

With wine branding, or really, any kind of branding, buyers’ perception is everything. That’s why so many wines still have corks. The reality is, a screw top keeps oxygen out of the wine better than corks do, making it the ideal choice for white wines that don’t benefit from slight oxidation. But because buyers associate a screw top with a less valuable wine, lots of wine brands continue to seal up their whites with corks.

In a lot of ways, wine branding is similar to whiskey branding. With both, buyers expect an expensive bottle to look expensive. Contrast that with beer, where you’ll only find crests and corks on the most expensive craft brews.

Identifying who’s drinking your wine

Branding any product effectively requires you to accurately identify your ideal customer persona. In other words, in order to sell your wine to the person who’ll enthusiastically buy it, drink it and buy it again, you need a crystal-clear image of who that person is.

wine label with an illustration of an otter wearing a hat

Maybe your ideal drinkers see themselves like this otter; drinkers of a cool brand. Wine label design by Mad pepper via 99designs by Vista.

Wine drinkers aren’t the same as beer drinkers. Nor are they the same as whiskey or vodka drinkers. Sure, a person might like all of these options and drink different things as the occasion calls for them, but when it comes to marketing to wine drinkers, your branding has to fit wine drinker personas. Think of the mom who shares a bottle with her best friends or the retiree who’s recently gotten into gourmet cooking.

wine label showing Santa and reindeer against a tree

And specifically, why are they drinking it? Maybe your ideal buyer is a gracious holiday host. Wine label design by skahorse via 99designs by Vista.

Ask yourself the following questions to determine your wine’s customer avatar:

  • What’s my ideal buyer’s approximate age range? Late 20s, 30s-40s, 50s+?
  • Where do they buy wine? Specialty bottle shops, discount liquor stores, the grocery store?
  • When do they drink wine? At parties they host? At BYOB restaurants? Relaxing on the couch while they watch TV?
  • Do they consider themselves a casual wine drinker, a connoisseur or something in between? Would they use a phrase like “wine snob” to describe themselves?
  • How often do they buy wine? Is wine a weekly grocery they pick up or something they buy just for special occasions?
  • How comfortable are they picking out a bottle? Do they know exactly what kind of wine they’re looking to pair with a specific meal, or do they need help finding something they’d like?

Once you’ve determined who your wine is for, you can develop a brand identity that appeals to that buyer. That means choosing the right font, picking an appealing color palette and designing a label that meets their gaze from the shelf and draws them in. If you need a refresher on creating your brand identity, check out our comprehensive brand identity guide.

dark wine bottle with a gold leaf label of squares and a tree

This bottle might not be right for a BBQ, but it’s perfect for tapas night. Wine label design by Esteban Tolosa via 99designs by Vista.

Wine branding for different varietals

Any discussion on wine branding needs to include a discussion on branding different varietals. One, because each varietal has a different feel—its own brand, you could say—and two, because if you plan on releasing more than one varietal, you’ll probably want their labels to be similar enough that buyers know they’re the same brand, but unique enough that each has its own distinct flavor.

three labels for three distinct wine varietals

Altering your label for different varietals is an effective way to differentiate your wines while staying on-brand. Wine label design by nevergohungry via 99designs by Vista.

Consider the characteristics of each varietal you want to include in your wine branding. How would you visualize these characteristics? Pinning down these visual representations can help you develop labels for the different varietals you’re bringing to the market. For example, you could consider lighter colors and circles and other bubbly imagery in a label for a sparkling wine or a bold, complex geometric pattern for a cabernet.

If you’ve got more than one varietal, it’s important that you keep some consistency across their labels. This can be your logo, like how each wine in Apothic Wines’ line features a version of the logo on its label or a theme, like how each of the Prophecy wines has a tarot-inspired image on its label.

Telling your brand story

Your wine’s branding should effectively tell your brand story. Not just your origin story, but the story of who you are now and the impact you’re making on your market.

Telling this story visually doesn’t mean a storyboard play-by-play of how you decided to start making and selling wine—though a minimalist comic strip wrapping exactly that around your bottle would be cool! But it’s not the right move for a lot of brands, and if it’s not the right move for yours, there are lots of other ways to effectively tell your story through imagery.

blue wine label with yellow text explaining the brand story

This label tells us all we need to know: what kind of wine it is, where it’s from and the heritage that shaped it. Wine label design by Wooden Horse via 99designs by Vista.

Maybe the perfect label for your wine is one featuring a minimalist line drawing of grapes and vines. Or maybe it’s one with an astronaut enjoying a glass of wine in space, colored with tiny dots and thick black lines reminiscent of old-school comic books and CMYK printing.

Just like you identified your target audience by answering a series of questions about them, you can work out your brand story’s main plot points by answering questions like:

  • Where do we fit into the wine market?
  • What drove us to start producing wine?
  • How long have we been making wine?
  • What varietals do we focus on?
  • Who do we envision buying and consuming our wine?
  • What are our brand values and goals?
  • What sets us apart from our competitors?

Then, determine which colors, shapes, fonts, imagery and word choices for your name and supporting copy communicate that story most effectively. If you’re not sure how to find these, check out our guide to brand storytelling.

Creating and selling your unique wine

Branding and bringing your wine to market as an independent company is a bit different from operating a winery. Laws regarding the licensing required to make and sell wine vary from country to country, so be sure to thoroughly check your local laws.

If you want to sell your wine commercially in the United States for example, you’ll need to apply for a permit to do so from the US Department of the Treasury Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau. You can find all the information you need about this type of permit on their website.

minimalist wine label featuring an illustration of a woman

Playing with contrast can create a dramatic look for your wine label. Wine label design by merci dsgn via 99designs by Vista.

You’ll also need a facility to actually produce the wine. For most up-and-coming wine brands that are just starting out, the answer is a custom crush facility. A custom crush facility is a bonded winery that does the actual manufacturing—and sometimes, the bottling and labeling—for you. You’re still responsible for obtaining all required permits to manufacture and sell wine; all the facility does is provide the space and equipment you need to manufacture it.

illustration image of a deer with colored flowers around its antlers

Liqueur label design by leMOTIVE via 99designs by Vista.

Once you have made your delicious wine, the next step in launching your wine into the world is letting people know it exists. What’s most important here is to focus on the marketing channels that have the most reach amongst your target audience.

There are lots of ways to build brand awareness, like social media campaigns, free tastings in liquor stores, partnerships with other brands and search engine ads. Take a look at our articles on digital advertising, brand marketing and developing a social media strategy to learn all about it.

Get delicious branding for your wine

Your wine branding is what sets you apart from every other bottle on the shelf. Don’t underestimate the power of effective and well-targeted brand design.

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Author: Lindsay Kramer