According to figures from the San Francisco-based Wine Institute, retail wine sales in the U.S. reached $15.1 billion in 1997, the highest ever, and volumes topped off at 532 million gallons. While those figures are nothing for vintners to whine about, competition is becoming fierce. Perhaps mirrored by the recent flood of microbrewed beers, the emergence of small wineries in the marketplace is noticeable, even to the non-connoisseur. It's causing vintners-whether producing wine in tiny volumes or in mass quantities-to depend on the appeal of packaging. Specifically, wineries want their labels to help create a presence on store shelves and in tasting rooms. Judging by the many wine labels that have won awards at recent competitions, the vintners must be doing something right. In this story, Packaging World reviews a sampling of packages whose labels were winners in several prestigious competitions. Traditional Rusack Introduced in 1995, Rusack Vineyards' line of seven wines employs a label design that creates a historical look for the three-year old Solvang, CA, winery. The wines are sold locally at restaurants and through the winery tasting room. Suggested retail price ranges from $11.50 to $21. "We wanted the 'old California' look," says Geoff Rusack of Rusack Vineyards. "We wanted to lend a feeling of stability-the feeling that our winery has been around and is going to stay around for a long time." The label graphic has been honored in several label competitions. It won an award in the multi-process color process category at the competition sponsored by the Tag and Label Manufacturers Institute, Inc. (Naperville, IL). It also won an award at FINAT, a European label competition, and in the offset class at the World Label Assn. (Chesterfield, MO) awards competition, which is limited to winners of the TLMI awards (representing North America), Japan's JFLP competition, and Europe's FINAT. Tapp Technologies (Langley, British Columbia, Canada) provides the pressure-sensitive labels, which require two print passes. In the first, the paper is offset-printed in four colors and hot-stamped in gold to produce the vignettes. Next, black ink is printed over the hot stamping to create an antiqued gold border. Graphics were executed by Pierre Rademaker Design (San Luis Obispo, CA). A range of bottles are used from various suppliers. The company uses wax in lieu of polyvinyl chloride capsules to seal the cork inside the bottle. Due to some changes in its leased automated bottling line, Rusack is currently applying its labels by hand. "We're in the market for a new labeler," says Rusack. 'Subtle' Home changes In early '97, Sutter Home Winery's Fré(TM) non-alcoholic wine underwent a facelift that turned heads, even at the World Label Assn. competition, where it won in the category of multi-process, line. It also won a first place award in the multi-process, line prime, at TLMI. "The package is the prime selling tool," says a spokesperson at Sutter Home. To update its look and help convey a "premium wine experience" through a non-alcoholic wine product, the St. Helena, CA-based winery switched from paper to a clear film label. Package design firm Landor Associates (San Francisco, CA) was called in to help with transitional graphics, which called for maintaining key images and subtle updating of others. Spear (Mason, OH) provides the pressure-sensitive label made of 2-mil polypropylene. It's screen-printed in five colors, plus hot stamping in a silver that is tinted pink with printing. Neck labels are offset-printed in two colors by fp Label (Napa, CA). Several suppliers provide the custom glass bottles, which are labeled with rotary equipment at speeds of about 350 bottles/min. Polyvinyl chloride capsules are provided by Maverick Enterprises (Ukiah, CA). The five-year-old brand is sold in grocery and liquor stores nationwide. Suggested retail for Premium Red, Premium White and White Zinfandel is $4.99; the Spumante product sells for $5.99. Green company; green label Although its first vintage is only three years old, Hawthorne Mountain Vineyards' namesake wines have already reached international markets. The company, based in Okanagan Falls, British Columbia, Canada, sells to parts of Asia, including Taiwan and Hong Kong, the U.K., the U.S. Pacific Northwest, as well as most Canadian provinces. The wines range from about C$10 to C$20 each. Four varieties of the wine use a conservative label that is a reflection of some upscale changes that took place within the company. "The name of the winery was changing and we were increasing the quality of the wine that we were producing," explains Gwen Coleman of Hawthorne. "We wanted to give a sense of a premium brand with class and elegance." The simplicity of the label obviously drew attention at the TLMI awards, where it won first place, international, in the multi-process-line and screen/tone-category. Image Pac Graphics (Richmond, British Columbia, Canada) helped design the single-color mountain scene. Tapp Technologies (Langley, British Columbia, Canada) produces the pressure-sensitive label, offset-printed in only one color "using intricate screentones," says a spokesperson at Tapp. The uncoated linen paper label stock is printed, coated with an aqueous varnish, foil-stamped and die-cut all in a single pass. Bottling is handled at co-packer Okanagan Estate Distributors (Summerland, British Columbia, Canada). At present, limited volumes of wine allow manual labeling. Need a refresher? While many of the wines mentioned in this article hail from small wineries where the vintage yields only hundreds of cases, Canandaigua Wines produces close to one million cases/year of the Estate Cellars by Inglenook® brand, says consumer focus brand director Michael Prestidge. When volumes are so high, economies of scale make it possible to design a pretty sophisticated label, and the Canandaigua, NY-based winery did just that when it redesigned its label 11/2 years ago. The label took first place in the multi-process, color process, North American category in the TLMI competition. "We wanted [Estate Cellars] to become more of a casual, everyday wine," Prestidge says. "We decided to give it more of a social, casual setting and more of an approachable feel. We thought we could convey that through our use of artwork." More than just a vignette, the Art Deco-style artwork is a reproduction of a painting. Prestidge adds that Estate Cellars was one of the first companies to use original artwork on its label. "Overall, the package design was revolutionary enough in the industry so that it really helped drive sales," he says. Graphic design was handled by HKA (San Francisco, CA). Spear (Mason, OH) provides the clear pressure-sensitive label, made from 2-mil polypropylene film. In a complex process, the label is printed in a combination of screen- and letterpress techniques in seven colors. First, the film is screen-printed to create the bold graphic "swirl" and lettering (see photo, right), as well as a solid area that becomes the background for the letterpress art image. Dan Muenzer, marketing director at Spear, explains: "Of all printing processes, screen printing is the method that lays down the most ink. It gives you the opacity and color vibrancy so those images stand out on a clear substrate." To reproduce the artwork, he says, letterpress is necessary. "You wouldn't be able to get that kind of definition with screen printing," he adds. Labels are automatically applied to bottles using labeling equipment from Spear. Four varieties of Estate Cellars are available in a 750-mL bottle, at a suggested retail price of $4.99. The line's best-seller is a 1.5-L bottle, available in seven varieties with a suggested retail price of $6.99. Estate Cellars is planning to "freshen its look" with a new redesign that should reach stores this summer. Less is more... Producing its Benessere line in tiny quantities, and distributing it among "the finest restaurants" in Chicago, San Francisco and Los Angeles at the premium price of $25 per bottle, Benessere Vineyards Ltd., of St. Helena, CA, is demographic worlds apart from neighbor Sutter Home. Yet label design was equally important. Christopher Dearden, general manager at Benessere, stresses the importance of subtlety in the label's design. "At the lower price point, like in the popular premiums, you probably want something that's going to be eye-catching and completely different than anyone has seen," he says. "We're trying to sell something elegant and expensive and in scarce quantities." Because of the Italian origins of the wine, "we wanted sort of a fusion between Italy and California that bespeaks quality and class," says Dearden. Local design firm Caldeway Design (Napa, CA) helped portray that image, using graphics that originated from a painting. Tapp Technologies (Langley, British Columbia, Canada) offset- prints the pressure-sensitive cast-coated paper in four colors plus gold foil stamping. Labels are manually applied to bottles supplied by APM Europack (Benicia, CA). Benessere bottles are sealed with a wax capsule. The label won first place in the international, multi-process category at TLMI. For more information contact the Tag and Label Manufacturers Institute, Inc. at 630/357-9222 or fax: 630/357-0192. Information on the World Label Assn. awards can be obtained through Dale Bunnell, World Label Assn., at 314/532-4433.