Winning Wine Packages Selected

Judges review nearly 180 entries, winners to be announced at Aug. 9 conference

by Andrew Adams
Judges awarded gold, silver and bronze to entries in five categories including classic packaging, best redesign, luxury, alternative and series.

Novato, Calif.—A panel of wine industry experts reviewed nearly 200 entries in the Wines & Vines Packaging Design Awards and selected the winners in multiple categories as well as a Best in Show overall winner.

The winners will be announced at the Wines & Vines Packaging Conference, which takes place Aug. 9 at the Lincoln Theater in Yountville, Calif. Entries came from wineries all over North America and were submitted into five separate categories that included best redesign, classic packaging, luxury, alternative and series.

Now in its fourth year, the packaging contest has steadily grown in the number of entries and drew a total of 178 total entries in 2018. This year’s panel of judges included Curtis Mann who manages the wine and beverage alcohol program for Raley’s and Nob Hill stores; Debbie Zachareas owner and partner of Ferry Plaza Wine Merchant; Ray Johnson, executive director of the Wine Business Institute at Sonoma State University; David Glancy the founder of the San Francisco Wine School, and designer and former Wines & Vines art director Barbara Summer who helped launch the first contest.

Speaking with Wines & Vines during a break in the judging that lasted all day at The Key Room event space at the Homeward Bound facility in Novato, Calif., the judges said any packaging strategy whether innovative or more traditional ultimately still needs to effectively convey to the consumer what’s in the bottle.

Several judges said they gave some of their lowest scores to wines packaged with insufficient information or those that were covered with too much irrelevant and unhelpful material.

Mann said it appears wineries are putting more technical information, such as pH and TA, out front on labels because they correctly perceive that consumers who are trading up for higher quality and prices want that information. “Customers are getting more and more tuned into the wine,” he said.

As they buy wine at higher prices, Mann said authenticity and transparency have also become more important to consumers as a cue of quality and that needs to come through in a packaging strategy too. If consumers are unsure about any technical information or label copy about variety or appellation they also have all the resources of the web in their hands. Mann said when he visits Raley’s locations, most people in the wine aisles are looking at their phones as much as the shelves.

Glancy agreed that as consumers buy more expensive wines they tend to grow more comfortable with more technical information about the wine. He said, however, wineries should also account for novice consumers or people wanting to try new brands.

He said one example of such a mindful approach can be seen in Alsace where many wineries are using a scale on back labels to clearly show how sweet or dry the wine is. A few U.S. wine companies producing sweeter red blends or other varietals on the sweet side have adopted similar approaches to their wines’ back labels.

The judges also agreed that too aggressively targeting consumer groups, such as Millennials, can backfire. Mann said he’s come to reject such brands because they have not been strong retail performers.

Glancy said such gimmicky labels aren’t going to attract regular wine consumers and younger shoppers will also be turned off by them. “(They think) If they’re trying to market it to us they probably think we’re stupid,” he said.

Discussing wine sales and packaging strategy in general, the judges agreed a brand needs a cohesive identity that matches whatever sales channel it’s intended for. A beautifully designed brand could prove effective in the tasting room but languish in retail. “If you’re hand selling it, it’s great,” Mann said, “but if you’re not hand selling that item I don’t know how you’d survive.”

The judges assigned each entry a score to determine the gold, silver and bronze winners in each category. All of the gold medal winners were then reviewed by the judges again before they selected the Best of Show winner. The top 50 entries of the contest will be on display at the Wines & Vines Packaging Conference where attendees will vote to select the People’s Choice winner.

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