Rodney Strong wins Gold, Best in Show

Winners in annual packaging contest announced as part of fifth annual conference

by Stacy Briscoe
Rodney Strong's Upshot label depicts the winemaking process from the 2015 harvest to the 2017 release via circular calendar.

Yountville, Calif.—Experts in the fields of design, retail and media evaluated 179 entries to this year’s Wines & Vines Packaging Design, voting to narrow the entrants down to 50 finalists, which were presented at the Wines & Vines Packaging Conference held Aug. 9 in Yountville, Calif., hosting nearly 500 wine industry attendees. The competition included five competing categories, a Best in Show award and the People’s Choice award, voted on by conference attendees.

This year’s medal winners include:

Classic entries were judged on visual appeal, design functionality, appropriateness for price and creative utilization of standard wine packaging.

Gold & Best in Show: Rodney Strong Vineyard Upshot, Rodney Strong Wine Estates, Healdsburg, Calif.
Silver: Deep Sea entered by Conway Family Wines, Buellton, Calif.
Bronze: Stokes' Ghost, entered by Scheid Family Wines, Greenfield, Calif.

The luxury design category was open to any wine packaging for a brand that retails for $50 and more. Judges evaluated entries by visual appeal, design functionality, appropriateness for the price segment and quality of packaging materials used.

Gold: Liquid Farm Winery, Lompoc, Calif.
Silver: Reynolds Family Winery, Napa, Calif.
Bronze: Dry Creek Vineyard, Healdsburg, Calif.

Judges reviewed the original wine packages and redesigned packages side by side. Entries were judged on the successfulness of the redesign, visual appeal, design functionality and appropriateness for the price segment.

Gold: Hedgeline Vineyards, entered by WX Brands, Novato, Calif.
Silver: Cline Old Vine Zinfandel entered by Affinity Creative Group, Mare Island, Calif.
Bronze: Murphy-Goode Winery, entered by Jackson Family Wines, Santa Rosa, Calif.

Entries to this category consisted of two or more brands with packaging designed to work together as a whole. Packages were judged on the cohesiveness of the series, their visual appeal as a series and as individual bottles. Judges also rated packages based on their design functionality and appropriateness for the price segment.

Gold: Menagerie, entered by Nomadica, Los Angeles, Calf.
Silver: Bonny Doon Vineyard, Santa Cruz, Calif.
Bronze: Artesa/Club Wines, entered by Mucho, San Francisco, Calif.

The Alternative Format category was open to any packaging not in a standard glass bottle. Entries included cans, boxes, pouches, cartons and more. Packages were judged on visual appeal, design functionality, appropriateness for the price segment and creative utilization of the alternative packaging format.

Gold: Wine By Joe, Dundee, Ore.
Silver: Francis Coppola Diamond Collection Sauvignon Blanc, Francis Ford Coppola Winery, Geyserville, Calif.
Bronze: The "Pink River" Rose, entered by Nomadica Wine, Los Angeles, Calif.

People's Choice

Attendees of the Wines & Vines Packaging Conference selected the Final Cut bottle by Francis Ford Coppola for the People's Choice Award.

The bottle features a plastic sleave that is wrapped around the bottle and when twisted makes the image appear as if it's moving. 

Keynote Address by Randall Grahm

Randall Grahm, well-known winemaker and one of the original Rhône Rangers, kicked-off the conference with a keynote speech covering his experiences, successes and missteps in packaging, design and brand marketing.

Grahm is known for standout wine labels incorporating everything from pop art to fine art, intellectual plays on words to “doon” right dirty jokes. But the truth is, as a young winemaker entering the industry, Grahm’s not-so-simple goal was to craft Californian Pinot Noir as elegant and refined as those found in Burgundy. And his wine labels reflected, what he called, this “naïve” goal: simple, elegant wine with simple, elegant labels. “I thought, ‘let the wine do the salesmanship’,” he said.

But there was nothing about the fine script relaying basic wine facts — name, varietal, vintage — that spoke to the wine consumers: nothing that told the story of what was in the bottle; nothing that told Grahm’s story as a winemaker.

Through the course of his speech, Grahm illustrated his evolution as a winemaker. He found that California terroir (defined by Grahm as “the reflection of nature’s order") was more suitable to the wines of Southern France, namely Châteauneuf-du-Pape (CdP) and the Rhône varieties Bonny Doon is now so well known for.

Playing with what was back in the 1980s, “unconventional” grape varieties, Grahm realized he needed a way to speak to consumers to tell them, “it’s ok to try this unknown.”

But, how does one tell the story of the CdP on the confines of a wine label? For those who aren’t familiar with the story behind Grahm’s famed Cigare Volant, the name — and subsequently the label illustration — is connected to the local CdP government’s regulation banning flying saucers (cigare volants) from flying over the vineyards:

“The flying overhead, landing and taking off of aeronautical machines called ‘flying saucers’ or ‘flying cigars,’ of whatever nationality they may be is strictly forbidden on the territory of the commune of Châteauneuf-du-Pape.”

Bringing a bit of French history, wit and of course a comedic illustration (showcasing a flying saucer hovering over a vineyard), Grahm was able to play down the stereotypes of pretension surrounding French and French-inspired wines.

Using humor to contextualize the unknown created an inclusive relationship between winemaker and wine drinker. Grahm and his roster of well known artists like Chuck House, Bascove and Wendy Hook among many others have continued this tactic to the delight of consumers and critics alike.

“Find a link between a relevant aspect of the wine itself and communicate that on the label,” Grahm advised. “The unconscious mind is capable of making these kinds of connections.”

But when asked “what’s next” in the world of packaging design, Grahm admitted, “I don’t know.” He said that in a day and age when everyone is being clever, being clever isn’t necessarily going to make a label stand out.

Grahm apologized for his reputation for often times irreverent label art. “I owe the wine world a formal apology for my onslaught of goofiness,” he said. “Forgive me world, I have committed a ‘Cardinal Zin.’”

Jokes aside, Grahm’s key takeaway was about the ability of the bottle to form a relationship with potential buyers. “The important thing to remember is that creating a package is a partnership between the design and the consumer,” said Grahm. Create that relationship, solidify that partnership and those are the building blocks to a successful brand.


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