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Surprising trends in wine bottle design, like ‘flattened’ bottles

Jul 06, 2023

The Business Journal asked key professionals about what’s hot for wine packaging design, particularly how a global movement by governments and consumers toward environmental sustainability is affecting vintner decisions on container materials.

Creative director, Affinity Creative, 1155 Walnut Ave., Mare Island, CA 94592;

Cynthia Sterling led Sterling Creativeworks for 24 years before merging her talents with Affinity Creative Group in early 2019. Sterling oversees branding and packaging experts in building wine, spirits and food brands

Cynthia Sterling: While lighter-weight bottles are much better for the environment, we still see resistance from high-end wine buyers. The weight of the bottle and wine quality are closely linked in the minds of buyers.

When we’re changing to a lighter-weight bottle, we find that adding other quality cues to the label design can help maintain the perceived quality.

We’ve been exploring alternative materials for gift boxes and other secondary packaging with some of our clients. There is a strong desire to find more sustainable materials, but the producers of those materials often have high minimum orders our clients can’t meet. There’s a great opportunity for packaging producers to develop sustainable solutions for our industry, and we continue to look at possibilities.

Founder and creative director, Auston Design Group, 9 Agnes St., Oakland, CA 94618;

For six years Tony Auston was senior design director for what’s now CF Napa before starting his branding and packaging design firm in early 1994. Since then, the company has worked with beverage alcohol and luxury brands large and small, including a number from the North Coas

Tony Auston: Now that folks are experiencing first hand that we really are effecting our planet's climate, sustainability is becoming more than just words on the label.

After years of development, Bogle Vineyards has introduced attractive proprietary light weight glass that still looks similar in size to the beautiful heavy bottles that they, and so many other producers, have been using for years.

As designers, we love those heavy bottles. But as stewards of Earth, it's not something we can specify with good conscience. Nor should we. I think we will be seeing a lot more hefty looking, yet light weight options from glass suppliers in the years to come.

Many of the smaller brands and natural wine brands are forgoing capsules. Not only does that increase their margins, it is also a strong environmental stance. Mining the various metals used in tin and polylaminate capsules leaves a big carbon footprint.

Other options are petroleum based. Since we all are so used to seeing a capsule as part of a complete package, it can look rather odd to see a bottle on shelf without one.

But if the package is designed from the start knowing it won't be utilizing a capsule, there are ways to have that work in your favor. The Juggernaut brand is a good example. We designed the packaging with the intent of having it look like an edgy, hard to find, small producer brand. Nixing the capsule was part of getting to that look. A simple neck band just below the bead gave the package a finished look that added to that edgy graphic quality of the front label.

Partners, Tincknell & Tincknell Inc., P.O. Box 1879, Healdsburg, CA 95448; 707-433-3671;

The Tincknells have over three decades of experience in wine sales and marketing. The firm helps develop launch strategies new vintners and brands, from packaging design, particularly using alternative containers, to multimedia marketing. Both are the coordinating judges for the annual San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition Packaging Design Contest.

Paul and Jennifer Tincknell: To be honest, not much at all.

Glass is vastly dominant over all other forms of packaging and is made of the heaviest packaging material available. According to a 2018 survey conducted by the Sonoma State University’s Wine Business Institute, 90% of wine purchased is enjoyed within two weeks of purchase.

The vast majority of those wines are wines under $30 (suggested retail price) and aged less that two years in the bottle. Those all should be sold in more environmentally friendly packaging.

The industry remains beholden to tradition and the glass bottle. No matter how light glass bottles become, the costs of shipping, collecting, and recycling glass are all more expensive than that of other materials. The industry must move away from glass for the majority of wines sold globally.

Furthermore, more wines sold internationally should be shipped in bulk and bottled in market, rather than packaged and shipped in consumer packaging.

Cynthia Sterling: We’ve had challenges sourcing capsules, label paper stock and glass for projects produced in Europe, forcing us to work with less-than-optimal label substrates and even capsule colors.

Glass sourcing continues to be difficult in the U.S. market as well. In this unusual supply chain situation, it’s essential that the winery marketing team, designer, and production crew work closely together to solve issues as they arise.

We’re finding timelines for design are very compressed, due to much longer production lead times. Beginning design projects as early as possible will allow your design team to do their best work.

We are starting to see things ease up somewhat, but it’s unclear when availability will return to normal.

In the meantime, vintners should partner closely with their designers and vendors to find creative packaging solutions that meet marketing objectives in new and unexpected ways.

Tony Auston: When it comes to production, everything takes longer now. We find that we are settling for glass that is readily available, over ordering glass that is more appropriate for our design, but won't arrive for close to a year.

Label printing can take two to four weeks longer than it did a couple of years ago due to the increased time needed to receive certain label stocks and/or rotary emboss dies.

Aluminum cans are much harder to come by. Especially if you aren't an established or large brand. We've had this stall out new projects to the point where the client isn't sure if they even want to continue with the launch.

Paul and Jennifer Tincknell: Projects have been impacted by the scarcity of product such as glass bottles and aluminum for cans earlier this year, and rising prices due to inflation, demand, and rising transportation costs all have increased packaging costs by a significant amount; a case of glass bottles costs post-pandemic 20% higher than pre.

Scarcity issues have been decreasing and transportation costs are coming down slightly, but until inflation forecasts show a trending decline, costs will remain elevated over pre-pandemic prices through 2022 and into 2023.

Cynthia Sterling: In general, wine packaging design is becoming fresher, bolder, more contemporary. Brand owners and consumers are more receptive to unexpected, modern designs that incorporate unexpected elements.

There is a desire to move away from traditional cues such as cream label backgrounds, intricate borders and overuse of gold foil.

Even for brands grounded in heritage, we’re using crisp white or fresh color backgrounds, less foil stamping. We’re using more copper, bronze and pearl foil these days. We’re integrating foil into illustrations along with color, as an accent rather than ornate gold borders and filigree.

Wine design today is more about engaging consumers and telling a unique story versus reassuring them with traditional cues. Layouts are becoming more dynamic, with a focus on visual movement and energy. There’s also a trend towards cleaner, less cluttered labels.

Tony Auston: With large chain brands the design trend continues to be less is more — minimalistic white or cream labels with a very large brand name and varietal type, and not a lot of character or uniqueness.

Everyone seems to use Josh and Joel Gott packaging as their benchmarks. One of our clients even made a point of having their printer match the Josh label stock and cream background color exactly. Some of the chain brands are still sporting very dark or black labels that were inspired by the success of Apothic back in the early teens.

The more interesting design trends, or just designs in general, seem to be with small to mid-size wineries. Not exclusively, but mostly.

I think the "trend" is not necessarily a look, but the approach of not being afraid to do something completely different, and unexpected. Something that doesn't look like what you would expect from a wine label.

That is the kind of design that gets the consumers attention and encourages them to try something new. Something that isn't their usual go to minimalistic white label.

Another trend that I think we will be seeing more of is statements of transparency. This includes things like ingredients, nutrition facts, process, etc. all easily accessible. Often on the front label.

This trend seems to be mostly smaller wineries run by younger winemakers. You see it in a lot of natural wines. I don't think it will be long before it's a government requirement. It already is some other countries. I believe the EU recently passed a law requiring it that goes into effect in late 2023.

Paul and Jennifer Tincknell: Lighter glass bottles, 1.5- and 3-liter bag-in-boxes, and 200 to 250-milliliter aluminum cans are the biggest movements in wine packaging.

Awareness of environmental impact is driving packaging trends the most in 2022. Consumers and producers are increasingly concerned about the high cost on the environment of traditional glass bottle with cork stopper. Younger demographics are more attentive to the ecological impact of packaging on a wide range of consumer products.

Convenience is the second factor driving packaging trends. The traditional glass bottle with a cork stopper is often highly inconvenient, especially in settings where glass is not welcome or could be a liability due to its fragility or weight. The requirement of an additional tool to open a bottle is also very inconvenient.

Younger demographics are more open to a wider range of form factors and expect to find products packaged in ways that provide convenience in a range of environments. The predominance of the 750-milliliter package is not ideal for occasions that would be more suitable for a single-serve portion or a large gathering. Glass isn’t welcome by pools and is too heavy for hiking.

Environmental impact awareness is driving the use of lighter glass bottles as well as some minor, regional adoption of reusable glass bottles offered by packaging companies that also collect and reprocess them for use.

Convenience has been a driving factor in the U.S. market for the past decade-plus as evidenced by screw caps, 3-liter bag-in-box, and now aluminum cans. When the on-premise sector fully recovers from the pandemic and begins growing again, wine kegs may become more prominent.

Cynthia Sterling: Dirty Minded and Coppola Diamond Collection Prosecco.

Tony Auston: It's not completely new, but our design for Juggernaut has been incredibly successful, with unbelievable growth in the short time it has been on shelf. The package design for Juggernaut screams, "Look at me!" With the only words on the front label being the "not huge" brand name, it encourages the consumer to take the bottle off the shelf for further inspection.

And, as we all know, the goal of any package design is to get that product in the consumer’s hand. In about five years, Juggernaut has grown to be one of the top cabernets in its price point. Currently, second only to Decoy, if I'm not mistaken.

We've done a lot of work with the innovations team at Rodney Strong over the years. With the lost years of the pandemic, it seems like it was only yesterday. I bring them up because they are also good examples of putting a package out that is way out of the expected. Particularly, Upshot and Knotty Vine.

Paul and Jennifer Tincknell: Tincknell & Tincknell are working with Packamama introducing their flattened 100% post-consumer recycled and recyclable PET (plastic) 750-milliliter wine bottles into the U.S. wine industry.

Interest has been very high from a few of the larger, national wine producers, brands that are focused on retail to consumers via subscription/ecommerce programs that do a lot of direct-to-consumer shipping, and small, regional brands concerned with mitigating environmental impacts.

Studies provided by Packamama show that the form factor is 87% lighter and 40% more space efficient that a glass bottle. The bottle will be manufactured in the U.S. from 100% locally sourced post-consumer recycled PET.

Last year, one of our clients, Lucky Rock Wine Co., introduced 250-milliliter cans of their pinot noir and sauvignon blanc after identifying that their target consumer was more open to wine in cans for the convenience and the lesser environmental impact of them. Tincknell & Tincknell were involved in the marketing of the cans, not the design.

Industrywide, more brands are launching with an environmental message as core to their branding.

Cynthia Sterling: The most obvious indication that it’s time for a packaging refresh is a drop in sales that can’t be tied to wine quality.

Another indicator is when several of your key competitors have updated their packaging. Check in with your distributors, retailers and consumers if you suspect your label is looking tired and out-of-date.

A brand should have a package that tells its story, and offers a unique and meaningful expression that resonates with the marketplace. Trends come and go, but your brand’s unique DNA should be deeper than trends.

That said, a dated package makes a wine look dusty and unappealing. Newer wine consumers are accustomed to a fast-changing environment, and are very comfortable with change.

Large volume, approachably priced wines will need more frequent updates, as these wines must compete on very crowded retail shelves and need to attract younger consumers. Smaller, boutique brands and/or luxury-priced wines usually don’t need to be updated quite as frequently.

Tony Auston: Changing your label design to be more inline with current trends can be risky. It makes the most sense for brands under $25, than it does for established, higher end luxury brands.

But then again, if your luxury brand's sales are flat or on the decline, a redesign that is more on trend might be in order. The $25 and under category is wildly competitive, so staying on top of what's trending can be a viable move if the brand not competing at the desired level.

You can identify different trends at various price points, and with different sized wineries. A small producer who makes 500 cases of $80 chardonnay in concrete eggs will need to compete at a completely different level than a producer who makes 35,000 cases of $40 chardonnay.

The small brand needs to present on trend with what a small cutting edge brand might look like to their specific target consumer. You can get away with a lot when you have a unique product that is made in very limited quantities.

Paul and Jennifer Tincknell: The most basic answer to whether there are enough legs for a particular packaging trend is if there are easily accessed solutions for filling/packing the packaging.

The biggest barrier for alternative containers in the wine industry is the challenge of getting wine into them. Once a filling/packing solution is widespread, it means there are enough producers and consumers to make the packaging economically feasible.

Wine is a unique product. The variations require specific packaging solutions. Glass bottles are necessary for wines that will need two-plus years of bottle aging or are sparkling or carbonated. Both of those criteria usually apply to wines at higher price points.

Convenience packaging such as 3-liter boxes and 250-milliliter aluminum cans are more suitable for wines basically under $30 per 750-milliliter bottle.

Unit cost is much lower in higher volumes, so convenience packaging is more financially effective for larger producers. As an alternative container becomes more widely accepted and more cooperative filling solutions become available, it becomes more financially viable for smaller wineries to adopt.

Jeff Quackenbush covers wine, construction and real estate. Before coming to the Business Journal in 1999, he wrote for Bay City News Service in San Francisco. Reach him at [email protected] or 707-521-4256.

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