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Wine labelling – what wine producers need to know

The familiar, traditional cream antique paper wine label has been subjected to a considerable ‘makeover’ and there is now a huge choice of labelling options for fine wines

Dr William Llewellyn AWA Alexander Watson Associates

The majority of wines sold today are not from the specialist chains but from the supermarket shelf – so the label on their packaging has taken on a new role: brand promotion. In the fmcg retail environment, a product’s packaging can be a key differentiator – so, in this arena, the familiar, traditional cream antique paper wine label has been subjected to a considerable ‘makeover’ – and there is a huge choice of labelling options, even for fine wines.

Retail branding agenda
As Procter & Gamble tell us, the ‘first moment of truth’ for a consumer purchase is the image of the product on the retail shelf. For a product such as wine (which still comes to market, in most cases, in a more or less standard bottle), the label, whatever form it takes, must almost single-handedly undertake that important branding function that sells the product over its competition. Wine labelling has thus become a distinct specialty sector of the packaging market, across all technologies, and encompassing even security and authentication devices to thwart the increasing global base of fraudsters (a topic covered in depth in last month’s Drinks Report feature).

Wine producers also have the option to choose a variety of different packaging styles in addition to the traditionally-labelled glass bottle – particularly for retail – and that bottle may now, in fact, be covered from head to toe in an all-round decorative plastic shrink sleeve label for added supermarket shelf ‘stand out’, limited editions and the added functional benefit of tamper evidence.

Alternatives to the bottle
While plastic and glass bottles continue to need a traditional label, the ‘label’ forms an integral part of the packaging for bag-in-box applications, gable-topped cartons and flexible pouches – all of which are gaining market share for high-volume wines today.

The top choice of label technology
The bottle format, however, remains the prime choice; and self-adhesive labels are the favoured labelling technology here, because of the versatility of the choices available in terms of the three-part label laminate. A wine producer can specify not only the label’s face material, but also the adhesive and – for optimal label application accuracy – the backing liner on which the printed labels sit until they are applied to the packaging. Leading labelstock manufacturers around the world compete to offer the most extensive choice of specialist wine label face stocks to meet producers’ every need, from the look of a traditional grand cru to a modern style icon.

Benefits of self-adhesive labels
Ageing and costly-to-repair wet glue labelling lines are now being largely replaced in the wine industry with relatively-low-cost labelling lines that can cleanly apply self-adhesive labels – sometimes front, back, and neck label in the one machine pass – on a variety of packaging types.

Self-adhesive labels impose few limitations on label size, shape, and design, and can benefit from the many print/imaging options offered on narrow-web label presses, which might include embossing, foiling, or colour-changing inks initiated by changes in light or temperature. Short print runs for small vintages or ‘limited editions’ can also be printed on today’s leading-edge, extremely capable, digital label presses. Personalisation to the level of a single bottle is also possible.

Additionally, with self-adhesive labels, length of print run is not critical for cost-effectiveness; and many established wine producers will pre-print generic labels in quantity for subsequent overprinting for each year’s vintage with the year of production and grape varietal.

Making the right choice of label substrate
The functional features of a wine’s label can be very effectively controlled by the wine producer in conjunction with the label designer, printer, and the choice of self-adhesive labelstock. Choosing and specifying the substrate – face material, adhesive, and release liner -- is the first task, and that choice is strongly linked to the final visual effect of the label.

Paper or film labels?
For both special bottles and supermarket wines, paper -- both coated and uncoated -- remains the leading choice of label face material for both traditional self-adhesive and wet glue-applied labels, but self-adhesive film labels have in recent years also brought the popular ‘no label look’ to retail wines – particularly apposite for white and rosé wines. For low-cost, rapid-turnaround brands that pass through a room temperature supply chain, standard machine-coated paper grades are fine, though they discolour under long-term storage. The classic ‘look’ of a wine label demands a highly-textured antique finished paper, so – to achieve a high-quality printed result - the label printer must carefully select his printing process: rotary offset is best, but good results can be achieved with care using UV flexo.

Whatever the choice – paper or film -- it is very important indeed to be able to identify the practical environmental conditions that a wine label will be expected to withstand during its life on its bottle, and there are many functional considerations to take into account.

Functional requirements
The issue of long-term cellar storage for fine wines must be considered. Cherished vintages are today catered for in this respect by self-adhesive technology, via efficacious wet-strength label papers (specially produced for the wine industry) to fight the dampness and the fungal/bacterial attacks that happen in cellars. Long-ageing, non-staining adhesives have also been developed for long-term wine storage applications, and here rubber-based qualities are generally more resistant to fungal attack.

Ice-bucket performance
Another part of the label specification may be the requirement to withstand immersion in an ice bucket when the wine is served (sometimes for lengthy periods) without delaminating from the bottle. This is a particular concern with white wines. Paper label qualities with built-in barrier coatings are available to meet this requirement, and preserve the brand image right through to the very last drop from the bottle. This is an area, it should be noted, where a plastic film label – an impermeable substrate – can offer a real advantage, retaining its good looks throughout its working life.

With a clear briefing on the functional and aesthetic requirements in relation to a label for a particular wine, a label designer, labelstock supplier, and label printer can together be relied upon to deliver an excellent result.

This is a dynamic sector of the packaging market where there is still plenty of room for creative development, and where wine producers can themselves gain competitive advantage by keeping abreast of change.

AWA Alexander Watson Associates is a global business-to-business market research, publishing, and advisory services company with a unique industry focus on the specialty paper, film, packaging, coating, and converting industry.


8 April 2013