Packaging matters. It matters for still wine, but it really matters for expensive sparkling wine. The “ugly beauty” narrative (“terrible label but great juice!”) justdoesn’t hold for such sociable stuff. Unless you’re the kind of person that might crack open a grower champagne with only Netflix for company on a Wednesday night, the chances are that your intrepid purchase will have an attentive audience. It needs to feel like every penny of its purchase price.
This is a bit of a problem if you’re a small producer. Faced by unfavourable economies of scale, strutting around in the sort high-end regalia worn by large-production wines is out of the question. Next time you pick up a bottle of Grand Marque Champagne, take a close look at the packaging. You might find different paper textures, subtle embossing, intricate gilting, bespoke foiling, corks and cages… Even if you’re not competing on the shelf in Waitrose, your potential customers will be weighing up your £30 bottle against every £30 bottle they’ve ever laid hands on. If yours feels like an imposter, you’re facing an uphill battle before any liquid even passes lips.
The answer? You have to pick your battles. Foils are a prime example. Customers are going to become well-acquainted with your foil as they fumble around working out how to remove it; you can make it beautiful or make it a complete non-event, but the worst thing to do is go half-way-house with bargain-basement bling. You could even follow a number of small producers and leave it off altogether.
When it comes to the actual label design, sparkling wines need to show a certain amount of confidence and reassurance. That doesn’t mean faux-stuffiness or grandeur, though. The Nyetimbers of this world can genuinely work the glitz-factor (and boy did they with those new 1086 wines!), but, if you’re not one of them, simplicity can be the greatest show of confidence there is. Good examples; the Champagnes of R. Pouillon (and their lovely handwritten Grand Cru labels), the SoloUva range of Franciacorta or Sugrue and Oxney in the UK.
A low-production wine that plays to its strengths
Fonts tend to run in fashions. Bottles might look passé in just a few years time if they follow trends from sectors that evolve regularly. The best labels are ones you can imagine still being printed (plus or minus a few tweaks) in a decade. Small producers aren’t alone in making questionable decisions here; one prominent English producer recently did an extremely striking rebrand that, to my eyes, is too bound by current design trends and is going to age very quickly. On the other hand, the (seriously beautiful) design of the Hoffman and Rathbone bottles have managed to capture something a little more timeless.
The bottom line is that it’s best to have a realistic intention and achieve it without compromise.There are a lot of wines out there that are making it hard for themselves on this front; a struggle which will eventually come back to bite every stage of the process if it holds back sales. Get it right, though, and you can focus on the interesting bit – what goes inside.