For a teetotaler, I spend an unusual amount of time in wine aisles.
I love examining the labels. I love looking at the shapes of the bottles. I love petting the paper.
“No, no, I don’t need help,” I insist to concerned shop clerks.
And anyone else who asks.
Wine labels are interesting to me because they are all about first impressions, relying heavily on the graphic style. You could argue that most packaging does this. And you’d be right.
But I think there’s something unique to wine packaging. Maybe it’s that there’s an unspoken industry design standard for wine labels—unlike the free-for-all of ebook covers, maple syrup labels, or even shower gel (check out the ones at Dollar Tree).
Maybe it’s how much the label is responsible for selling the product—unlike luxury perfumes, which can easily benefit from celeb endorsements in magazine ads, or even books and films, which can be previewed.
Maybe it’s that the look doesn’t have to match the taste—unlike yogurt or chocolate, which often give clues with color and pictures.
Or maybe it’s that wine unapologetically announces its attitude, in a way that most items in an average grocery store do not (to me, Colgate, Crest, and Aim look like they all come from the same long, minty lineage…Sunny Delight, Tropicana, and Simply Orange are all simply orange…Cottonelle, Charmin, and Angel Soft unite to form the neatly perforated Great Wall of Toilet Paper).
But on one wine shelf, you can feel the reckless ruggedness of one wine bottle rubbing elbows right next to the sophisticated primness of another. Walk quickly, and it’s an intoxicating blur of graphic voices.
This one stopped me in my tracks.
This infographic is a circular calendar, marking out the process of creating this wine.
What it tells is the story of this wine.
But what it shows is that this wine is made by people who take pride and pleasure in the process. And that’s done through the meticulously technical design.
The circular concept is brilliant. This could have been, after all, a gridded, square calendar…or a horizontal timeline. But wine has a lot of circular elements: barrels, corks, bottles, wine glasses, the swirling motion of wine tasters, and of course, grapes.
And so, with thin radii poking out of the circle, at a glance it looks like a compass, a wagon wheel, or a ship’s steering wheel…hinting at the slower pace of journeys in olden days. Or a water wheel or spinning wheel, hinting at handcrafted care. Or a wind-up pocket watch with the gears showing. These are all basic, classic tools…not the steely, flashy, impersonal churn of modern factories.
This graph could have been colored in with bold reds (it’s a red wine blend, after all), but that would have looked like a dartboard. Instead, muted burnt orange is applied with restraint…it looks warm and homey, humble and welcoming. And it looks old, like a color you’d find on a trusty parchment paper map.
The “call outs” surrounding the central calendar are also smashingly designed. The release date is branched off the Rodney Strong logomark like a cladogram—an elegant, subtle pun at this wine evolving out of the larger brand, at a family tree and heritage.
The other call outs share this structure. The open-ended sides of the frames always face the calendar. This creates a visual relationship between the calendar and the notes on vintage, harvest date, time in barrel, and the blend of wines inside. The white space connects the data to the graph.
Except for the specs! Those are contained in a box. This separates this information from the calendar, as they are less directly tied to the process of the wine’s making. Notice that the specs are centered in generous white space, creating a balanced chunk of information.
What makes this all work so well? Well, the concept of portraying the time-intensive process in an old-fashioned circle. But also the design choices. The typeface (Brandon Grotesque?) is clean and strong, working well at tiny sizes. The lines are unobtrusively thin, providing firm but gentle structure while not competing with the text for attention. The color palette is simple—different tints and shades of the same orange are used with the neutral dark gray of the lines and text, with the loudest part being the “blending” time, arguably the most unique time for creating this wine. And the calendar takes center stage; the name “UPSHOT” positioned below doesn’t even try to snatch your eye away.
I could go on and on about this handsome label (and would love to hear Edward Tufte’s take on the concept), but it’s time for a tea break.
If you prefer something more spirited, visit the Rodney Strong website, which proudly announces that Upshot scored 90 points in Wine Enthusiast magazine. I have no clue what that score means, but I definitely hope it accounted for the graphic design.