So THAT’S Why Wine Labels Don’t Look Like They Used To

May 21, 2018


  By Natalie Saar, contributor at The Underground Group 

In short:

  • Thanks at least in part to millennials, wine labels have evolved from sophisticated, classic designs to whimsical original artworks. 
  • Millennials are more likely to buy "limited-edition" wines with unique designs.
  • You can borrow tactics from art-inspired wine companies to invigorate your own product category for a new era.

Not many wine drinkers expect to find their 2015 Petite Sirah in a can with a side of original artwork. But it'll soon be the norm if Emma Toshack(opens in new tab) has anything to say about it.

In 2016, then-31-year-old Toshack left her job(opens in new tab) at Snapchat to start her wine brand Nomadica(opens in new tab). The Harvard MBA grad was frustrated with the struggle(opens in new tab) of pouring wine into empty cans to drink poolside, so she started a canned wine company to solve the problem. Simple.

The wines come in funky, art-bearing cans that sing to the visually-focused soul.

Online, Nomadica sells its wine in cases of 24 cans. A case of Pink River Rosé(opens in new tab) is $42 -- that's just $1.75 per can. (Credit: in new tab)) 
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Two years post-launch, Nomadica is contributing to major changes in the wine business. The company’s sales increased 1,400 percent from its first year to its second, proving it’s struck gold.

Welcome to a whole new winemaking model.

The wine space has been ripe(opens in new tab) for doing things differently and starting to break the rules for a while,” Toshack told Inc. Magazine in March.

Case in point: Toshack doesn’t own a vineyard. She sources Nomadica’s wines from  all over the world and works directly with winemakers to select varietals. Then, she commissions street artists and illustrators to design cans specifically for each blend.

Today’s wine drinker is not your mother.

However, neither wine in a can nor outsourcing wine production is a new concept. What’s unique these days is wine drinkers. Millennial oenophiles, who accounted for 42 percent of U.S. wine sales last year(opens in new tab), are less interested in a traditional wine tasting experience, Wine Opinions(opens in new tab) CEO John Gillespie told SevenFifty Daily last year. 

Meet the millennial wine drinker: young, fun and comprising nearly half of the overall wine market.

Instead, millennials opt for wine they can take on the go. In 2016, roughly 14 percent of millennials drank wine(opens in new tab) from a can, according to a Nielsen study. Canned wine sales saw a 125.2 percent dollar increase(opens in new tab) in growth in a 52-week period from 2015 to 2016.

Millennials are also more adventurous than their parents. They seem to be more attracted(opens in new tab) to wines with a relatable story, an approachable price and blends they’ve never heard of, Gillespie noted.

Wine labels are more Instagrammable than ever.

As a result, more wine purveyors are bucking tradition.

For example, Tank Garage Winery(opens in new tab) in Calistoga, California, specializes in “garage winemaking.” The company blends and ferments grapes into what they call “unique varietals,” all from an actual garage.

Tank Garage Winery produces its varietals in a retro gas station.

Tank outsources grapes from around the world and creates small, limited batches of blends they like. Their method supports millennials' desire for something different.

Tank Garage’s unique bottle design(opens in new tab) also emphasizes the product’s limited-time-only feel. Similar to Nomadica, the company collaborates with local artists to develop unusual art that's more commonly found on classic album covers than wine bottles. 

Tank Garage's 3-pack of Stars Like Ours Rosé(opens in new tab) sells for $66 in its online shop. (Credit: in new tab))

Science shows that Tank Garage is on to something: Younger millennials are more likely to select wine based on packaging(opens in new tab) than their older counterparts, according to a 2012 report from Canadian hospitality researchers.

And “artist-winemaker hybrid” is now a bona fide job title.

Barrel + Ink(opens in new tab) has take the art-meets-wine concept one step further, pairing winemakers with artists to create blends together. The resulting wine combines the winemaker's style with the designer's aesthetic. For example, Pax Mahle(opens in new tab) -- considered a founding father of Syrah in California -- partnered with illustrator Meg Hunt(opens in new tab) to create Barrel + Ink's Jet Set Jungle 2014 Syrah/Mouvédre blend(opens in new tab).

Barrel + Ink's Jet Set Jungle blend(opens in new tab) is a collaboration between a winemaker and an illustrator. Bottles sell for $32 online. (Credit: in new tab))

"This unruly red captures Pax's spirit(opens in new tab)… Hunt captured the verve of this wine with her untamed, barbarous representation of ‘wildness bottled,’" Barrel + Ink's website explains.

Founder Corey Miller says the company’s whimsical artworks are meant to make its wine appear friendlier.

“We hope that the artwork makes the bottle more accessible,” he told Slate in a 2016 interview.

Consider applying the indie wine industry’s tactics to your brand.

Outsourcing varietals and artwork keeps Nomadica’s costs low, allowing the brand to sell wines from around the world at an average $5 to $7 a can. It also gives them freedom to experiment: Unlike many wineries that only produce wines from specific grapes planted on their own vineyards, companies like Nomadica and Tank Garage aren’t limited to particular varietals. They can make whatever kind of wine they want.

This non-restrictive approach to winemaking is changing the wine industry. And you can do the same for your category: Consider collaborating on production and focusing on aesthetics to appeal to the next generation of consumers. Then watch as your brand grows.

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