Are Cute Wine Labels Sweet For The Consumer? (Publix Grape Magazine Winter 2013)

Vinted on December 17, 2013 binned in commentary, going pro

One of my favorite “pro” gigs is penning the In Focus section of Publix Grape Magazine, which I will happily continue doing for so long as they’re willing to ask, because I have so much freakin’ fun doing it. I learn more than I’d otherwise suspect every time I write for the seasonal magazine, both in researching and in trying to take complex wine topics such as yeasts, oak, and acids, and make them palatable (see what I did there?) to non-geeks. You know, normal people!

For the 2013 Winter edition of Grape, I solicited the help of my winemaking bud Steve Matthiasson in breaking down the topic of wine sugars, much like yeasts break those suckahs down in real life (see what I did there?… whatever…). Corkscrews are the topic for the Spring, so go subscribe (for free) if you don’t want to miss it.

But I’m not blogging to talk about that, I actually want to talk about another aspect of the Winter release of Grape, in which I’m quoted on the topic of cute wine labels. Namely, are they good or bad for wine, and would they appeal to Millennials?

I’m one of a few wine geeks quoted in that article, which understandably but unfortunately didn’t quote my lengthy caveat that if wine brands like Skinny Girl and Cupcake are selling, then there must be good reasons for that and it doesn’t really matter what I or any other critic-type-person thinks about them. Interestingly, the article also mentioned Gnarly Head and Smoking Loon, which I don’t consider as “kitschy” as Skinny Girl or Cupcake (loons are not cute, and neither are gnarly old vines), but I’ve long considered them decent bargains because they’re getting nice old vine fruit from places like Lodi at suppressed prices, which translates into really decent wines in some cases…

Although not mentioned in the Publix article, Bogle is another brand that’s offered up as perennial example of this kind of bargain wine hunting, with good reason, but that’s not a brand I’d describe as “cute” Hello Kitty? Cute. Gnarly vines and birds with bad social habits? Not so cute.

My take:

While I’ve nothing personally against cute brand names / labels, I do have something against crappy wine; and too often, crappy wine gets gussied up with cute branding, because otherwise it’d have to go out as bulk juice for a fraction of the profit. But if those wines are decent, and are taking advantage of older vine fruit (or even just good fruit) at low prices and passing the savings on to you, then that’s nothing but good for the wine biz. As for Millennials, don’t expect them to flock to cute branding just because; they’ve been the targets of marketing ploys longer and more intensely than any previous generation, and they know marketing bullsh*t when they smell it (often from surprisingly far distances). In fact, their BS-detectors are trigger-happy to a fault; if it even remotely resembles marketing ploys, it’s likely to turn them off from trying something, even if the product is decent. Anyway, this all ground that’s been covered here extensively.

I’d summarize the other experts’ takes on the topic from the article (including Elin McCoy and Jon Thorsen of (who seems to be popping up everywhere lately… go, Jon!), but they’re surprisingly similar to what I’ve described above, though all are worth checking out.

Ever bought a wine based on a cutesy label? Shout it out… it’s okay, you’re among friends, we won’t give you any too much sh*t about it…






  • The Drunken Cyclist

    As I start hitting the Holiday Party circuit, I am becoming convinced that most people out there either don’t/can’t tell the difference between good and crap or they are just cheap. This is not meant as an inherent criticism, I just think the number of people who just don’t care about drinking good wine is much higher than I thought. They think that there is no good reason to spend a bunch of money on wine, so anything under $10 fits the bill. For them, a cute tail or a cuddly critter might sway them into buying the product. So while I won’t buy it, it really does not affect me at all. In fact, it probably is a plus in the long run since it brings $$ into the industry instead of handing it over to Anheuser-Busch.

  • @winefashionista

    I understand the trend of "cute" wine labels. Most people buy wines by the label, and cute name and logos are certainly much less intimidating than labels in languages most people don't know.

    However, I draw the line at labels like Skinnygirl, marketed to women, especially on the premise of being "low cal." I've written about this, how I am not a fan of wines that market to women, playing on body conscious issues
    I am also not a fan of wines that don't treat women the same way as male wine drinkers. I mean Joe would you buy a bottle of Skinnygirl wine?

    The issue with most of these "cute" labels is that the wine is dumbed down. We don't really need that do we? Give me a solidly made wine for a good price, but please respect me as a wine consumer. As I've said before, women are equal with the men when it comes to wine. Wine drinkers, whether they are beginners or serious collectors, should all be treated the same, with respect.

    • 1WineDude

      @winefashionista – Skinnygirl might be decent juice, I don’t know as I’ve not tried it yet, but as a consumer I think you’re right, I wouldn’t be attracted to that branding for all of the reasons you’ve mentioned. You touch on a key point that many of us quoted in that article mentioned, which is that the kind of blatant marketing in that sort of branding can turn people off, and I suspect that the savvier the generation (& millennials are very savvy buyers) the less of a resonance those brands will have.

  • @Blackcloudwine

    'Cute' may be the term here but it takes in a lot of territory. I like 'clever' and 'engaging' labellry, but I'm with the Fashionista when it comes to labels/wine that panders to parts of society at the exclusion of others. "Skinny Girl": does that mean insecure and shallow? I hope not.

    • 1WineDude

      Bradley, I wonder what that says about Fat Bastard?

      • Todd - VT Wine Media

        I think they'd make a fine couple…well suited for one another.

        • 1WineDude


  • Todd - VT Wine Media

    We are long past the day of the old fashioned euro-centric, chateau driven, staid labeling of the past. Most labeling in the country is now, in some way or another, trying to appeal to specific demographics and consumer groups. It does not matter if it's the cutesy Aussie animals, the Boston Redsox, Game of Thrones, Duck Dynasty or Ralph Steadman doing label art for Montes in Chile. Aside from cases like Bonny Doon Vineyards, where the label is more reflective of it's idiosyncratic producer, it would seem that many labels are litmus tests for the kind of consumer that will purchase based on what's outside the bottle.
    Sure, I like a well designed and artistic label as much as anybody else, and I'd like to think that the good taste that produced it is in tune with the sensibilities that produced the wine, and possibly even cared for the vines. Sure, I've been duped into buying a ho-hum wine, because it was a variety I wanted to try, from an area I was interested in, the back label read well, and the front label was compelling enough to make me commit. But those instances are rare.
    The more educated the average consumer becomes, the less they will take a wine at face value, and as the most important criteria for purchase…I hope.

    • 1WineDude

      Todd, a not insubstantial amount of bulk/bargain wine is released as a trial under one label and then gets another label/brand if that one doesn’t work out, I’m sure.

      • Todd - VT Wine Media

        No doubt…bargain buyers may be the most widely available marketing guinea pigs of the wine world.

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