Beneath the surface

From atmospheric conditions and print processes to moisture, paper, adhesives and end use, there are myriad factors that affect drinks labels.

By Henry Miles

Arconvert, part of the Fedrigoni Group, is a global leader in the production of pressure-sensitive papers and films for the label industry, and its Manter brand supplies demanding markets such as food, wine and spirits, cosmetics and luxury sectors. Arconvert offers a huge choice of uncoated embossed, felt-marked, laid, soft-touch, pearly and metallised papers, plus an impressive array of pulp-coloured papers. Manter’s beautiful papers are suitable for most printing techniques.

According to Girona-based Susana Fajardo, who is responsible for Arconvert’s business development in the UK, ‘a big change in the European label market in recent years has been the move from wet glue to pressure-sensitive labels, which are easily applied to products with light pressure. These self-adhesive materials are paper or synthetic substrates which already have the adhesive on them before they are printed and converted into labels.’

The pressure-sensitive material consists of four or five layers – the paper or film liner which carries the adhesive-coated face material; the silicone release coating which prevents the adhesive sticking too tightly to the liner; the adhesive, which differs depending on the label’s final application; the facestock (paper, film, cork, etc.) and, finally, the optional top coating, which provides expanded printing possibilities. Sometimes a barrier coat is applied behind the facestock to prevent water absorption.

Arconvert offers paper and synthetic liners, as well as acrylic and hotmelt adhesives. Synthetic liners are used when greater resistance is needed for high-speed labelling, for example during beer bottling, or for demanding printing processes. Today, water-based acrylic pressure-sensitive adhesives are preferred as they offer good machine runnability especially during die-cutting. They also perform well where the label is exposed to humid environments, for example when condensation forms on a glass bottle, as the molecules in the adhesive form bonds with the water molecules on the bottle improving adhesion. Hotmelt adhesive is used when an aggressive permanent adhesive is required with the fastest adhesion possible.

Recently Arconvert’s R&D Lab released its X-DryTM technology, which, says Fajardo, is a ‘revolutionary waterproof solution that means labels can withstand the cold, wet and humid environments of fridges and ice buckets.’ Combined with SH9020TM, Arconvert’s new permanent acrylic adhesive which prevents bubbles, wrinkles and edge-lifting, X-Drywine labels can remain flawless while submerged in ice and water for four hours or more.

Mike Fairley, ‘label guru’ and co-founder of Labels and Labeling magazine, notes the increasing importance that labels play in guaranteeing the authenticity of wine and spirits.
He suggests:

‘If an anti-counterfeiting element is required, try to incorporate it from the start. It is possible to use substrate, inks and print technology to build layers of security features that are tough to replicate.’

As for current developments, Fairley says that ‘new generations of hybrid conventional and digital printing presses, with sophisticated embellishment capabilities, are opening up totally new possibilities.’ The Manter IDP range is certified for digital printing with Indigo technology, thanks to a special coating treatment developed in collaboration with Hewlett-Packard. The IDP range is part of a larger series of products suitable for digital printing.

Arconvert provides pre- and post-sales technical support to printers and designers, to help ensure the material suits the end use, or if special inks or printing effects are used. With 90 per cent of its range coming from Fedrigoni mills, Arconvert can provide customers with quality and logistics consistency as the same materials can be used across wet glue labels, self-adhesive labels and packaging, all deriving from the same batches and dye lots to create a fully coordinated product. Fajardo notes that designers and clients are increasingly concerned about environmentally responsible options.

Manter offers the largest range of FSCTM certified premium pressure-sensitive papers in the industry, as well as papers produced using sustainable fibres.

Never fit in

With fierce competition between products, how does design studio Stranger & Stranger make a 10cm label on a bottle of wine or spirits stand out?

By Sarah Snaith

Design studio Stranger & Stranger – which has offices in London, New York and San Francisco –is a forerunner in packaging and label design for alcohol brands worldwide.

Its client list includes big producers such as Martini, Jose Cuervo tequila, Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Rye and The Kraken Black Spiced Rum, as well as less familiar ones such as Eristoff vodka, Spicebox Canadian Spiced Whisky and Prayers of Saints and Sinner winery, which has a glow-in- the-dark label.

The studio’s motto

‘Don’t fit in. Stand out.’

is evident in graphic solutions that include embossing, foils and die-cuts. Work for clients such as Scotch whisky-maker Dewar shows that standing out can take different forms for different clientele. Research for Dewar’s global refresh in 2013 used its archive in Scotland, and the new presentation boxes, labels, bottle shapes and a custom typeface all reference the company’s heritage. Stranger & Stranger is keenly aware of the product’s target consumer and the potential longevity that a bottle such as much sought-after and long sold-out Dewar’s 30-year-old Ne Plus Ultra – printed on Manter Savile Row Tweed Dark Grey – may have in the home.

Stranger & Stranger’s founder Kevin Shaw and group managing director Ivan Bell say: ‘To make a great alcohol pack you’ve got to know your consumer inside out, you’ve got to know what their world looks like and what rocks it, you’ve got to know when they shop, how they shop, what they are buying now. And then you’ve got to find the magic bullet that will scream out to them above all the other bottles on the shelf … and make the competition look inferior.’

The tactile experience is also of utmost importance. Enchanting billows and swirls dominate the delicate glass bottle for Maison Ferrand Sélection des Anges Cognac, and angelic cherubs further its appeal. The aesthetic for the award-winning design of Compass Box No Name is more terrestrial, with embossed whirls of smoke coming from a temple that appears on both the handsome black box and label, alluding to alchemy and the magical mixing of ingredients. ‘Tactility is evident in our ongoing partnership with Compass Box,’ say Shaw and Bell. ‘We’ve built a portfolio of rich storytelling for the brand over the last decade with their signature releases. The core element of this pack is the specific chosen paper, as it allows for heavy sculptured embossing and debossing with perfect ink and foil application. Label paper selection and specification is of key importance to us in all the label projects we undertake for our clients to complement our brand storytelling.’

Stranger & Stranger is careful to find solutions that speak to the unique features of a brand and its product range. For Redwood Empire’s whiskeys, this meant picturing philosopher and naturalist John Muir (a great advocate for California redwoods) in a variety of forms – in woodblock-printed, single-colour illustrations. In contrast, for aperitif Italicus Rosolio di Bergamotto, the hard work is done by the bottle design, which harks back to the innovations in glasswork of the mid-1920s that welcomed the invention of automated bottle production. These crafted bottles often have a second life: ‘We get lots of runaway successes,’ say Shaw and Bell, ‘but we only really consider a brand a success when people start making the bottles into lamps or getting tattoos of them. The Kraken had a range of goods produced – including a shower curtain and a lamp.’ In addition to the studio’s commissioned work, it makes limited-edition products (such as Bitter & Twisted bitters) as client gifts to celebrate Christmas each year. Shaw and Bell posit that with alcohol, there is seldom the opportunity for consumers to ‘get a sneaky taste’ before purchasing and bottles maybe competing with as many as 1000 others. Each winemaker is ‘promising the same rich fruity complement to your meat pie’, and consumers are ‘making a value judgement on the contents based solely on the four-inch piece of paper. Imagine if all the books and magazines in the bookstore had the same synopsis on the back cover and you weren’t allowed to look inside.’

People and paper

“Wine is all about being rooted to the earth and the local. We try to strip the label design back. It’s really all about the wine.”
For Fernando Gutiérrez design is about relationships, dialogue and letting things speak for themselves.

By John L. Walters. Portrait by Robert Billington

Fernando Gutiérrez is a ‘designer’s designer’, whose thoughtful work for clients in the worlds of magazines, museums, luxury goods and wine labels have been subtly influential.

Born in London to Spanish parents, Gutiérrez studied in the UK and took on his first jobs there, but came to prominence after moving to Barcelona in the early 1990s. He founded design studio Grafica with fellow designer Pablo Martín and designed Tentaciones, a weekend magazine supplement for the newspaper El País.

In 1995 he co-founded Matador, an annual independent magazine that won awards worldwide and led to many other prestigious projects. In 2000 Gutiérrez joined Pentagram’s London office as a partner and in 2006 he left to establish his own studio in north London. His most prominent clients include the Prado Museum in Madrid and the Design Museum in London, but many other projects, large and small, give evidence of his unique blend of enthusiasm and fastidiousness. Recent work includes the logo for the Fedrigoni Top Award, fine art and photography catalogues for private and public galleries, exhibition graphics, a perfume bottle for Givenchy, work for restaurant El Bulli and catalogue and exhibition graphics for Museo de Bellas Artes de Bilbao and Centro Botín in Santander and Club Matador, a private members’ club in Madrid which continues the spirit of Matador magazine.

Late last summer, on a rainy day in north London, Gutiérrez sat down to discuss his interest in designing wine labels, a longstanding passion that he considers to be a form of editorial design. His drinks clients include The Botanist, Poças, Alta Alella, Valdesil, MonteRosola, Domaine La Casenove, and his longterm client and friend Spanish winemaker Telmo Rodríguez.

John L. Walters: Your first wine label for Telmo Rodríguez was very different, very typographic …
Fernando Gutiérrez: Yes, because I didn’t know anything about the wine business. I just wanted to do something strong that would stand out.

I guess you knew it was a quality wine?
I didn’t even know if it was good quality! I trusted Telmo. He had a strong passion for wine and the culture of Iberian wine, and he wanted to do something different. His family had a beautiful vineyard in Rioja. Telmo took a brave decision to move away from the family business and start a new wine project on his own; he wanted to make wines in different points of the Iberian peninsula, rediscovering grape varieties and agricultural traditions that had been lost.
He bought a field in Toro with vines and he had to work it. There was nothing glamorous about it.
I just expressed what I thought wine should look like. I put dry transfer type directly on to the bottle and mocked it up. And I sent it to him in the post, a real bottle so he could visualise it!
Nowadays, it’s all so digital. You approve almost everything on screen. That package made it real.

I’m intrigued by the simplicity of your labels, often one letter, one graphic shape …
We try and strip it back as much as possible. It’s really all about the wine. The design is not a big deal.
I just want to complement the project. The wine buyers know Telmo. The design helps, but it’s really about him explaining the project, what he does and how he does it.

How does Telmo brief you?
It’s a conversation where he talks about his hopes and vision for each vineyard and the local history. Design visualises our thoughts.

There’s a sense that this is someone with a contemporary taste …
You’re right. He thinks internationally, but he wants to communicate a unique wine story about Spain and the Iberian Peninsula. Wine is all about being rooted to the earth and the local. The whole Iberian Peninsula, including Portugal,has had a renaissance in winemaking. Telmo kept buying up vineyards that were down at heel, looking at areas that were not so famous for winemaking but had potential. For a lot of his wines, he was a pioneer.

Using Alan Kitching for the Matallana label was a surprise: a very British, wood-type letterpress-printed design.
I worked with Alan on developing a look and feel for Matallana. But we’re constantly evolving the labels. Music is a reference point. How do youkeep your music relevant and, in a competitive market, transmitting something unique?
We want Matallana to become one of theclassic Riberas, so it’s an ongoing project for us. I like bringing in people who have nothing to do with wine. I do know a little bit more about wine now, but when I got involved I didn’t, and I think that brings a little freshness and a different perspective.

Tell me about some of the other collaborators.
I’ve worked with illustrators Andrew Davidson [Duratón], Chris Wormell [MonteRosola] and Sean Mackaoui, a Scot living in Madrid making great collages. Sean helped me on the original Lanzaga. Sometimes the images start off as little inside jokes, but then we evolve them. It’s a visual dialogue that expresses a little bit of what Telmo’s trying to do with the wine.
What I wanted to do with Valdesil (Valdeorras) was something emotional and abstract. This land, it’s all granite and slate. It’s a unique wine area, going back to Roman times, facing the Atlantic. It’s quite hard to cultivate that area because it’s on steep slopes that go down to the river. They have a grape called Godello that’s causing a buzz in the wine world.

Do the lines represent the slate?
Yeah, it’s that sort of hard-edge thing. I drew it because there was no budget. You have to really make do with what you can.

I liked the pencil handwriting on the Valderroa Carballo and Montenovo labels for Valdesil.
There’s a hard, contemporary, sharp feel and then the pencil is a nice contrast, a handmade edge. They’re a well known family of Madrid-based lawyers. It’s from their ancestors, this land. They were very passionate about bringing it all back to life.

What challenges do wineries face?
The sales aspect. You rely on other people to sell for you. You’re competing against big international businesses and preconceptions. It’s really hard if you want to be authentic. It’s intense. You can’t be naïve about it.

Matador and editorial design

The launch of Matador was a watershed in your career, wasn’t it?
Matador for me was big, it was where I was able to put all my editorial ideas into one place,so it’s like a book, it’s a magazine, it’s in the arts, it’s culture. That came out of working with El País.
While I was art directing Tentaciones, Alberto Anaut, the El País deputy editor, left the paper, and one of the new projects he wanted to do was an arts magazine. We thought Matador was a good name – Spanish, but international. He had a great idea: to do a cultural newspaper, but with time, coming out once a year. We had a large format. It was all about printing beautifully.

Your involvement in wine began with Matador, when you did labels with artists Sean Scully and Sol LeWitt …
For subscribers we would work with a Spanish winemaker to produce a limited edition. They’d pay for the wine, but it would be specifically for them. With every issue of Matador, we always had what we call a sketchbook where we’d work with a contemporary artist. We would use one of the images and call the wine after the artist of that issue. We asked Telmo’s father Jaime Rodríguez for a wine for the first issue. When he handed the project to Telmo, he said: ‘I want the guy that’s doing Matador to help me launch my new wine project. We’ll do it on the condition that the designer works with me.’

A pleasing connection between editorial design and wine!
Exactly. And it is editorial design, and wine is editorial, totally. Matador was the beginning of a big art and cultural project in Spain, based in Madrid. It became a photo festival, it’s become so many things. It has many events. It has a course on arts management for students, like a masters course. It’s a shop. It’s a members’ club in Madrid. They’re involved in the Madrid Design Festival, PHotoESPAÑA. Matador was the sounding board, the springboard, to all these different cultural projects. It’s a publisher as well. [Parent company] La Fábrica is publishing books, mainly on photography.

Have you been tempted to use more photography in your wine labels?
I don’t like photography on labels. It’s hardly ever worked for me, though I have done one that I love, Valderiz. I love photography, but on a label, it looks weird. It’s too much.

Look around a wine store now, and you see lots of faces on labels.
If you have a face, you’re going to sell. If they’re looking straight at you, you’re going to sell more, like Vogue. The fashion magazines have all got a face, so on wine, why not? But it’s not my approach.


Tell me a little about your work for the Prado.
The Prado is one of the most amazing museums in the world. I’ve always worked with photography and illustration, but this was working with fine art and the great masters, and that took me into a whole other world that I love. What I wanted to do was an anonymous thing of quality. We did things that were invisible.We upgraded the whole museum without people necessarily knowing.

Were you setting out to make something new?
Yes and no. They had like six or eight logos. They were stuck in the past, and very academic. It had a terrible gift shop. It took ten years to resolve it. Slowly we had to convince them that design had a benefit, because they initially saw us as superficial. And you’re like, ‘No, this little leaflet is going to be gorgeous. All the text is going to be legible; it’s all going to fit, it’s all going to be in order.’ So I’ve really got into classical art. It’s beautiful. Working with imagery, you’ve got a Titian or a Raphael or whoever, Vermeer … you can do so much with so little. The image will tell you what to do based on your format, and then you go from there. We covered a whole building in a Titian – you can’t go wrong! We had The Bacchanal [of the Andrians] right across the building in the centre of Madrid. Huge. It must have been about an eight-storey high building and it was stunning. That, for me, is graphics. Everything led me to the Prado. It’s all about relationships, staying close to what you love and enjoy.

Proud to share

Australian design studio Voice understands the language and currency of good wine.

By Kay Maxfield

Wine is a cultural product. It has a currency on the dining table and reflects a sense of sophistication and occasion.

Adelaide design studio Voice understands the power of perception and knows how hard a wine label needs to work in order to capture consumers’ attention, working with some of the best winemakers in South Australia, the largest wine-producing region in the country.

Hugh Hamilton Wines, Saint & Scholar and Tapi are among the studio’s ‘founder-led’ clientele. Hugh and Mary Hamilton sell roughly 80 per cent of their wines directly to consumers, which has given Voice the opportunity to engage with the brand’s loyal following, and the freedom to create what Scott Carslake, Voice’s co-founder, calls ‘intimate experiences.’ This has included front labels with no information or typography of any kind, one of which is a mesmerising silver-on-black geometric pattern.

Carslake says:

‘Fedrigoni has excellent paper for the projects we work on. The tactility and weight of their paper is crucial when working on premium labels. To see the detail and feel the texture is integral to the consumer experience.’

Organic winemaker Mark Kenneally’s wine Tapi is named after Tapuae-o-Uenuku, the highest peak in the northeast of New Zealand’s South Island.

“Taking a bottle of wine to any social occasion represents our personal identity and how we want others to view us.”

Scott Carslake

The range sells exclusively online, Tapi’s label features a multi-coloured mountain; each facet of which has a different pattern; wine varieties are distinguished by differing tonal skies. While customers do not have the chance to hold the bottle before making the purchase, ‘the tactility is just as important, as the experience must transfer from the online appearance to a tactile label in the consumer’s hands’, says Carslake.

For Saint & Scholar, Voice took a different approach. The elements take inspiration from art in the late-1960s and early 70s, but Saint & Scholar is intended to appeal to a sophisticated millennial consumer.

Carslake says, ‘Taking a bottle of wine to any social occasion represents our personal identity and how we want others to view us. Walking into a restaurant with an excellent bottle of wine with great packaging is the same. It gets noticed, we can talk about it and feel proud to share it!’