Written by: Tim Edison

Updated: May 10, 2023

You Can’t Judge Wine by the Label (But You Do Anyway)

Learn how wine labels are regulated in the US and the creative ways they can be designed.

Wine bottles and labels

How Are US Wine Labels Regulated?

In 2021, Americans purchased more than 4.3 billion bottles of wine.

These included everything from questionable $4 wines acquired at gas stations in Florida (not recommended, by the way) to $5800 bottles of Screaming Eagle Sauvignon Blanc.

But one thing that every one of those bottles had in common was that they had a label to let customers know what was inside. And in many cases, the design of the labels actually influenced customer purchases.

Not surprisingly, how wine is labeled is regulated by the United States federal government.

According to the Department of the Treasury, all labels need to contain accurate and specific information about the contents of the bottle.

Wine bottles with blank labels

This is important for protecting the public and guaranteeing integrity, but it can be a hassle for designers who have to include large amounts of data in a small space.

The good news is that many wineries actually use two labels: one to showcase the brand, and a secondary one to communicate the information that they are required to by law.

This may seem complicated – and it is.

In fact, the government actually provides design tips for vintners to show what kind of information needs to be included and how it needs to be displayed.

Brand labels for US-produced wine need to show the name of the brand, the class of wine, and the appellation of origin; they also need to reference the presence of any foreign wine used in blends, including the percentage by volume of imported wine.

Labels also need to include alcohol content, a health warning statement, a sulfite declaration, a health warning statement, and the name and address of the wine producer.

Once a wine label is designed, it needs to be submitted to the government for approval.

The good news is that it only takes about eight days for the government to approve the label, and if one is rejected, regulators usually provide specific suggestions for fixes.

They have also streamlined the process to make changes to labels that have already been approved.

Wines and grapes

The Art of Wine

Now that we’ve gotten the legal stuff out of the way, it’s time to have fun with design. Creative labeling of wine is an art form in itself.

If you are trying to create a classy vibe, gold embossing and calligraphic fonts can convey an air of sophistication.

If you’re trying to create something a little bit more fun, Day-Glo colors or pictures of animals might be more your speed.

The sky really is the limit when it comes to graphics on your label, whether you are a weekend hobbyist making wine for your friends or a global beverage brand looking to break into new markets.

But whatever you decide to do from a design standpoint, at a certain point you are going to need to print physical labels.

This is where things have changed significantly over the last few years. Historically, when companies had to order huge quantities of labels because printers had large minimum orders and high set-up costs.

Recommended: Does wine spoil in heat?

wine bottles in a wooden box

Today, digital printing has eliminated the need for both, and winemakers can literally order a single label - although I’m not quite sure why anyone would stop at one!

Not only can you order as many (or as few) labels as you want, but you have an almost unlimited number of choices of custom labels when it comes to size, shape, material, color…the list goes on.

Traditional wine labels have been standard shapes such as squares, rectangles, circles, and ovals. There’s nothing wrong with those shapes, and they dominate the market for a reason.

But thanks to die cutting, creative winemakers can pick any shape they want. Want a label shaped like an infinity sign?

No problem. Looking for a metallic label shaped like paper doll cutouts? That’s just as easy to print as a more standard geometric form.

The ability to customize designs and the lack of minimum order sizes give winemakers the ability to create unique designs for limited-edition runs and special bottles.

For example, if you are hoping to sell a lot of wine during the holiday season, creating a unique Christmas label shaped like Santa Claus could create a powerful visual appeal for wine lovers looking for the perfect gift.

You can also easily create customized corporate gifts that include the logos of companies that order your wine as presents for their employees or partners.

Even if you aren’t a graphic designer, don’t panic. Our online tools allow anyone to create their own labels in just a few minutes.

And if that’s a stretch, we offer customized design services to help come up with ideas and bring them to life.

All you need to do is make the wine that goes inside the bottle, and we will take care of the outside.

About the Author Tim Edison

Tim started Wine Turtle way back in 2015.
These days he contributes to Wine Turtle (and other renowned wine publications) while continuing his wine education.
Tim's wine of the month is the Coates & Seely Reserve Brut NV (from Hampshire, England).

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