In the words of the first century Roman gourmet, Apicius: We drink with our eyes first. Many of us have ordered wine or chosen a bottle in a store based on the packaging or label. It could be a gin design inspired by Hendrick’s Apotheosis, pop art adorned with Absolut offerings, or labels from 19 Crimes coming to life via our smartphones.

According to a 2016 survey by, 82% of the 2,000 wine drinkers surveyed made their choice based on the label. Quality packaging combines style and substance, and behind each is a graphic designer or team responsible for creating an eye-catching design that embodies the spirit and philosophy of the brand. Here’s how you can become one of them.

Draft wine label in design/photo by Rachel Truss.

Formal further training or independent study

Amanda Rockwell graduated from Notre Dame in graphic design and began her career as a designer at Precept Wine in Seattle. Nine years later, she leads a full team of four as the company’s creative director.

If you want to make it your profession, you need to learn all you can and hone your skills, she says. Rockwell advises interested parties to look for online courses on fundamentals, processes and strategies, as well as hands-on projects to build a portfolio.

Paula Schultz attended high school and graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee with a Bachelor of Arts in Interdisciplinary Arts and Technology. She did internships at Milwaukee Urban Gardens and Do414 and worked on campus as a school meals designer. She now works as a senior designer at Bently Heritage Estate Distillery in Minden, Nevada, and as a freelance illustrator for the Washington Post and the Los Angeles Times.

Schultz recommends that students look to other artists they admire and their own passion for art for inspiration. Create a fake brand for your portfolio or volunteer for a friend’s start-up.


Designer/illustrator Kelly Halpin works with Melvin Brewing on label design/photo by David A. Ponton.

Building on previous creative experience

Kelly Halpin creates work for the Melvin Brewing label in Alpine, Wyoming and harks back to her photographic past. Raised in an artistic family that encouraged creativity, Ms. Halpin earned a degree in filmmaking. She realized she preferred to tell stories in a different way and became a full-time freelance illustrator, a skill she brought to the beer business.

Halpin began working with Melvin in 2010. She creates characters for the packaging that embody the brewery’s message of fun and chaos. She likes to draw strong female characters, like a mad scientist in the new Juice Theorem IPA.

design by Kelly Halpin mad scientist for Melvin Beer IPA juice theory / illustration by Kelly Halpin

I’m trying to develop a character that takes a new concept and adds a little quirkiness and flair to it, Halpin says. The creative side is essential, although I don’t think you need to be a professional to create a unique piece of art.

Laurali Vegwari grew up in the wine country of California, where events like weddings, graduations and vineyard closings are the order of the day. She has channeled her obsession with paper, fonts, graphics and style into designing invitations.

Ten years later, Wegwari accepted a marketing position at Black Button Distilling in Rochester, NY. She discovered that her past experiences translated well into her current role as a brand designer.

Black Button Distilling Straight Four Grain Bourbon Whiskey Packaging design / Photo courtesy of Black Button Distilling

Nowadays she designs everything from labels and posters to special shelves in liquor stores. Vegwaria sees her visions come to life, which is incredibly satisfying and captivating.

Design is obviously aesthetic, but if you can, convey character that people like, she says. The most successful [of these] create a bond with the consumer.

Understand that it’s not just about making a beautifulpackage.

The designers I admire most are able to deeply understand the essence of a brand and its origins, and from there create beautiful and effective packaging, says Luke McKinley, marketing director of Novo Fogo Cachaça.

McKinley has a degree in International Studies and a concentration in Ethnography. He has experience in creating video and photo content and managing digital marketing. He works with the CEO of Novo Fogo and the graphic designers who oversee the company’s packaging.

assortment Novo Fogo / Photo: Luke McKinley

McKinley aims to educate consumers by providing clear and concise information about the lesser known category of spirits and the company’s sustainability efforts. Design is important, but so is the ability to convey unique characteristics and a sense of place.

Integrating art into everyday life

A degree in art is not necessary, but so is soaking up art and culture every day, according to Julien Fort, co-owner and creative director of The Rooster Factory. The agency, based in Pasadena, California, specializes in the beverage industry.

He encourages future pack artists to visit galleries, museums and bookstores, practice street art and murals and express their creativity. Art is the spark and source of everything, he says. It is the engine, the fuel, the excitement, the joy.

Fort’s first project was to illustrate a series of pin-ups engraved on the frames of stills at a distillery in Cognac, France, inspired by nose paintings on World War II airplane fuselages. Today, he is the company’s chief designer and illustrator.

Julien and Audrey Fort, Rooster Factory / Photo by Andrew Kista Credit Andrew Kista

Together with partner and co-owner Audrey Fort, they manage projects from start to finish, including corporate identities, illustrations, packaging and visual communications. His latest designs include packaging for Old Duff Gin, Insolito by Matusalem Rum and Ólafsson Gin.

You have an innovative and progressive mindset and environmental skills

In recent years, an important aspect of wine, spirits and beer packaging has been the reduction of its environmental impact through the use of lighter packaging made from recycled materials. Those who can demonstrate professional skills in sustainable design can gain a competitive advantage.

Such is the case with Kind of Wild, a new wine club that offers certified organic and sustainable wines.

We have an opportunity to become better and more responsible in research, design and brand development, says Jordan Sager, director of marketing, who founded the company with Adam Sager and Todd Nelson.

Cabernet Sauvignon, Australian branding and design agency Creative Method, for Kind of Wild / Photo Holly Leitner, Photo Holly Leitner.

Initiatives include more sustainable labeling and packaging, such as. B. by using 100% recycled linen and hemp labels printed with sugarcane, by leaving out unnecessary caps and by opting for lightweight bottles.

The brand’s new design should exude a freshness that not only distinguishes it from its direct competition, but also tells its story in an engaging and meaningful way, Jordan said.

Be as informed as possible about the beverage industry

The challenge is to juggle urgent production deadlines while remaining creative. Every day is both a sprint and a marathon, Fort says.

To shorten the learning curve, familiarize yourself with beverages and their consumption, industry trends, and the graphic codes behind the categories. Spend time in bars and liquor stores talking to bartenders and consumers about their preferences and wants.

The design that resonates most with consumers, stimulates interest and sales and lasts a long time is the one that tells a real, authentic and inspiring story, Fort says. We simply tell stories with design.

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