Video: creating the Jordan wine label and refining it today

by on November 17, 2010

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What information should and should not be printed on a wine back label continues to fuel heated debates amongst wine bloggers, retailers and critics alike. Now that conjunctive labeling has become law for all Sonoma County wineries (effective January 1, 2011), we’re using this opportunity to reevaluate our approach to the back label contents on both our Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon.

Before we embarked on this project, we asked Sally Jordan to share the story of how the Jordan wine label design came to life in the mid-1970s. As someone who has worked at Jordan for just one year, I find it fascinating how much effort went into the creation of the Jordan chateau drawing, finding an expert lithographer (who was not incarcerated!) and selecting a steel engraving printer specializing in intaglio techniques. Few people know that our labels are printed in a two-part process (lithography for the letters and intaglio for the chateau) by American Bank Note—the same company that prints government tax return checks and drivers licenses. Harlan Estate and Jordan are reportedly the only wine labels ABN prints each year.

Deciding what to change on our front label was easy: nothing. We’re simply adding the required region – “Sonoma County” – beneath the sub-appellations Russian River Valley for Chardonnay and Alexander Valley for Cabernet Sauvignon.

Developing a new back label, however, has been a struggle. The original vision of the Jordan label was to emulate the design elegance of a particular first-growth chateau in Bordeaux. First growths do not include colorful stories or descriptions on their back labels. The name is supposed to speak for itself. For many years, that has been the philosophy at Jordan. On the back label, you’ll find the name of the wine, a UPC code and government requirements. As they say in France, “C’est tout.”

Much has changed at Jordan since John Jordan took over from his father in 2005. Should our wine labels be any different? We’ve read online commentary about back label copy etiquette. We’ve queried customers, sales representatives and friends. Everyone seems to agree that our back label should include a message from John, which would describe our winemaking style and what the wine generally tastes like. Several colleagues recommended including percentages of grapes our Cabernet Sauvignon’s blend, as well as oak aging regime. I’ve learned including such details isn’t possible because our intricate labels are printed 2-3 months before our winemakers decide on the final blend. Rob and his team are constantly fine-tuning our final blends up until the week before bottling. Pursuing ever-higher greatness in winemaking requires flexibility, not formulas.

We’re just starting to roll up our sleeves, so we’d love to get your opinion too. What information do you like to see on the back labels of wine bottles?

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  • Dyann Espinosa

    The back label is valuable “real estate.” And it’s a chance to control your message. Whether you do it with humor, storytelling or history, you can bring people who read it a little closer to the winery and its culture/personality. That engagement has a lot of influence on the consumer.
    Make the most of it!
    Cheers, Dyann

  • Ron Saikowski

    Tell me more on your paper and glue for your labels. Do you use any recycled goods in your paper? What about your bottles? There is a California company that will laser size and wash bottles and re-sell them to the winery at a fraction of the original bottle costs, thereby saving some impacts to the environment. How GREEN is your labeling/bottling process?

  • http://www.jordanwinery.com Lisa

    Thank you, Dyann. I really appreciate the comment and recommendation. Someone told me the other day that research shows only 7% of people read a back label to make a wine decision. I was surprised and still don’t agree.

  • http://www.jordanwinery.com Lisa

    Dear Ron,

    We unfortunately cannot use 100% recycled paper for our label due to the printing technique, intaglio. When the paper is intaglio printed, it is put through a great deal of pressure recycled paper could not handle. The printer informed us it is best to use a paper with a very low percentage of recycled material to prevent tearing.

    Our glass companies already use a large percentage of recycled glass or what they call “cullet” to make our bottles. We also try to be eco-friendly by using a lighter weight bottle. Many prestige wineries use very heavy bottles that require a lot more material and energy to make. We are also working toward replacing our existing bottling line with a state-of-the-art version that is more efficient.

    Lisa

  • http://Lorrie'sWineandFoodWorld Lorrie S. LeBeaux

    I think the label is lovely and well thought out.

    The back of the label is important to the consumer; they need to have an idea of what to expect from the bottle of wine. Basic flavor profile is important and the style of wine is important. The idea of “Old World vs New World” as it relates to the wine matters.

    Also, a sentence to convey something about the owner of the vineyard is nice.

  • http://collotype.com Carol Harvey

    Dear Lisa – Jordan’s loyalty to American Bank Note is admirable, and the wineries value for this relationship comes through in your video. We enjoy similar longdstanding relationships with our label customers and it means a lot.

    To keep copy minimal but embrace the modern era, perhaps consider a Qr4Wine 2D code, which can draw customers to your inviting website.

  • http://www.jordanwinery.com Lisa

    Thanks so much for the feedback, Lorrie. Greatly appreciated.

  • http://www.jordanwinery.com Rob Davis

    Dear Ron:

    We managed the challenge of bringing in a lot of fruit in a short period of time by:

    a) Our fermentation room has the capacity of 1.5 times the size of the vintage, which means that by turning over only half of the fermentation tanks once, we have room for the entire vintage. The challenge presented this year is that because the fruit was so cold for the “0.5″ fermentation tank room, it took much longer for those tanks to get started. As a consequence, I was faced with the decision to: a) Let the fruit hang out longer on the vines until the tanks were completely dry and risk the fruit being rained on; or b) press earlier around 1-2 brix and get the rest of the fruit in before the forecasted rain.

    b) What really helps is that we are geared up by both equipment and human resources to manage an above average speed of harvest. Our average harvest is 6-8 weeks; this year was 4. But we routinely plan on a 6 week harvest rather than 8. In other words better to be over staffed than be in the position of operating lean or “under staffed” and risk the ability to make great wine in order to save a few bucks on labor. Also we have a very flexible crew that can operate cellar equipment as well as lab equipment. When we are faced with the necessity to add more folks in the cellar, we resource them from the lab. So prioritizing the needs of the wine dictates our ability to respond to a more “manic” Mother Nature.

    I always enjoy those times when we have to put things into high gear. It is those times that really show off the professionalism and dedication of a crew. Your harvest sounds like a great success as well. Would love to taste your wines sometime.

    Cheers,
    Rob

  • http://www.jordanwinery.com Lisa

    Hi Carol,
    I’ve been contemplating QR Codes for the past year. I think the technology is fun — and we’ve got the video content and capacity to create a really cool page — but I do worry it’s too techie for an established icon like Jordan. I don’t want to harm our image by putting to much stuff on the label. What do you think?
    Best,
    Lisa

  • http://www.cheapoair.typepad.com George

    Hey, really great blog post… I’ve enjoyed reading through your blog because of the great style and energy.

    I actually work for the CheapOair travel blog. If you’re interested, we would love to have you on as a guest blogger. Please send me an e-mail: gchristodoulou(at)cheapoair(dot)com, and I can give you more information. Looking forward to hearing from you.

  • http://www.jordanwinery.com Lisa

    Hi George,
    Thanks for your comment. We appreciate the positive feedback. I’m familiar with Cheapoair; used to use it when I lived in Ireland. Let me think about the guest blog post offer. Jordan does offer value to the consumer, but it’s more of an affordable luxury. I need to think of something that would complement your brand and ours.
    Happy holidays,
    Lisa