Unit 10 – Self Directed Project: Brief 2 – Research: History of Wine Labels

History of the Wine Label HERE

Although the evidence dated back to 1352 BC, from Egypt’s King Tut burial site (unearthed in 1922 by archeologist Howard Carter), indicates that the ancient Egyptians were the first who labeled their wines detailing vintage, growing region or vineyard, and winemaker, it was in the Persian Empire that  labeling of wines became a necessity, because of the many verity of wines, including the Greek and Phoenician  wines from Sidon,  arriving at the Great King’s wine cellar at Persepolis. In fact, according to Herodotus the Persian Achaemenid Empire (550-330 BC), had an elaborate culture of wine drinking . The Persians ” are very fond of wine” he writes (I1.33). Cambyses was particularly notorious in this department (Herodotus III.34), and Cyrus the Younger boasted of holding his wines better than his brother Artexerexes (Plutarch, Art,6.1).

This elaborate tradition was followed by the Sasanian Empire (224-651 AD). A Middle Persian text from this era  entitled (King) Husraw and Page is perhaps the first recorded recommendation list of wines by a wine connoisseur:

“May you be immortal, these wines are all good and fine, the wine of Transoxania, when they prepare it well, the wine of Herat, the wine of Marw-Rud, the wine of Bust and the must of Hulwan, but no wine can ever compare with the Babylonian wine and the must of Bazrang.”

The early label designs in Europe were simply small identifying pieces of parchment tied with string around the neck. Later identifiers included carvings in the base of a pewter stand describing the region of the wine. By the 1700s, labels were designed on a stone. Ink was then applied and a roller transferred it to paper. By 1798, lithography had been invented and wine labels could be printed in mass quantities. As winemakers gained more and more pride in the quality of their wines, creating the perfect label to show it off became more and more important. Designs and especially color became prevalent.

More History HERE

The growth of the glass bottle industry, the increase in the variety of wines produced, and the need to distribute them eventually necessitated labeling every wine bottle. The first paper wine labels were made in Germany around the 19th century and were fairly generic. They were printed on white paper rectangles in either Gothic or Bodoni font and listed only the kind of wine. Sometimes the vintner would list the name of the wine and the vintage year. Around that same time in France, Champagne labels with gold, silver, bronze, blue and other colors were made by the great Champagne houses.

With each passing year, winemakers gained pride in the quality of their wines and used their wine labels to boast. They added honorable mentions, medals, and trophies to their wine labels.

The Italian wine labels of the 19th and 20th centuries revealed clues of daily life, with labels that displayed coats of arms, landscapes, portraits, or medals from the individual wine families. This continued until 1950 in Italy, when governmental law imposed wine label requirements.

It has been said that wine labels are similar to the chapter titles in a book and tell us everything we need to know about a wine’s background. When you design your own wine label at Bottle Your Brand, you can add as much or as little information to your label as you choose.


Napa Valley Wine Collection Labels, Designed by Viet Huynh

A critic wrote; ” When and why did the California wine label, especially on bottles of the noblest representatives of the state’s wine culture, become so monochromatic, lifeless and dull? By and large, they look as if they came out of the same conservative studio, one that customarily prepares advertising material for mortuaries. Granted, designers and artists can’t alone be faulted for labels so lacking in personality, adventure, history, romance, tension and drama. They take their cues from winery owners, who in reaching for stateliness too often end up with the underwhelmingly understated. Oh, there is an elegance to the designs, but it’s so reserved and lacking in color and rhythm that vintners seem to have forgotten the first responsibility of the wine label: Sell the wine to browsing customers who for the most part are impulsive buyers. The label is to grab their attention and convey a sense of the confidence, tradition and aspiration that went into the wine in the bottle.” Viet Huynh design is part of a project to address these concerns.

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