Chehalem Revamps Labels, Authentically
By Cole Danehower
When I call Harry Peterson-Nedry to talk about the introduction of his winery’s new label and design system, nearly the first thing he says is what a glorious day it is and how “fantastic” it is to be living in the “gorgeous” Willamette Valley.
His exclamation was not PR spin designed to disarm an interviewer; it was pure Harry enthusiasm. If there is a single word that describes Harry, it might well be “authentic”—though any number of nuanced synonyms would also be appropriate: genuine, real, reliable, honest, accurate, faithful, authoritative.
As you might expect, these qualities also show up in Harry’s wines under the Chehalem name: varietally pure, vineyard-specific, vintage-true. And now, a new label design adds a different expression to this character of authenticity that informs the Chehalem brand—and the Harry character.
“It has been 20 years since we instituted our first label design and we’ve changed it very little,” says Harry. “It’s time we incorporated what we’ve learned about ourselves and our wines since then, and do it with a bright and colorful expression.”
The initial hints of change came a few years ago when Chehalem introduced a dramatic new label for their popular INOX Chardonnay bottling (pronounced “eenox”, after the French word for stainless steel: inoxydable). The bold design broke with the winery’s traditional labels and had a positive impact on sales. Harry says the winery learned that “design does stimulate people” favorably to their brand.
Move ahead a year and the winery engaged Trellis Wine Consulting to do some market research on various aspects of the brand, including packaging. “We were quite pleased with what people throughout the market thought about our wines, but when it came to packaging, the results were a little more ambiguous,” admits Harry.
Chehalem’s heritage labels had always featured colorful abstract paintings by artist Ted Katz, but as much as they had become a familiar signature of the winery, the research raised concerns that perhaps the design had run its course. There were some questions about what the labels communicated, and if perhaps they were becoming dated. “What we took away from the research was that maybe we ought to work on how we could tweak and update our package design.”
Chehalem engaged the Portland design firm Sandstrom Partners, veterans of innumerable iconic brand designs to see what they could do to help freshen Chehalem’s labels. “We didn’t go the full blown, touchy-feely version of understanding ourselves,” Harry says, “but we did have some in-depth conversations with the Sandstrom staff and after long sessions they came back with some statements of what they understood us to be.”
It was at that point that Harry realized the winery needed something more revolutionary. “It became about much more than making minor tweaks that retained our look and feel, instead it was radically changing things.” With that realization, the process became one of applying a few fundamental principals to the development of a new design strategy that would express the Chehalem character.
For Harry and his team, the new design needed to:
>embody the strengths of the winery and vineyards,
>enable the winery’s bottles to be easily identified and differentiated—literally from across the room
>have a system that expressed the varied families of Chehalem’s approximately 17 different wines,
>and connect with the consumer’s head and heart by providing in-depth information, from real people, about the wine, its source, and its making.
Most of these principles could apply to any winery’s labels, but probably not the last one. The idea of adding detail to a label flies in the face of some huge market success stories where simple proves better on bottle labels—think Yellowtail or Barefoot.
But dumbing down Chehalem’s label would not be true to the brand—or Harry. Chehalem doesn’t make $10 wines and their entire essence is about reflecting variety and place and vintage in the bottle. So as a good design agency should, Sandstrom created a branding advantage out of the otherwise unconventional desire for detail: the labels, they concluded, needed to be as nerdy as Chehalem—and Harry—was.
“They termed it ‘geek chic’,” says Harry, “and that’s what we think the labels finally ended up becoming.” And what’s more, they are proudly “geek chic” labels!
“We are detail oriented, and we’re not embarrassed or ashamed by that,” says Harry unapologetically. “A lot of our customers appreciate that about Chehalem, and we want to provide them with what’s germane to them on the label, whether it is the chemistry of the final wine in the bottle, or our thoughts about what the wine goes best with from a food-matching standpoint, or even our own humor in approaching life and wine as part of life, those are all expressions of who we are.”
Can you say proudly “authentic”?
A lot of different design concepts were presented to Harry and the Chehalem crew, some quite impressive, Harry recalls—but not always true to the Chehalem character. “At one point I told them that when they had a winery of their own I would happily buy their wine with their label design,” Harry chuckles, “but that what I needed was a label that said ‘Chehalem.’”
The final label design accomplishes that. Printed on paper that—with earthy colors, varying textures, and a deckled edge—conveys a sense of a being a page out the winemaker’s journal. A center photograph (by Shawn Linehan) evocatively illustrates a moment in the winegrowing/winemaking process for each individual wine (which will vary with each vintage). An accompanying handwritten caption details the place and date of the image to reinforce the wine’s sense of place. On the back, all manner of data is presented, including a descriptive note signed by the winemakers, plus overview discussions of the variety, wine style, suggested pairings, harvest date, and barrel details.
“The focus on detail will seem like you’re talking to one of us,” says Harry.
Harry is happy with the new labels. “I am proud that the things important to us were successfully integrated into the package. We continue to have something that is striking and meaningful from an aesthetic point of view, that offers a great deal of information for consumers, and which I think well reflects our values and character.”
Some might argue, why fix something that wasn’t really broken, but Harry has a different take. “I’ve changed physically over the last 20 years, so why shouldn’t the Chehalem label? I think the label is making a statement that Chehalem stays up with the times, whether it’s what’s in the bottle or on the surface, and we can incorporate what we’ve learned about ourselves over that time. We’re ready for another 20 years!”