Jeff Hester : : Of Wine, Spirits, Food and Music

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Multi-talented designer, Jeff Hester, specializes in packaging for the wine, spirits, luxury food, and music industries.  In addition, he is also an illustrator and works magic with typography.  Altpick Connects had the pleasure of talking with Jeff about one of his many disciplines: designing wine labels.

You have many remarkable wine label designs, all-different, yet each captures each of the wines’ distinctive tastes.  

Often I am asked if the label reflects the taste or flavor profile of the wine, but I have yet to work on a single project where there is any direct flavor queue in the branding. Wine labels usually function to support the brand messaging and tell the story of the winemaker or where the grapes are from. Most wine brands have multiple varietals, or kinds of wine, and since a Chardonnay tastes completely different from a Cabernet Sauvignon, it would be impossible to convey both flavor profiles in a single logo. To make it easier for consumers to find the varietal they want on shelf most brands color code the capsules, but the color does not reflect the taste of the wine. For example, blue is the most common color for Merlot, but what flavor does blue represent?

Copyright Jeff Hester

Was designing wine label something that you pursued or did it come to you organically?

I had never considered being a wine label designer, it happened organically. I began my career in Los Angeles working for Capitol Records, though file sharing eventually killed the industry and made it harder to find work. I began designing marketing materials for TV and film, but they too were reeling from the loss of ad revenue caused by new DVR technology, which allowed viewers to fast forward through commercials. I had always admired the work of CF Napa, a studio in Northern California who designed modern wine labels and good logos. On a whim I sent my resume and the next thing I knew I was driving a U-haul up Interstate 5 to the Bay Area. I worked for CF Napa for almost four years–I learned a lot there, and made some good friends at the studio.

Do you appreciate wine and are you familiar with the different types of wine and what to expect?

I love wine and I have tried just about everything. Based on the varietal and where it is grown, I have a pretty good idea what to expect. If you are an inexperienced wine consumer, don’t be afraid to ask the wine clerk questions. They have tried the wines and know what is good. Don’t be intimidated–tell them what you want to spend, and what you’re going to eat or not eat with the wine, and take notes. People have a misconception that wine has to be expensive to be good. The large wine groups are producing high quality wine at a reasonable cost, and there are mom and pop producers making wines of good value too.

Do you work directly with the winery on the designs or with an advertising agency?

I usually work directly with the winery, but I have worked with some other design studios as well.

Tell us little about the ‘Fuse’ bottle design.  Love the  type and the simple design.  Was this label heavily art directed by the client or was it your concept?

I designed Fuse while at CF Napa. Fuse was easy to design; the client wanted something very modern with a lot of shelf impact. The wine is a blend of a couple varietals, so the client wanted the label to be graphically fused together. Initially my Creative Director did not like the design, I had to fight to have it included in the presentation. The client was thrilled with the presentation, and picked the label right away.

I finessed the type, and worked on getting the textures just right, and soon it was on press. The client came back shortly thereafter and picked another one of my designs from the same presentation to turn into Trim. The Trim design was my Creative Director’s favorite design from the presentation.

Are you involved in just the label or can you have input on the actual bottle design as in ‘High Roller’ Vodka bottle?

For wine projects it is almost always a stock bottle, but for High Roller I designed the structure as well. Most people use stock bottles because it is very expensive to produce custom glass, especially if it is going to be manufactured by a company that will do it right.

Were you trained in type design or are you self-taught?

I took one type class in college, but I did not learn much. The majority came from reading a lot of typography books and a lot of practice. Type is strange; some days I know exactly what to do, and other days I can’t set type to save my life. I love to draw custom type when I have time, but it’s a luxury when I am on a tight deadline.

What would you say was your favorite label and which project was your best?

My favorite wine label is designer Michael Vanderbyl‘s Scarecrow.  It is so modern, yet so classic, and has a calm confidence. My best project is probably High Roller Vodka; it’s a custom bottle and custom type. It’s not often you have so much input.

Thank you Jeff for sharing your story and giving us a little insight on the world of the wine and design!

Thank you for including me on your blog. I hope to have lots more beautiful work to share with you in the future.

We look forward to it!

See more of Jeff Hester work on his website and Altpick.com page.

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