01 Dec 2021

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Judging Romanian wines by the label: themes and symbols

Judging Romanian wines by the label: themes and symbols 

Clothes, posters, book covers, labels … how much does the graphical presentation matter for our choices? Neither of us admits they judge people, movies, books, and wines according to these criteria, but we do it at a subliminal level. We are not superficial; we do not have to feel guilty. We take a shortcut to make a decision. Should we continue to invest resources and interest or not?

The map of the Romanian wineries has grown almost exponentially in the last ten years. Moreover, because all this had to be named and have a “coat of arms”, there is now a vast catalog of graphic expressions to seduce a more or less informed audience.

In the next paragraphs, we scan a pool of ideas at the confluence of the West and East, struggling between millenary heritage and the aspiration to be “Instagram-ready”, between the pride of the owners and the desire to penetrate international markets. The material, organized by themes, wishes to be a mini-guide among the symbols used in the marketing of Romanian wine and a starting point for identifying suitable items for using as a national brand.

Traditional, retro, or communist labels

During the communist era, wine marketing was reduced to the legal minimum required: the name of the producer, the variety, the alcoholic volumes and maybe some prizes. All of these were written on a white or yellowish-brown label, accompanied by simplistic graphic elements (grapes/glass/ bottle), rather coarsely drawn.

old romanian wine labels communist

Some manufacturers, especially those with tradition (Cotnari, Jidvei) still keep such labels in their portfolio for the nostalgic buyers and have significant sales volumes on a market where the 9-17 lei sector is predominant.

”Chateau Ici”

The French label model has created a cliché, which is difficult to avoid. The light-beige, open background with the lithography of the domain and eventually a name that includes the idea of “Chateau / Domaine” became so common that it is now completely demystified. With few exceptions, we find this type of label in the middle-lower ranges, in the desire to suggest quality, usually to a poorly-informed audience.

2 traditional, french chateau like romanian wine labels

A risky move for premium wines, if no continuity would historically justify the label of this type.

National and international mythology

The strong nationalist current of recent years has led to a return to the native mythology. Local idol searches have also found echoes on wine labels that want to convey the message of a tradition spanning over millennia. Thracian goddesses such as Bendis (similar to Artemis) or Kotys, both with connections to the divination rituals identical to those of Bacchus, appear alongside representations of the Dacian wolf or the Dacian tribes’ leaders.

4 romanian wine labels mythology and religion

Modern wineries who want to communicate to a younger and even international audiences choose universal names or symbols such as gods, representations of mythological beings, or reproductions of ancient pottery. Generally, these wines are included in the premium ranges, being appreciated by connaisseurs and smoothly introduced to new markets, to an educated audience.

Religion, divine, vine and anything in between

In a country with a strong Orthodox tradition, it is not surprising that many labels contain references to saints (Serafim / Cupola Sanctis range), churches (Triangle of Monasteries) and Christian values (Smerenie). By the sacred nature of these names, these wines are sometimes surrounded by an aura of respect, including those that refer to other religions (Alira Tribes). They are also often preferred to be offered as gifts for name days or other events that mark the cycle of life.

5 romanian wine labels religious orthodox symbols

There is no shortage of labels containing biblical references (Jacob’s scale) or Masonic symbols (Grail, Divine Eye). Considering the amount of culture needed to appreciate these esoteric symbols, such wines belong in the super-premium sector for intellectuals.

Some producers dare to break the dogma and take the angels to Little Paris or to bring in the “Beciul Popii” (Priest’s Cellar) with more worldly wines (The Priest’s Daughter / The Skin of the Lady) which some would worship with the same religiosity.

Folklore and village life

The communication of a significant number of Romanian wines is often centered on the idea of tradition and connection with the earth. Thus, it is not surprising that many labels, although oriented towards an almost exclusively urban audience, have as their core theme peasants’ lives and habits. The wineries that offer these wines believe that they create a bridge between the consumer and the terroir, give a national identity to the product and give it an emotional component.

3 romanian wine labels peasants village

Bearing names reminiscent of old habits of fertility (Caloian) or pagan deities (Rusalca, Drăgaică) tolerated by Christian priests, these wines are of local interest but are hard to market on international markets where there is no correspondence for these concepts.

An exciting trend, which is easier to export, is that of expressive faces that appeal to universal human values and have a moving story behind (1,000 Chipuri (faces)/ Minima Moralia).

Nature: between the sun and the horse symbol

Even if there are overlaps with previous categories, primarily through the mythological dimension of some symbols, such as the sun, or various animals, these labels deserve to be discussed separately.

While some manufacturers remain cryptic and work with symbols of harvest, hills, water, remembering the representations of the Cucuteni culture (Nativa / Nativus range), others prefer simplified images of the sun (Rasova) and moon (DFR). These can stimulate interest and be memorable even for foreigners.

wine labels romania sun, anmals

Following an international trend, more and more animal labels appeared, from birds to bears, suggesting wine characteristics or identifying with the brand (Lacerta / Liliac). These representations mustn’t fall into derision (Blood of Taurus).

A particular case is the repeated use of the horse symbol, which is preferred by several wine cellars, as an expression of freedom, noble origin, and uniqueness. As with the “Chateau” labels, if this trend continues, the horse will also become an empty form, and the branded wines will not be more credible than the “Two Beautiful Horses” spirits.

Historical landmarks

Excluding the ancient period discussed above, a recurring theme on Romanian wine labels is the historical one. Sometimes a connection with a glorious past is desired, other wines have a historical relationship with the boyars and the Royal House, or pay attention to Belle Epoque characters. Authenticity is necessary for this communication. If the Crown Domain (Marama dedicated to Queen Maria), Tohani (Cuvee Nicolae / Cuvee Dolette), Stirbey, and Cotnari Wine House (Castel Vlădoianu) can use such a position because they have the necessary historical arguments, those who cannot bring similar evidence of continuity and affiliation should select another branding narrative.

romanian wine labels history, rulers

Wines brought as a tribute to historical personalities (Prince Mircea / Prince Matei / Ferdinand / Cuza), are still acceptable, even if producers cannot offer a direct historical link. Instead, wines referring to Vlad Tepes and Dracula have already become over-auctioned and are almost kitsch.

A cool way to promote wines is to include them in a late nineteenth-century or early twentieth-century urban setting, where the bourgeoisie enjoy the good life and shout “Moncher, another round”.

Emblems and Monograms

Perhaps the easiest way to create a brand is to use the owner’s name, the enologist’s or the wine cellar’s. Here the stakes must be the simplicity to be easy to remember. It is usually the choice of small wine cellars and can be an emotional connection element, as long as it does not turn into ego display.

Creating a blazon or monogram style tag is also an elegant solution for generic collections that want to borrow from the manufacturer’s image capital. It is also the ultimate sophistication that can apply to high-end and exclusive products, where their simple name is enough to be recognized in connoisseurs’ circles.

romanian wine labels monograms

For small and new wineries, it can be an inspiring choice when the branding budget can’t offer diversification. In this case, the entire effort should be focused on a memorable logo and a color scheme according to the values.

Art – from classic to transparent and pop-art

Among rulers, peasants, and gods, there is always a right answer to the question of what to put on the label of wine. A simple answer: art. Art could mean reproductions by Grigorescu (Jidvei), modern art made by young graphic artists such as those encouraged by the young Lilac or reinterpretations of ancient concepts (Livia / Bacanta – Crama Girboiu), miniature paintings with landscapes, characters (7Arts Winery) or erotic (Erotikon- Oprişor). Using lyrics as branding is also art (Imperfect-Rasova) or some words accompanied by graphics (Ana Moft at Cub / Corina Young Leoaica). Even cartoons (Horatiu Malaiele-Gramma) can recommend a wine more than the back label.

romanian wine labels art

A growing trend is the use of transparent labels that offer the feeling of three-dimensional and youthfulness, but this idea should not be abused. Such bottles appeared in the portfolio of all big or medium producers, and it is becoming difficult to distinguish between them, especially when holding roses.

Instead of conclusions

There is no unanimous answer to the question of what is the best branding for a Romanian wine.

One can also identify an (almost) absent category, that of funny labels, by messages or graphics. It is still a place where creators take themselves very seriously, have no courage to experiment, and have not yet found a viable way of communicating with the new generation, which prefers spirits and craft beers.

For an industry that is still looking for its voice, the explosion of options is gratifying. The only question related to building a country brand is which of these ways of communication would be suitable for simultaneous, convergent and convincing transmission of the message at the national and international level when any label of Romanian wine will also bear the national flag.


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