If Only Jurassic-age Ammonites Could See This Innovative (and now Sweepstakes-winning!) Wine Label

Discussion Question: In this age of digital media, is the effort and cost associated with developing an innovative wine label still worth it?

The answer…. Absolutely yes! Especially in this time of digital media, and particularly if you are debuting a new wine brand such as ours, Ammons Horn Wines.  The story behind how we crafted our logo, an ammonite fossil, into a stunning new wine label is below.  Receiving the Packaging Sweepstakes Winner award for label design at the SF Chronicle Wine Competition was unexpected, and amazingly cool.  Moreover, our receiving this important award coincided seamlessly with the launch of our website and wine brand– perfect timing!

For those folks reading this blog post who are not familiar with ammonite fossils, they are a spiral-shaped species of cephalopod (similar to the modern-day nautilus) that became extinct 66 million years ago, when a 7.5-mile-wide asteroid slammed into the earth killing 75 percent of the species on the planet.  (I’ll devote a future blog post regarding ammonites and why they are this geologist’s favorite fossil.) For this blog post, just be aware that the spiral and ridges of ammonites resemble the spiral and ridges of a ram’s horn.  The ram is the symbol of our wine appellation, Los Carneros (Spanish for “The Rams”).

First, I’m admittedly a slave to beautiful packaging, particularly when it comes to expensive makeup and perfume.  I have been buying Chanel makeup since my 20s and yes, their sleek, luxurious, black packaging was the hook for this fish.  Chanel is a great cosmetic line, but how much of its allure is their expensive packaging?  Enough said about Chanel, let’s talk about Ammons Horn Reserve Pinot Noir, which is our top-of-the-line Pinot Noir selected from our best barrels of each vintage. For this reserve wine, I knew I would follow the Chanel playbook, a black label with a gold ammonite fossil on it.  Most geologists know that the most beautiful of all ammonite fossils are those where the shell has been replaced with pyrite, a mineral also known as fool’s gold. Pyrite-replaced ammonites are rare, and rock specimens with these beautiful golden patina fossils are often found in black shale rock of the Jurassic period.  Such rocks were the inspiration for our Reserve Pinot Noir label.

I have never worked with a wine label designer before, so the process of collaborating with the designer to produce a distinctive label was completely new to me.  Fortunately, we hired an incredible designer, Julia Allen of Folia Design.  I remember our first meeting and the blank look on here face when I started talking rocks and paleontology and my fascination with pyrite-replaced fossils (this geologist can get a little carried away).  Over the months of the label design process, much of this interaction occurring during California’s Covid-19 stay at home order, there would be numerous emails back and forth with photographs of ammonites.  My usual geologist comment on multiple draft versions of the label would be “not enough gold in the ammonite” and Julia’s usual designer response would be “but if this ammonite is solid gold it won’t look interesting” …. After much back and forth, voilà!, the most gorgeous ammonite on a wine label I could have ever imagined.  Of course, we changed the background color of the label from black to pink for our rosé of pinot noir wine, and different color backgrounds for our clone 777 and 667 Pinot Noirs.

I’m starting this design process all over again with Julia for a new wine label for our sparkling wines that will be released in summer 2021.  Don’t worry, we’ll incorporate that beautiful ammonite somewhere in the sparkling label.


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