Meet Rita Rivotti, founder of RitaRivotti design studio and the ‘Sherlock Holmes of wine’. Rivotti is a wine expert with years of experience studying the intricacies of wine labels. In this Q&A with Akanksha Meena, Rivotti discusses her background and expertise and shares insights into the fascinating world of wine labeling.
In the case of wine, a good label is part of a good storytelling. Labels are used to transmit the wine's identity and help define what a consumer can expect of it
Labels & Labeling: Can you tell us about your background and experience in label design, and how you became known as the ‘Sherlock Holmes of wine’?
Rita Rivotti: I studied agricultural engineering in college, so I feel very close to the production and understand the language of the producers and what they want to transmit.
But I'm curious and I always want to know more than what they tell me. So, I ask questions, I want to know everything, I almost open drawers looking for clues that inspire me to build a relevant and different story about each brand I build.
L&L: How do you approach a new label design project, and what factors do you consider when determining the design direction?
RR: I like to visit the location, walk through the vineyards or olive grove, and let myself be inspired by the landscape. I like to talk with the producer to know his ideas, stories, dreams, and goals; also talk to the winemaker about every detail that led to the wines profile: the soil, the grape varieties, the sun exposure, altitude or wine press. I absorb all the details while looking for clues. My job is to then transform these concepts into a reality and build a visual narrative that is unique and true.
L&L: Can you discuss a particularly challenging label design project you have worked on and how you solved the problem?
RR: One of the leading producers of fine wines in the Douro region, the Symington Family, decided to launch a range of experimental wines - extremely limited series and small quantities, each with its own identity. Our challenge was to create an image that captured this concept – artisanal wines crafted from small vineyards, which created a buzz.
I like to visit the location, walk through the vineyards or olive grove, and let myself be inspired by the landscape. I like to talk with the producer to know his ideas, stories, dreams, and goals; also talk to the winemaker about every detail that led to the wines profile
The former chairman of the company, Paul Symington, recently awarded the ‘Order of Merit’ by the Portuguese president for his work on behalf of Porto and the Douro, knows the region like no one else and has a special gift for photographing its subtle beauty. We used his Instagram photos to illustrate the concept behind these wines: uniqueness and craftsmanship.
Because these wines target connoisseurs, every detail is important such as vineyard area, altitude, soil type. Therefore, instead of a traditional label, we created a flyer that slowly reveals each wine’s story, as the label is opened after removing the colorful elastic that fastens it to the bottle. Due to ecological concerns, instead of a traditional PVC capsule, we used the certification seal to guarantee each bottles’ inviolability.
Thanks to this comprehensive artisanal narrative, we achieved a very extravagant result, portraying the company in a new light.
L&L: How do you stay up-to-date on industry trends and advancements in label design technology?
RR: We try to keep up to date with new trends by consulting daily the websites related to our area, namely labelsandlabeling.com.
We also work closely with suppliers that keep us abreast of new trends. Sometimes we also launch new trends ourselves.
L&L: Can you talk about the importance of brand identity and how it relates to label design?
RR: In the case of wine, a good label is part of a good storytelling. Labels are used to transmit the wine's identity and help define what a consumer can expect of it. At RitaRivotti's design studio, created in 2004, we build brands from scratch or rebuild them from the ashes. We are proudly responsible for creating successful brands, always through label design.
L&L: How do you ensure that the label design is functional and meets all legal and regulatory requirements while still being aesthetically pleasing?
RR: A book is not chosen by its cover, but a wine can (and should!) be chosen by the label. As such, special attention needs to be paid to labeling rules. There are laws and specifications that need to be adhered to, and these influence the final design of the label. Our job is to make the perfect symbiosis between these two factors.
I absorb all the details while looking for clues. My job is to then transform these concepts into a reality and build a visual narrative that is unique and true
Before we discuss the laws on food and alcohol labeling, we want to talk about the golden rule across all regulations – the label must be as genuine as the product to which it is attached. The indications used on the labeling may not mislead the consumer or give the product effects or properties which it does not possess. There must therefore be the utmost rigor in describing the product’s nature, identity, quality, composition, and origin.
L&L: Can you discuss the role of customer feedback and market research in your label design process?
RR: We have already participated in several consumer studies, which has helped us a lot to understand their motivation in the purchasing process. It is not always what we think. Often, the image they like the most is not the one they will necessarily buy, but the one that gives them more confidence and arouses more emotions related to tasting.
When we are facing a mass market wine we know that we must obey certain rules that meet what most consumers understand to be the most credible.
L&L: How do you approach designing for different types of products and industries, and what specific challenges does each present?
RR: We essentially work in two markets: wine and olive oil. Each one has a different language and its own requirements.
Through our know-how acquired over time, we can now understand them well and meet their own requirements.
L&L: Can you talk about any innovative label design solutions you have created and how they have helped your customers stand out in the market?
RR: A small olive grove near Évora (Alentejo region, Portugal) has been passed down from generation to generation, like a family heirloom, despite the great difficulty to maintain it. To keep it going, the current generation decided to bottle and sell the olive oil.
In the alcoholic beverage market, embellishment is almost indispensable on labels. This is particularly true of wines and gourmet products
Because it is a small production, we recognized the tourism potential and proposed a packaging that targets this public, focusing on local points of sale located near tourist attractions. Thus the Amor é Cego (Love is blind) statue emerged, part of a set of decorative figurines (Figurado de Estremoz) made from clay throughout centuries by artisans in the Alentejo to portray feelings, local trades, and sacred figures.
The Amor é Cego figure, blindfolded and adorned in festive attire, symbolizes the irrationality of love. The same love this family feels for their land. The same irrationality.
Each bottle, which contains extra virgin olive oil produced from traditional varieties by a devoted family, is also a decorative piece, a memento of the region and a true icon of popular culture. The packaging is a simple, ecological, and affordable solution, that also serves to showcase this charming little bottle.
This project was a bestseller and sold out in the first months, leading the family to expand its production to other olive groves, with the same love.
L&L: How do you balance creativity and practicality in your label design work, and what role does collaboration play in the process?
RR: This takes creative talent, intellectual acumen, and a great amount of knowledge about the fascinating and complex world of wine. Today, we are responsible for millions of bottles that accompany great times among friends and family.
L&L: Do you specify the printing process for labels?
RR: When we develop the artwork of the labels, we specify all the finishes (embossing, stamping) and also the pantones or CMYK. The type of printing - offset, flexography, digital - is defined according to the characteristics of the labels and also the quantity and production costs provided by our client. Here, in Portugal, we have a few printing companies that work almost exclusively for the sector we operate - wine and olive oil.
This occurs because only a few companies have the license to produce wine and olive oil labels. This is very positive for the production process because they have high know-how and we can guarantee that the final result is exactly the same as what we had conceived when we create the image of the wines. Also, we always are in contact with them to follow all the production stages.
We always indicate the label paper for our projects. This is very relevant. When we indicate the name of the paper, we have already considered its grammage, texture and color
L&L: Have you ever used digital printing for a label design?
RR: Yes, especially when it is necessary to produce an extra element or a sticker, digital printing is a good solution. In wines with limited editions, we indicated the bottle number on the label usually using digital printing.
L&L: Do you mainly specify wet glue or self-adhesive labels?
RR: We haven't felt the need to specify wet glue or self-adhesive labels in our works because the papers we use already have these specifications. When it is necessary to be in wet glue, we already select a paper with this specificity.
L&L: Do you always specify label papers, or have you also used clear film labels?
RR: We always indicate the label paper for our projects. This is very relevant. When we indicate the name of the paper, we have already considered its grammage, texture and color.
L&L Do you use any embellishment techniques in your design?
RR: In our works we always use finishes, such as embossing and hot stamping. These greatly enrich our projects and allow us to use several techniques in a single label that work very well together.
In the alcoholic beverage market, embellishment is almost indispensable on labels. This is particularly true of wines and gourmet products. With the increasing importance of packaging to engage and influence consumers, brands are asking for packaging to be ever richer and more distinctive.
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