A casual look at the Bee d’Vine label and bottle often gets nods of approval and appreciation. Yet unless you’re a packaging engineer you’ll likely not know that the diamond shape of the label is not only esthetic, but also a functional design to fit with our signature ‘bowling pin’ shaped curved non-sparkling bottle. The base of the bottle is 74mm wide while the middle is 84mm. I use ‘diamond’ shape loosely, our front label is a squared turned 45 degrees and not a true ‘rhombus’ – a shape which only has its opposite angles equal.
The bottle is itself is of high quality heavy glass with the deepest punt you’ll ever possibly see (very few glass factories can produce such a punt) designed and made in Italy. In fact, if you’ve purchased some our previous vintages, you’ll know that we had a 375 ml version of this bottle custom made with ጠጅ and D’V glass embossed on the bottle – just like our custom berele. Our 3 liter Limited Edition Double Magnum is the same shape also.
The functionality of our label comes from the ‘wrapping-around’ geometry to fit on the convex bottle. Understand that if it was a square label it would have to extremely small in order not to crease on the corners.
To better understand this phenomenon, take the extreme example of a curved object – a ball of any kind – and now try to place a sticker on a baseball or soccer ball. It’s obvious that a larger sticker would not work.
Another very important factor to keep in mind is that the wine bottling machines apply labels at thousands of bottles per hour. The speed of application increases the chances of stickers creasing when applied to a curved object – compared to carefully hand applying a label – so label-bottle compatibility has to be of the highest precision.
Finally the thickness of the paper label is an important factor to reduce creasing, so we are required to use a thick label-stock – we learned this the hard way (similar to the die boundary – read ‘The Die’ section below).
This may be more than you wanted to know about the Bee d’Vine label and bottle, but now you know about the hand-in-glove fit that allows you to read the label contents while showcasing Bee d’Vine in a sexy curved bottle.
Yet a simple diamond shape would have been pedestrian! So we reach back in history to Ethiopia, my birthplace the largest honey wine drinking country in the world today. It also happens to be home to thousands of artistic crosses which inherently have diamond shapes – by far the largest collection of cross designs in the world. One of these Orthodox crosses – from Axum and dated in the 4th century was chosen for its naturalistic elements – naturally for honey wine – see sketch and evolution below. In fact, tonight, September 26, starts the Meskel national holiday celebration (meskel is the Amharic word for cross) – the holiday dedicated to the finding of the True Cross – the only such holiday in the world.
I found this cross image in Mario Di Salvo’s well researched and photographed coffee-table book, Crosses of Ethiopia: The Sign of Faith. Evolution and Form. Google ‘Ethiopian Crosses’ and you’ll reward yourself with some of the most magnificent displays of religious artistic expression – no matter your religious taste I am sure you’ll appreciate the results.
Thus we give a nod to Ethiopians who enjoy honey wine by the millions today, as they did thousands of years ago, while conveniently getting the functional diamond shape we sought.
Our back label was inspired by the wooden wine barrel and is represented in elongated form to fit the natural shape of a plumb bottle. So we to pay homage to this 2,000-year-old tradition and feat of engineering.
A barrel is singularly made from simple iron hoops and wood staves – iron & wood, that it! Together they form a simple yet sophisticated and indispensable instrument in the winemaking profession. Simplicity is indeed the ultimate sophistication. I think I have reverence for the wine barrel because it reminds me the simplicity of our ingredients – solely springwater & honey.
Just like the barrel, our design appears appears basic until one inspects the details – for example the dozens of detailed hand-drawn eyelashes that adorn the barrel chime (rim). The back label text distills Bee d’Vine craft and millennia of honey wine history into three sentences
The first written record of the wooden wine barrel date from circa 70 A.D., Pliny the Elder, the Roman philosopher, noted the barrel’s appearance while also writing about his appreciation for honey wine in the classic, Naturalis Historia – what a coincidence!
We substituted bees for birds while borrowing from the Axumite Cross. The hexagon-shaped grape fruit arranged in a grape cluster, and the bee-cum-leaf are the central objects. These visual illusions reflects Bee d’Vine’s honey based ingredients while employing classic grape-wine making traditions. The perimeter of the center is a 4-leaf clover, as it were, depicting a flower, the source of our primary ingredient and harks back to our conservation inspired origins.
Now it’s time to let your imagination wonder outside of the flower boundary – to area offset by color and depth of field. Notice the honeycomb geometry, flowers, grape leaves, Ge’ez script (can you spot the word ጠጅ on the front and back labels?) and cross motifs on a textured gold background and corner colors – to match variety. Many of these details was inspired by the Safavid art of ancient Persia. Just on the periphery of the flower, there are bees flying out…back to their hives.
A custom die, or outline shape, this required for us to use a bespoke label since it was obviously not a standard square or diamond. We have two dies, one for our standard label and another for our Limited Edition 3 Liter Double Magnum bottle that required a larger label for a larger bottle.
Actually, the first version of the die, and the thousands of labels we printed, did not have the 2 millimeter boundary around the edge of the label (visible on the printed label only). So the labels ended up fraying during bottle application – especially at the sharp apex of the bee wings. So we had to bottle Bee d’Vine without labels, called ‘shinners’ in the wine industry, and then hand label with a team of 10 people for 4 days on our first vintage in 2014.We were forced to invest in another die and labels which was very dear especially at that time as we hadn’t sold a single bottle!
In the end our team of designers and printers executed on a vision of applying an almost 3”x 3” label on a curve at extremely high speed. It was something experienced industry professionals told us was impossible, or certainly not worth the risk, but we invested the 5-figure upfront design cost with no guarantee of success.
It’s never easy when doing something for the first time and our unique bottle/label design was no exception. In spite of the costs, trial & error challenges, and the arguments, I feel it was worth it.
I hope you’ll agree and also agree that the empty bottle – with or without the label – is worth keeping to serve water, store olive oil, or serve as an elegant vase.
Ayele Solomon, winemaker