History of Wine Labels

By Catalina Bixler

  • Overview

    History of Wine Labels
    Labeling wine started 6,000 years ago, according to the archaeological record. Preserved in clay wine containers, today museums house these oldest of stamped wine labels. When glass vintner bottles became standard, the evolution of the wine label was truly under way. Because different regions in Europe in particular became reliant on wine as a commercial staple of the economy, documenting the grower's name, date of the wine and region was imperative. Crude imprinting on paper affixed with string to bottles gave the buyer information about the wine. Some of these collectible labels come in fine crafted stamped metal. The later mass production of wine labels gives some of the finest art, comparable to postal stamp images and paper money, collectors can find.
  • Earliest Wine Label

    Reading one of the double handles of a 6,000-year-old Greek amphorae clay wine jar reveals the stamp of the wine maker while the other shows the name the local ruler. Finding wine jars in the tomb of King Tutankhamen (1352 B.C.) exposed enough legible information to determine it met some existing wine labeling laws today.
    The two handles of Greek amphorae served as wine label with year and source.
  • Oldest Hand-Written Label

    Making wine and labeling it took a step forward with the advent of producing glass wine bottles. The oldest hand-written wine label comes from the Champagne region of France. Fr. Pierre Perignon (1638-1715) scribed the year and region on a piece of parchment he tied with string to the neck of the bottle of sparkling wine. This became a common practice with low-yield harvests.
    Fr. Pierre Perignon wrote the oldest archived wine label by hand.

  • Stone Printers

    Designing the wine label by chiseling the desired image and information on a stone then running ink over it with a roller onto parchment were the rudimentary beginnings of wine label printing as early as the 1700s. Wine labels became rectangular for the specific reason to allow space for increased information about the wine, including vintner, year bottled and origin.
    A German wine label from 1775 made from rock carving inked and applied to paper.
  • Stamped Metal Labels

    Stamped metal wine labels were particularly a favorite of the British in the 18th and 19th centuries. Revealing the type of wine was the predominant message of the label, which hung from a chain from the neck of the bottle. Some carried the date of the wine and a few the vintner names.
    An example of a 1790 metal wine label hung from the neck of the bottle.
  • Lithography Opens New Age

    Development of lithography by Alois Senefelder of Czechoslovakia in 1798 brought a true step forward in the development of wine labels. With this quicker and cleaner method of producing wine identification, the information on many labels became political, historical and thematic with hunting and romantic scenes. The ability to mass-produce wine labels in cleaner prints and faster time proved worthwhile to wine makers and imbibers alike.
    A wine label depicting an historical moment in French railroad history in the early 1840s.
  • New and Old Art for the Collector

    Collecting wine labels is like collecting art for some of the world enthusiasts of this hobby. Original wine labels from 20th century vintages offer scenes from the exotic to the whimsical. Today, wine sellers offer customers options to design their own labels for a party, anniversary, wedding and any special occasion or special person.
    A whimsical example of the fine art of modern wine labels.
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