Beginning a new packaging project for your wine brand comes with excitement and anticipation. There’s nothing quite like uncovering the nuance of your brand and watching its identity emerge on the label, bottle, capsule, and cork.

You know everything from the shape of your bottle to your shipper must cohesively speak your brand’s language and catch the attention of consumers. Packaging projects are like a giant jigsaw puzzle… all the pieces need to fit together so at the end of the day, consumers are purchasing a beautiful/smart package. To get to this point, there are a lot of moving pieces to consider and manage. Nothing can squash the excitement of a new packaging project like missed deadlines, a busted budget, or the label not living up to your rightfully high expectations during the final press check.

Packaging projects are full of complexity and can trip up legacy brands and start-ups alike. And it’s not just the operational logistics to juggle; the creative process takes time and planning, too. The ultimate goal is to dovetail the two experiences to create and deliver an exceptional product you are proud to sell and resonates with customers.

With some early road mapping and thoughtful planning, you can prepare your wine brand for a smooth, successful packaging project that delivers both aesthetically and on time, minimizing headaches along the way.

Timing Is Crucial: How to Create a Wine Packaging Logistics Schedule

The wine industry doesn’t have the convenience of flexibility. You’re at the mercy of Mother Nature in growing, harvesting, and producing before heading to the bottling line.

It’s crucial to keep this top-of-mind before starting your next packaging project to ensure that your various production timelines — from creative to shipping — are realistic.

Although a typical creative packaging project takes around three months, it’s common for them to take a lot longer because of poor planning or lack of awareness about the project’s complex logistics. For example, you can’t send your labels to the TTB for COLA approval or to print before picking out your bottle and knowing the sizing. And, working with a creative agency who doesn’t specialize in wine can put heavier burdens on you and your team to consider compliance logistics and other wine industry nuances.

The best way to plan out your next packaging project is to look at it from three sides: production, supplies, and internal review.

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The best way to plan out your next packaging project is to look at it from three sides: production, supplies, and internal review.

Production Timing

Bottling: Knowing your bottling date at the beginning helps your creative team to plan backward, allowing ample time for the discovery process to accurately capture your brand’s identity. If you have your own bottling line, awesome! You may have flexibility. Mobile bottling partners typically require notice months, if not many months, in advance in order to get on the schedule. If you’re in dire need of bottling because the wine is ready or for the sake of room in fermentation tanks, you can always consider shiners. However, that of course means you are now touching the bottle at least twice (additional COGS) and likely your cork artwork will not match that of the final label design.

Printing: If you’re starting a new project with a new printer, know that it can take six to twelve weeks to be put on their schedule. Spring is a heavy bottling time and that’s when label manufacturers tend to be backed up. At Offset, we always recommend a die-blank test and then a press check (or two) for your labels, especially for your first go around, which adds time. Mind you, this is after artwork approvals and adding new tooling for any foils, cutting dies, embossing, debossing, or other special features for your label. Updated printing projects are simpler because they often already have the plates they need. If you know you’re going to need to make changes at a later date, let the printer know so they can order new tooling and potentially save you some time.

TTB Cola Approval: It’s illegal to sell wine without TTB COLA approval. While it may not take much time to actually apply, putting this to-do list item on the back burner runs the risk of getting rejected just before you’re supposed to go to print your labels. Get ahead of the game by getting it done before your printers get the mechanical artwork.

Supplies Timing

Bottles: One size does not fit all. Bottles must be selected and confirmed before labels can be sized and capsules can be ordered. Also, make sure your bottling line team is confident with the selected bottle mold. Accurate label printing estimates and TTB COLA submission are both contingent upon your bottle choice as well so this is an important step.

Capsules. Some people are surprised to learn that capsules can be one of the longest lead times. Whether coming from overseas or from domestic production, you can expect manufacturing for capsules to take at least three months (in 2022 we are hearing of some lead times over 9 months!). If you’re using a custom color, allocate extra time for multiple rounds of color drawdowns. Additionally, make sure our initial conversations with your supplier include your quantities. They may have minimums that require you to order more than you need for one vintage.

Corks. Mercifully, corks are one of the quickest supplies to order, process, and ship because they’re already made — you just need to provide the branding. Some manufacturers can turn them around quickly, but plan for about one month. Note: before you order, make sure you pad your timing to review samples.

Shippers. If you are including shippers with your glass order, don’t forget about artwork. This is an often overlooked step and can derail your schedule unnecessarily. If they are being produced independent of your glass order, just anticipate time for drawdowns and press checks which for some manufacturers are 100% remote.

Internal Review

To avoid drawing out your timeline, include all stakeholders from the get-go. This goes from your production team to the marketing team and on up to the executive team—anyone touching the final product. Make sure every stakeholder feels comfortable and confident with the new packaging elements before anyone signs off.

By including everyone in the creative process from the beginning of the project, no one is surprised at the last minute. And your creative team can deliver on the collective vision sooner.

Packaging projects involve many moving parts with multiple vendors and stakeholders touching the bottle. For the creative elements to work seamlessly with the logistical realities, you need to thoroughly understand the process in advance. In the end, you’ll be confident the bottle you ship is as aesthetically alluring as the contents inside.