Friday, January 18, 2019

Why We Changed Our Labels--Guest Post from Emery Pajer

**The following post is written by Emery Pajer, Label Designer Extraordinaire and All-Around Nice Guy.  He is a self-employed graphic artist who has been helping us at Allegro in the tasting rooms and all around since 2011.  If you need any design work, check out his stuff at and  (He knows his way around map illustrations and a wine bottle or two! 


 Hi everyone. By now, I’m sure you’ve all seen the new sweet and dry wine labels as they show up on your shelves. They are the result of a lot of research that Carl and I did over the past two years, and we thought it would be a good idea to share what we learned and give you some info to share with customers if they ask you about the new artwork.

We made several trips to wine shops in PA and MD with a couple of Allegro sweet and dry wine bottles in hand. We looked at wines in every category and price range. What we found was really pretty shocking. Turns out our shiny colorful labels had a hard time fitting in on the shelf next to other wines – especially the dry wines. We always thought that they looked great side-by-side on our shelves, and they do, but when you put them in a retail environment, they nearly disappear. And here’s why:

 Sweet wines.
We realized several years ago that our sweet wine labels were kinda dark, and could use some more color. So around 2012, I started pumping up the color and contrast across the board. This was definitely an improvement, but when we put the shiny bottle of Harmony on the shelf next to the other sweet wines, we realized that the shiny finish produced a glare, the ink coverage was so heavy that the label just looked dark and drab, and that the whole label was just too small. Everyone else had big bright labels with huge logos on them.

 So we redesigned our labels using a much larger format, got rid of the gloss and went with a matte finish, added more white and bright colors to the illustrations, enlarged the logo, enlarged the logo some more*, and put a brief description of the wine on the front of the label so that the style of wine could be easily identified by the consumer (Harmony means absolutely nothing to someone who has never tasted the wine). It wasn’t a total re-vamp. We liked what we had, and we knew that we already had a fan base out there that looks for the “purple label with the viola” on it. We couldn’t change it too much, we just needed to bring it up to snuff so that it looked better on a retail shelf.
 Dry wines.
This was even more profound. Pay attention next time you go into a wine store. All of the labels are white or off-white, and really large. They all have some sort mark, like an illustration, seal or emblem (sometimes all three). The colors are limited to two or three. They feel nice. They use textured paper, and typically have some sort of embossing or spot varnishing treatment. We didn’t have any of that. We had a very hard time finding any other bottle of wine that had a four-color photograph of any size on it. In fact, I’m not sure that we ever did. And absolutely no one had an image that covered the entire label. And shiny? Forget it. Again, we looked dark, small and out of place.

 So we set out to revamp the entire approach. We knew we wanted a big white label. We knew we wanted the logo to be bigger. We knew we wanted a limited color palette. We knew we wanted some sort of treatment like embossing or spot varnishing. That was easy, but the artwork was a problem. We wanted to keep the photography for continuity between the existing shiny labels and the new design, but we never found a solution that worked. Believe me, we tried. And then, it hit us. Use sheet music. We have a 4-page original composition (Themes and Variations for Woodwind Quintet) that was hand written by John Crouch, one of the brothers who founded Allegro back in 1979. You are probably familiar with the first page of it because we used it on the Bridge label for the past 4 or 5 vintages. Each of the new wine labels has a unique snippet from John’s composition. We tried to match the feel or look of the snippet with the style of wine: Cabernet Sauvignon is busy and complex, while Sauvignon Blanc is simple and light. It clicked immediately.

 But it wasn’t enough. We needed an emblem. We both always thought putting PA prominently on the front label might be a bad idea. As most of you probably know, a lot of consumers think PA wine can’t be any good. But we are very proud of being a PA product, and of how long Allegro has been in business. We wanted to include that information, but it had to be subtle. We developed the emblem, but we needed artwork. So we went back to Tim and John Crouch’s labels from 1980-2000. They used the outline of a grape leaf as the prominent image on their labels (see attached photo). That’s the same leaf that is in the center of the seal.

  And of course, the logo is a lot bigger. A lot bigger*.

 The new labels tie the present to the past. They feel good. They have lots of soft textured paper with subtle embossing on the logo and emblem. They have deep rich colors with scarlet varietal text that really pops. They are bright, bold, simple and easily identifiable. They are relevant, and they look and feel like a dry bottle of wine is supposed to look and feel.

 The "independent craft winery" line is a nod to microbreweries across the US. If a brewery produces less than 6 million barrels a year, and less than 25 percent of the brewery is owned by someone other than the brewer, they qualify. We align with, and respect that approach to brewing. Unfortunately, there isn’t an organization like that for wineries, so we made up that line and added it to the label. So far, not a single person has commented on or asked about it.

 So we hope you like the new labels. Yes, we understand that it’s a little more difficult to tell them apart from one another, but that’s pretty standard in the industry. I think we’ve come up with solutions that look good both in the tasting room as well as out on the shelves in grocery stores and liquor stores. Designs reflect the quality of the wine and tell a story at the same time. Designs that we can all be proud of.

 If you or any of your customers have any comments or questions regarding the label designs, I’d love to hear them. Please feel free to email me!


 *In the design world, there is an ongoing joke about “make the logo bigger”. Graphic designers hate it when their client’s ask them to do that, and believe me, it happens all of the time. Well, in this case I could not fight the overwhelming evidence. The logo on nearly every bottle of wine was at least 2 or 3 times larger than ours was. Here’s one of my favorite YouTube videos on the topic – you won’t be sorry you watched it – I promise.

Thursday, January 3, 2019

Cadenza Thoughts for 2019

The new label
This is the year I've been dreaming about.

I remember first coming to Allegro in 2001 and speaking with Mark Chien (the former Penn State Winegrape Educator) about the potential for fine wines at this site.  We talked technical soil/viticulture issues, but what stuck with me was that he prefaced it all with this statement: "You're sitting on a gold mine here."

And like all gold mines, it's taken years to extract the value from it.  Initially, we couldn't afford to plant more vines.  Nor rehabilitate the old ones.  Nor the trellis.  But in 2014 we realized that we could move forward with some new plantings.

In 2019, the first red wines from those plantings will be bottled.  (For those of you in our wine club who have come back into the cellar with me to talk about them have gotten a chance to taste them and know what I'm talking about.  They are special.

This past November we released the first wine under our new "Cadenza Vineyards" label: our 2016 Cadenza Chardonnay.  From fruit from one of our original blocks of grapes (that I am now referring to as our Crouch Block), this wine is essentially what in the past we would have called our 2016 Allegro Reserve Chardonnay.  It is quintessentially Allegro, just with new trappings.

 This coming February we'll release our 2016 Cadenza Cabernet Sauvignon Crouch Block followed in May by the 2016 Cadenza Block Five (which will remind most people of our 2006 Bridge.)
Map of Cadenza Vineyards

Our first actual Estate Club shipment will come in June then, most likely with reprises of these same wines in some quantity or another.  The 2017 reds will be bottled around that time and I hope to have one in either that shipment or the next (September.)

As some of you may have heard me say, we have put some limits on our wine club membership for this club.  We're still not sure how much wine we will have available, especially after our 2018 vintage where we had much lower yields that anticipated due to Mother Nature just beating the heck out of us.  After telling most of the people in November that we will only take 100 members, I did some calculations and it turns out we can take more.  (This has all to do with what level the members sign up at.....Turns out that most people sign up for the six-bottle per quarter membership.  If it had been the case level, I would have stuck with our 100 member cutoff.)

As we all start to get into 2019 and wonder how the year is going to shape up, you all can think about us down here finally seeing the culmination of years of waiting and planning and planting and viticulture.  I'm looking forward to sharing these wines with you.

Friday, December 21, 2018

The Passing of a York County Pioneer

My first memory of Dick Naylor was in 1999 when I came back from Wineries Unlimited in Lancaster on my way back to State College.  I had just picked up a 1000L variable capacity tank in the back of my Toyota truck and I had heard that Naylor Wine Cellars had a label printer that I was interested in seeing.

Dick passed away last week, and this past Monday I attended the funeral service to commemorate his life.

When I stepped in to Naylor Wine Cellars in Stewartstown that day, I was struggling to find my feet in this new industry I had entered.  I was greeted warmly by Dick and spent some time with his son-in-law winemaker Ted Potter talking about custom label printers.  It was an innocuous meeting, but spoke volumes about the new industry and life I found myself in.  To treat "competitors" like colleagues was a new experience to me.

Fast-forward a couple years, and my wife Kris and I are the new owners at Allegro Vineyards in Brogue, working hard to get on our feet and find out way in the wine world.  Naylor was always the bigger winery in the area, and Dick was a figure who loomed larger than life to us at the time.

I spent the first year and a half at Allegro every day with John Crouch (my mentor and first owner and winemaker of Allegro) listening to the stories of the history of the area and Allegro and PA wine in general.  John and Mike Fiore and Dick were an amazing trio for this area.  Dick's ability to befriend everyone, Mike's memory for stories, and John's quiet contemplation made these three something in the vein of the three Musketeers for this part of the world.

I'm sure there were gallons of wine shared between them, and the visions they must have spoken about might actually have come to fruition as I look out upon our industry's landscape today.

I've always lived by the idea that if we don't know our history, we're doomed to repeat it.  I've seen it become painfully obvious to me.  I've always enjoyed listening to folks much older than me tell me about what's come before.  It's like fitting pieces of a puzzle into its final shape.  Without all the pieces, you only see part of the image.

I can only imagine what this place--York county wine, PA wine, East coast wine--would be like without someone like Dick Naylor.  He and I didn't always see eye-to-eye on everything.  But I always respected him as my elder, and I'd like to think that he eventually didn't view me as the young, ignorant guy asking questions about labelers.

But what I'll always remember is that one time, back in 2005, I had the fortune to taste a wine he had made over twenty years earlier.  One of our customers was moving from the area and didn't want to move all the bottles from his wine collection.  When I went to pick up the old Allegro bottles he wanted to give back to us, he had a bottle of 1984 Naylor Cabernet Sauvignon.  I told him I'd happily take our bottles back (that John had made) but that the Naylor wine wasn't really mine to accept.  He told me, in no uncertain terms, that I had to take the bottle along if I wanted the Allegro ones.

For some background, I'll say that 1984 was the first year that John and Tim made a Cadenza.  It was 2/3 Cabernet Franc and 1/3 Merlot blend.  In the future, the wine would be predominantly Cabernet Sauvignon, and I had always wondered why this grape was missing from the first Cadenza.  Turns out, in all of the returns of old Allegro wine that day, there was a 1984 Allegro Cabernet Sauvignon.

It was awful.  Horrendous.  The winemaking was OK.  But obviously the wine suffered from a lack of ripeness that tasted like the vines had succumbed to a downy mildew infection sometime during the season.  It was undrinkable.

The Naylor wine from 1984, on the other hand, was impeccable.  I was stunned, and from that moment on I had a different mindset as to what these men were doing back in the 1980s, pioneering in this part of the wine world.  They were making history.

As I think back on all of this after Dick's passing, all I can think of is how far we have come.  And how much we all are standing on the shoulders of giants.

Not 100% sure about this: (from the early 1980s, left to right) Fernando Franco, vineyard manager at Barboursville in VA, Alan Kinne winemaker from Virginia, Bob Lyons from Byrd Winery in MD (?), Dr. Carl Haeseler from Penn State, John Crouch from Allegro Vineyards, and Dick Naylor from Naylor Wine Cellars