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Wellington design firm making mark on top NZ wines


Wellington design firm making its mark on top NZ wine brands

Craggy Range, Escarpment and Cable Bay are just a sample of New Zealand's prestigious wine brands that Wellington-based design firm Tardis can proudly lay claim to.

As New Zealand’s wineries find themselves caught in an ever competitive and growing industry, award-winning design director and brand strategist Helen Milner of Tardis Design and Advertising insists that coming up with eye-catching packaging is just one part of the branding equation.

“Ultimately it’s what’s inside the bottle that counts but everything else a winery says and does needs to reflect the product and brand’s personality too – the design of promotional material, style of photography, tone and manner of communications, distribution network, architecture (eg award-winning Peregrine Winery), website design, winning of awards and medals etc” she explains.

This sentiment is confirmed in ‘Wine – a global business’ (Miranda Press, 2004) which explains it is critical that wineries differentiate their wine from others competing for the same market. These differences may be rational and tangible (related to the wine) or more symbolic, emotional, and intangible (nonproduct-related images and stories). These intangible image associations may be one of the most effective methods for customers to distinguish one brand from another.

Milner agrees “The best wineries in the world are centuries old. In comparison New Zealand is young but the design of our prestigious labels need to stand the test of time - last the distance for generations to come. It’s the wineries with a clear business, branding and marketing strategy who will ‘make it’ amongst the growing number of vineyards setting up every day.”

And she would know. At last count Milner and business partner Julie Muir have developed brands, packaging and marketing material for over 20 of New Zealand’s top wineries. Together, they have a comprehensive knowledge of taking New Zealand wine to the world.

The development or evolution of a wine brand is a specialist field requiring a strong network of specialist suppliers. There is plethora of local and international suppliers of bottles, corks and capsules and an increasing range of innovative printing methods available. Every market has different labelling regulations which are always changing so keeping abreast of the latest rules is crucial.

Tardis’ expertise is starting to attract clients from industries with similar requirements to the wine world. They recently developed the brand, packaging and promotional material for New Zealand’s latest spirits brand ‘Lemon Z’ – a contemporary classic, it is based upon the traditional Italian limoncello recipe but with a distinct New Zealand flavour.

Milner’s first taste of wine branding was with Nga Waka and Peregrine wineries. Then Steve Smith (MW) of Craggy Range approached her in 1998 to develop the brand and packaging for the prestigious winery in Hawke's Bay. In 2001 Milner won ‘Best in Show’ at the Global Wine Awards in New York for her packaging design of Craggy Range’s limited edition wines.

Smith explains “Tardis has played an integral part in the development of the Craggy Range brand, all the way from a good idea to what is now one of New Zealand's icon wine brands. They took our brand ideas, massaged them and then represented them through graphic design in packaging and marketing collateral that is absolutely in keeping with the brand personality. The logo has become iconic to us. They are hugely talented, professional and an invaluable member of our branding team.”

Tardis is often found discussing with wineries their latest vintage or bottling issues. “To do our best we’ve got to know our client’s business inside out. In the case of a winery it's the physical environment, people, approach to winemaking, target market and positioning that distinguish them from others.”

When asked about the implications of working simultaneously on several brands in the same industry, Milner is not fazed.

“Every project is defined by our client's attitude, ambitions and passion. One of our longest standing clients is the godfather of New Zealand Pinot Noir. Others are committed to single vineyards or making outstanding wines from blends. Their individual strategies make for a very different brief and therefore a unique brand in the end. We love the challenge in that.”

Milner and Muir point out the similarities between design and wine. “Our main aim is that our work reflects a client's brand as distinctly as possible, in the same way a winemaker wants their wines to reflect their particular skills and terroir.”

Learning to appreciate wine at an early age has proved to be an invaluable asset for Milner. Among others, she credits her father for introducing her to wine in her late teens.

“Dad would have fellow wine enthusiasts over for wine tastings. Carrying small glasses of red wine he’d come up to my room where I was studying and say 'Try this and mark it out of ten’. Before long I could tell the difference between varieties and quality”. Developing a taste for good wine was a mixed blessing when she headed for varsity on a low budget, Milner jokes.

Years later, Tardis’ clients are the first to agree that Milner’s exceptional taste and commitment to quality are reflected in their brands.

“Tardis not only designed our brand identity but more importantly they have a holistic vision of our brand” says Larry McKenna of Escarpment Vineyard, Martinborough.

While Tardis' home-town is not known as the wine growing capital of NZ, this has proved no obstacle to attracting work from outside Wellington. “Our clients live all over the place – Auckland, Waiheke Island, Gisborne, Hawke's Bay, Martinborough, Waipara Valley, Waitaki, Central Otago and Australia.”

As production director Muir points out 'It doesn't matter that clients don’t live on our doorstep. It’s more important that they’re passionate about what they do - as passionate as we are about what we do. This is what keeps us going and why people keep coming back for more.”

Although Tardis is known to favour the odd drop of New Zealand Pinot, its clients are not all wine buffs. The company works on branding, design and advertising for clients in a wide range of industries from the arts to retail to corporate finance.

After working in design and ad agencies in Auckland and Wellington for over 11 years, Milner and Muir joined forces in 2000 to form Tardis – a company committed to prestigious brands, and businesses determined to make their mark on the world.

To view a sample of recent work by Tardis please visit


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