Cultivating a new luxury wine brand on ancient volcanic terroir

Hamel is an independent Sonoma County winery situated across three gorgeous vineyards in Moon Mountain District and Sonoma Valley. Achieving scores in the high 90s from some of the world's leading wine critics for recent vintages, and with the ambition to raise the level even higher, winemaker John Hamel tapped us to help transform the established Hamel Family Wines into a new, more effective luxury brand – one that would stand the test of time for the next 40 years he plans to work this special land.

Highlighting their Nuns Canyon Vineyard property, which sits at altitude in the Moon Mountain District AVA on the border with Napa County, Hamel's mission is to produce limited quantity, exceptional quality red wines from this rare volcanic terroir. And to do it with an Earth-friendly, sustainable approach. The story of world class wines produced from extraordinary conditions was one that we couldn't resist.

Brand Strategy

Working with the Hamel family, we developed a deep understanding of their unique approach and the remote, rugged nature of Nuns Canyon, as well as their other two vineyards. Our strategic platform was designed to address their key differentiators – high-altitude mountainous slopes, complex and unusual volcanic soils, and a strong focus on precision winemaking through the use of both pre-industrial techniques like dry farming and new innovations in soil science.

Positioning Changes

Market research with key sommeliers, distributors and wine marketing experts demonstrated that the "family wines" aspect of the name was proving counter-productive to the new positioning. The legacy logo also featured a badger, a salute to the Wisconsin roots of the family, but an image that proved a distraction and detrimental for sommeliers when telling a story of high quality wine. The badger had to go.

Together with a desire for the brand name to stand out and be memorable in high-end restaurant environments, the customer-facing name was reduced to simply Hamel, and Hamel Family Wines reserved for the business entity.

Brand Voice

We saw an opportunity to develop a unique Hamel tone-of-voice that emphasized the new brand positioning. The brand voice would be grounded, avoiding flowery, boastful language common in the wine industry and instead be instilled with a quiet confidence. We also wanted their commitment to precision winemaking to be reflected in their word selection. When communicating information about the vineyards, we refer to exact altitudes, soil compositions, and area calculations. With winemaking processes, we are equally direct in our descriptions of the steps and tools used.

Visual System

Hamel's visual appearance is elegant, crafted, yet calm – and just elevated enough to be approachable.

The projection of timelessness was foundational, with the ability to support evolution over the years. Traditional French wineries continue to deliver to the same organic system as they did over 100 years ago. Similarly, we designed the Hamel brand to thrive for many decades into the future, building on a more contemporary look and feel that can translate successfully across new and emerging media formats.


The unusual, stepped logotype begins to reveal the story of the challenging mountainside terraces on which Nuns Canyon Vineyard is planted, and the sense of adventure it takes to explore and envision these slopes as areas of potential. Intentionally breaking with the reserved, serifed type design that is traditional with high-end wines, it is instantly memorable.

Color System

Inspired by the colors of the rocks beneath the surface of Hamel vineyards, each brand color is mapped to product, providing a simple system to support a complex array of SKUs.


Developing the new photography guidelines, we set out with the Hamel team to tell more stories about the land. The elevation, the terrain, and especially the complex rock structures that exist beneath the surface and drive the quality of the wines.

As well as terroir, other key subjects included land stewardship, winegrowing techniques, the processes of making and finishing the wines, and ultimately the experience for club members and visitors.


We also designed a fully accessible (ADA compliant, WCAG AA), responsive Hamel website to integrate with the specialist wine e-commerce platform Commerce7.

Interactive vineyard map

For this special land, a special vineyard map was called for. Together with our super-friends at SuperNatural, we conceived what is probably the most sophisticated vineyard map anywhere on the web. Using USGS terrain data, we were able to accurately map the surface of the area. We then applied movie-grade 3D design, texturing and lighting to create a realistic view.

We also explored a much more dynamic map using Unreal Engine, which would allow for smoother transitions and more dynamic lighting, ultimately opting for the simpler approach of static imagery. The final step was to map the individual polygons representing each micro-terroir with an interactive layer, allowing visitors to explore and learn about the different sub-regions of the vineyard.

Terroir Illustration

Hamel works with Chilean expert Pedro Parra, one of the world's foremost vineyard terroir scientists, to develop precise analyses of soil complexes, water distribution and other factors critical to producing great wine.

Based on Pedro's hand sketches we developed a digitally-scalable geological illustration system, influenced stylistically by historical geology survey designs. These illustrations will be used both for public informational purposes as well as distributor sales education.

Packaging-First Approach

Before the system was fully conceived, we began testing and proving out dozens of possible ideas through the bottle labels. This agile approach to system development allowed the Hamel team to see and understand the implications of decisions early on, as well as get labels into production well before bottling.


A simple but extremely comprehensive set of guidelines allows marketers, sales reps and designers to easily create content that further builds equity in the brand.

Early results

Launched on October 23, early feedback from the industry and wine community has been extremely positive.

We were prepared for University of Wisconsin–Madison grads to miss the old Hamel badger icon... but the new labels have at the same time been received with applause by these same dedicated fans. We look forward to sharing more as we roll out further assets in the coming weeks!