Caterina de Renzis Sonnino is responsible for the interface between some of Italy’s most noted wines and the people around the world who drink them. She has designed labels for Allegrini’s San Polo Montalcino, Antinori, Col d’Orcia, Donnafugata, Lodovico Antinori and Tenuta San Guido, among others.
It all began when she and her husband took over his family’s historic Castello Sonnino wine and olive oil estate in the Tuscan village of Chianti Montespertoli in 1987, where she is also the cultural conservator. Maintaining the historic family estate’s archives and lasting traditions has given her exposure to the past and resulted in a unique perspective on the present—especially as it pertains to iconic wine brands and how to present such estates through their bottle labels.
When did you start designing wine labels, and what was your first creation?
Sometime after my husband and I moved here, the owner of Castello del Terriccio in Bolgheri learned that I had a lifelong passion for art and started calling me to make a label for his wine Rondinaia. I said I have never done something like this. He kept calling me and, in the end, I went to see him because I didn’t want to be impolite. He was incredible and showed such passion for his wine that I said I must accept this work. I didn’t know anything about commercial design or marketing, but that was the source of my freedom and that freedom became the basis of my success. I started out thinking completely out of the box.
Wine & Art Through Time
Many of your designs use historical images and recast them in clean, contemporary settings. Why did you choose this method?
I always say that after the ancient Greeks and after Leonardo da Vinci, the beauty in art had already been created. We can’t add much. So I asked, why not take something that’s already in the back of the mind of many people and use that? The marketing effect will be stronger that way. But you have to bring it out of the past because now we are in 2018. If I use something very ancient, the way I use the image has to be clearly “now.” Otherwise it’s an old nothing.
What emotions are you hoping to trigger in people who see your label designs?
I want the wine to be visible and very desirable, very attractive, but not in a cheap way. I don’t want it to be sexy, but attractive and elegant. The base consumer in my thinking is a woman. She has three or four children, she works in an office but when she leaves the office she still has to go to the supermarket and buy the food and then she eventually buys the wine. And when she is there pushing her cart, she looks up at so many, many bottles. The moment she looks at mine, it’s almost sold. The moment she touches it, it’s done. So it has to be attractive but you can’t be pushy; you have to be welcoming and make people dream a bit.
Why does that shopper notice and appreciate your labels more than others?
We live in an age that is overloaded by signs, designs, pictures, Instagram, Facebook. People are a little crazy because of this. I look for something that is a bit dynamic but also solid. I don’t want you to be neurotic. I want to give you something beautiful that you want to have and will make you feel well. A design itself doesn’t mean anything. There has to be a concept behind it that will give strength to the structure. Do you know that the Nike logo was designed by a young woman and in her mind it was the wing of the winged Nike statue in the Louvre that was dated more than 2,000 years ago? The energy must be there.