How The Italians Save On Wine Labels

by Paula Sugarman

The best part of traveling is when I get a glimpse of how people really live in other countries. Enough of the visits to sacred churches and venerable museums, I want to know how people earn a living, how the garbage service works and how their wine labels differ from ours. On our recent trip to Tuscany I learned that in Italy there’s another option for wine shopping, and it doesn’t involve a label at all. Now, that’s not good news for a wine label designer, but it is an interesting idea.

While in Arezzo, we accompanied our new friend Michael to a neighborhood wine shop called Bacco In Toscana*, a place where the locals go. It’s been in the same family for at least a couple of generations. It is pleasantly crammed with nicely displayed wine bottles and boxes. And there’s a dusty photo of a younger, buffer version of Fiorenzo, the owner, in the same shop with his father thirty years ago. While Michael and Fiorenzo were steeped in an intense discussion about different vintages, I poked around, admiring wine labels. Such an ample opportunity made me lightheaded. But the most interesting part was the room to the side with seven or eight stainless steel tanks. They were small in comparison to the large tanks I see in California wineries, and each sported an industrial sized nozzle much like one you would find on a gas pump.

It turns out that in addition to selling oodles of higher priced Super Tuscans, all sporting beautiful package design, Bacco In Toscana* is also kind of like a service station for wine. A constant stream of locals came in and handed their empty jugs to Teresa, Fiorenzo’s partner, to tank up. For those who came without jugs, Julia produced a mylar bag, which she adeptly filled, burped and prodded into a cardboard container. Voila! Wine in a box. Many Italians drink these wines as a reasonably priced option for their every day beverage. The wine we saw sells for about $2.59 per liter in your own jug. (Slightly more to get it in the box.) That’s about the same as a bottle of Two Buck Chuck, only more profit for the winery since there is no expense for labels and glass.

Of course I saw many beautiful labels and tasted some primo Italian wines that were to die for. But the “bring your own bottle” approach was something new to me. Such a tidy little solution for both the winemaker and the consumer, I’m lovin’ it.

I asked my buddy Pooch Pucilowski, Chief Judge for the California State Fair Wine Competition and nationally known wine consultant, “Why aren’t wines sold like this in the U.S.?” He told me there are a few wineries and wine shops that do, but in general, the industry doesn’t want to sell wine on tap since that’s too much like beer is sold. That’s good news for wine label designers.


Paula Sugarman is owner and creative director of Sugarman Design Group, a California graphic design studio specializing in brand identity, wine label design and food package design.


* Bacco In Toscana – Bacco In Toscana’s website is down right now, but if you are ever in the Italian hill country, you should stop in Arezzo for a visit to their wine shop.

** Poggio del Drago - And here’s a link to a really great bed and breakfast which is central to many Tuscan hill towns and wineries. We highly recommend it.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>