Mariuccia Borio of Cascina Castlet tells the story of the wine labels that, with a good dose imagination and vision, changed the world of wine design.
We wanted a unique label, and we created one that was avantgarde.
All too common are the labels with the farmer’s house, rows of vineyards, bunches of grapes, rolling hills and, time and again, the family’s crest. The label of Passum is absolutely uncommon, a Barbera d’Asti Superior produced by Cascina Castlet.
Think back to the year 1985, when design applied to wine labels is uncharted territory. Enter Maria Borio. In a single rebellious, soon-to-be victorious gesture he commissioned Giacomo Bersanetti, today one of the most important packaging artists for wine in Italy. This man would go on to create the most celebrated and renowned “dress” for the Lady in Red. “We wanted a unique label, and we created one that was avantgarde,” says the owner of Cascina Castlet.
“We knew that Passum deserved an experimental sign of recognition because it was an unusual wine, one to be saved for special occasions, made from dried grapes and late harvest. In those years, producing Barbera was against the mainstream,” continues Maria Borio, “so we told ourselves: since Passum is special, it deserves a label that’s like nothing else we’re used to.”
It was so different that, at first glance, not even Cascina Castlet was ready for it. “When Bersanetti revealed the bottle,” recalls Borio, “I exclaimed, ‘What’s that?’ I didn’t understand. But I liked it so much that I decided to launch it in the market.” The label of Passum challenged all conventions. Skipping the classic adhesive label, a single sign the color of wine was applied directly to the glass using silk-screen printing, making it the first experiment of this technique on wine bottles. “We even challenge the disposition of the wine's information by writing it on the neck instead of a label to emphasize the essential importance of the container.”
Even the symbol chosen to represent the Passum was mysterious and surprising, which the graphic artist Bersanetti chose from the Greek letter “Phi”. “It reminds me of the P of Passum,” says Borio, “a throwback to ancient times on a very modern bottle. It perfectly represents the nature of our wines.” The label was a success. Magazines disputed whether the image made it a mini-masterpiece: “Vinum gave us two pages. They wrote: ‘The turn-around of labels, Italian innovation.” Today, the “Phi” of Passum is a classic oenological design, celebrated in exhibitions and often cited. One such example was at the exposition Torino 2008 World Design Capital when the bottle’s design was included in the Enografie exhibit to represent the best of Wine meets Design.
Another label of Maria Borio was chosen for the occasion: Avié, Moscato passito DOC of Cascina Castlet. “We chose the silk-screen printing method for this label, created in 1990, too. But this time, the Phi symbol was substituted with the imprint of a hand,” tells the producer. “We use our hands for everything in winemaking, and in the vineyards carefully selecting the best grapes and gently laying the small bunches into baskets.”
It’s also the symbol of the relation between producer and consumer according to the Piedmontese word avié, which means the pause in the winter evenings when families find themselves in the coziness of the stables to exchange their day's experiences and tell stories to their children. “The thing that makes me most proud of these labels,” concludes Borio, “is that they’ve become collector’s objects. People don’t throw the bottles away, but they conserve them and continue our story.”
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