Ronnie Sanders would judge an album by its cover.
When the president of Vine Street Imports walked through record stores as a kid, his purchase was influenced not only by the band’s music, but the artwork on its cover.
It’s a trait Sanders found useful in 2008, when he founded Poggio Anima with Tuscan winemaker Riccardo Campinoti. It focused on “inexpensive mono varietal wines from indigenous Italian varieties that had cool and interesting packaging.”
“The idea of the name came from the record ‘Aenima’ from the band Tool,” Sanders said. “Riccardo and I became friendly with their lead singer, Maynard James Keenan, and we were listening to that particular record when I came up with the name Poggio Anima. I grew up with records, and I loved going to the record store and looking at album art, which for me was very impactful.
“I would buy records just based on their label art. It worked great when I found things like Iron Maiden’s ‘Killers’ and Molly Hatchet’s ‘Flirtin’ with Disaster.’ With wine labels, I always go back to my youth and album art. People first buy with their eyes. Once we came up with the concept, I went to a tattoo artist friend of mine, and he came up with the imaging.”
With their pastel backgrounds and ancient religious iconography, Poggio Anima was an unconventional approach compared to its counterparts and their more traditional labels.
All the white wines are named after archangels, while the reds are named after fallen angels. He also looked at the Yin and Yang concept in Eastern philosophy as he sought to make balanced wines. While the indigenous grape varietals used have been cultivated for centuries in Italy, they’re packaged in a fresh, new style.
Like the Yin and Yang, a little of the old is balanced by a little of the new in Poggio Anima.
“Italy is obviously the center of Catholicism and Christianity in many people’s eyes, but the Tuscans, especially during the Renaissance, were rebellious,” Sanders said. “I’ve always loved the idea of good versus evil, and that concept always makes the best stories. Good versus evil, red versus white, it just seems to work in the concept of Italian wines, because religion is so important in Italy. I’ve always been fascinated with religion even though I am not at all pious. The stories of archangels and fallen angels are fascinating, and the names are strong names, so they work well with the wines.”
Even though Poggio Anima had catchy labels and affordable prices, the wines had to deliver. Sanders is the USA importer of Campinoti’s Le Ragnaie, and the winemaker seemed to “know everyone in the business in Italy.”
In 12 years, they’ve rarely changed growers, and it shows. The wines have been incredibly consistent and well distributed.
The Poggio Anima Uriel Grillo, Sicily 2019 ($15) was highlighted by floral aromas: honeysuckle and white tree blossoms. Fleshy peach flavors and a crispy, wet-rock minerality. It’s perfect for the summer, and showed the fun complexities grillo offers so well throughout Sicily.
Poggio Anima Belial Sangiovese, Tuscany 2019 ($15) mixed cherry flavors with herbs de Provence. With juicy strawberry and herbal hints, the Poggio Anima Raphael, Rosato, Sicily 2020 ($15) fit in nicely as a poolside sipper. The rose is 85% zibibbo and 15% syrah.
“The great thing about making wine in Italy is that you can find great vineyards that are farmed correctly, and buy fruit at reasonable prices so long as it is not in the brand name areas like Barolo or Montalcino,” Sanders said. “We work with really great growers and producers who farm the land sustainably and as organically as possible. Plus Riccardo is not only great at making wines, but he has a fantastic palate.”
Sanders discovered a way to stand out on wine shelves. He’s avoided blending in; wine labels can be their own white noise, and appear as a collection of fancy cursive writing and pictures of an old winery. Those are classic and timeless designs.
But, he’s pushed the envelope and carved out a niche at a price point that can allow for multiple explorations throughout Italian varieties and growing regions.
“Before Poggio Anima, Italy was so far behind the curve when it came to wine packaging, and I think many wineries felt that their history made up for their lack of interest in marketing,” Sanders said. “We jumped on that, and it really worked for us. Young buyers wanted something different, and Poggio Anima spoke to a lot of people who maybe felt that some of the other labels in the category were trite. We went with the bright pastels for the simple reason that we wanted them to pop on the shelf. Once you get the bottle into someone’s hand in the store, studies show that it’s almost always a sale.”
Label art notes
Adaptation Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley ($65): Spiral art in red and purple hues doesn’t quite make a full circle, it’s just off center on the label, too. Always in search of balance in wine, in harvest and in art.
Bodegas Alto Moncayo: If artwork by Pablo Picasso and Jackson Pollock were to mingle, you’d get Veraton ($24). Meanwhile, the grenache ($38) has a beautiful tile mosaic in warm brown and orange colors.
No Girls Wines: A pastel background, pop art block lettering and killer syrah ($125) and grenache ($125) from Walla Walla, Washington. The name isn’t exclusionary, but rather a motivator; there was a time when “winemaker” or any physical labor was a man’s job. Winemaker Elizabeth Bourcier quells that notion with these wines.
Some Young Punks: Posters from Hollywood’s Golden Era or wine labels? The wines match the sassy labels, and come at a great price, too.
• James Nokes has been tasting, touring and collecting in the wine world for several years. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.