Red Wine, Green Dream: Pursuing Sustainability in Tuscany With a Zero-Carbon-Footprint Closure

Sometimes a good partnership will help you find closure.

That was the case when Italian winemaker Nicola Biasi went looking for just the rightSanPolo_Support2
closure for his Rubio, a red wine he produces at San Polo winery, a stunning Tuscan winery.

Rubio, a Toscana IGT, is predominantly Sangiovese. The winery also produces Mezzopane (a Super Tuscan blend of Sangiovese and Merlot), and 100 percent Sangiovese Rosso di Montalcino, Brunello di Montalcino, and Brunello di Montalcino Riserva.

In close cooperation with the Nomacorc Italian sales team, Biasi had been running tests of Nomacorc Select alternate wine bottle closures. Biasi liked the results: There were no worries about cork taint, and he had the ability to control oxygen management with scientific precision. 

But as a winemaker in Italy’s historic  region, he faced some hurdles in making a switch to Nomacorc. Customers often expect a Tuscan wine to be closed with natural cork—if only because that’s the way it’s always been done. Plus, local regulations forbid using synthetic closures on the fabled Brunello di Montalcino. However, a rule change last summer OK’d the use of synthetic closures on Rosso di Montalcino.

Enter Olav Aagaard, Nomacorc’s principal scientist, based in Belgium. It was FebruaryBioIcon 2013 and Nomacorc was just a few months away from releasing a new product, Select Bio, which is made from bio-ethanol derived from sugar cane and is the first synthetic closure with a zero carbon footprint.

Accompanying the Italian sales team, Aagaard visited the San Polo winery, set on a hill with sweeping views of Tuscany. “It was really breathtaking,” he said. “You see this winery. You are in awe—you are amazed.”

What, thought Aagaard, do we have to offer these people?

But a good partnership, said Aagaard, revolves around three things: trust, risk-sharing, and reward-sharing. San Polo and Nomacorc had already established trust in running trials on the regular Nomacorc Select line. Now it was time for a little risk- and reward-sharing.

Although Select Bio was still officially under wraps, Aagaard told Biasi and his team about it anyway.

“They immediately jumped all over it,” he recalled. “Not just from a winemaking perspective, but also from a marketing perspective. This is not only an excellent closure for wine quality, it’s also a great closure to fit sustainable wine and sustainable packaging of wine.”

Sustainability is a major goal at San Polo, which was purchased in 2007 by Marilisa Allegrini, family owner of Allegrini Estates, and Leonardo LoCascio, head of Winebow, a wine importer and distributor based in the U.S. The winery has an underground cellar with tunnels that cool the air before channeling it into the space, and curved ceilings SanPolo_Support3that direct the warm air to the sides of the rooms where it is expelled via overhead flues. An underground spring also keeps things cool. The vineyards are worked organically, and the sustainability ethos extends to packaging, too, with labels printed on recycled paper, lighter weight glass bottles used to reduce shipment weight and fuel usage, and boxes made out of recycled materials.

In 2013, the winery received the coveted CasaClima Wine Certification, based on a rigorous examination of ecological, environmental, and economic sustainability. It was the first winery in Tuscany to win such recognition, and only the second in the world.

Biasi wanted to try Select Bio on Rubio. Oh, and one other thing—he wanted it rightSanPolo_Support1 away.

That brought trust back into play. Nomacorc decided to move up their timeline and make a special batch of Select Bio for San Polo’s Rubio. “They trusted the product. They trusted us, and we trusted them,” said Aagaard.

Once the wine was bottled, both companies benefitted from the resulting publicity. San Polo highlighted the fact that its new closure for Rubio was a brand-new product from Nomacorc; Nomacorc heralded the roll-out of the new Select Bio and highlighted the fact that Rubio was the first to use it.

“We were showing everyone that bottle,” said Aagaard.

In all, the introduction drew more than 350 media mentions worldwide and won several innovation awards, too. “We try to be a partner for the winemakers,” said Aagaard. “It’s about sharing, communicating, and being proud of the product.” That partnership was celebrated when San Polo invited Nomacorc to be part of a banquet for winery customers. It was the first such invitation Aagaard had ever received. “They acknowledged we had a role to play in selling their wines,” he said.

Nomacorc just launched its second generation of Select Bio that has the same oxygen management capability and zero carbon footprint as the original, but with a look and feel that’s very close to natural cork.

Biasi and his team are now considering whether to expand use of Select Bio at their sister winery, Poggio Al Tesoro, which produces Vermentino. Said Biasi, “Now I have something different to tell my customers. This is a very strong argument, especially in this field where everybody is looking for the green approach.”

Aagaard has been struck by how well Select Bio can foster conversations with consumers interested in the sustainability connection. Normally, people don’t focus much on bottle closures—unless they fail, of course. Barring that, it takes a true tech lover to delve into oxygen ingress and egress. But a reliable closure that helps keep things clean and green? That seems to be conversation starter with just about anyone.


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