After heading the Rhone Valley Wine Interprofessional laboratory, Stéphane Vidal joined Vinventions in 2007. Stéphane was first leading their global academic program to understand wine science and the influence of oxygen permeating through the closure on wine evolution. Based on this knowledge Stéphane led the launch of closure solutions to meet winemakers’ intentions, before creating Wine Quality Solutions, a brand of Vinventions to provide winemakers with decision-making tools. Now the Head of Innovation and General Manager Europe for Vinventions, Stéphane remains passionate about the wine industry and the contribution of the closure solutions to the betterment of wines.
ASI: What is Vinventions and how does its mission impact the individual sommelier?
Stéphane: Vinventions is a true specialist of wine closure solutions. The Vinventions group employs over 550 associates globally. The group aims to become the most innovative, most sustainable and most reliable supplier in its sector, guided by their values which are customer proximity, empowerment and entrepreneurship, teamwork, innovation, sustainable development and long-term responsibility.
Sommeliers are important stakeholders of the wine industry and their trust in our brand is of great importance for us. They are the guardians of the wine bottle opening ceremony. With our link to ASI, we would like to share our knowledge about wine closure technologies and their impact on wine evolution. Sommeliers talk about closures with their customers, we would love them to be our best ambassadors to explain the reason why winemakers choose one of our closure solutions instead of natural cork. When sommeliers open bottles closed with our solutions, they can be certain of the absence of cork-related taints.
ASI: Vinventions says “there is not one best universal closure for every bottle of wine.” Which factors in a wine do you look at to determine the best closure? Which characteristics in a wine are you looking to preserve?
Stéphane: There is indeed no unique closure solution. We developed an important research program to understand wine evolution chemistry and determine the factors modulating wine ageing. With the help of our academic partners, we have designed closures to match different wine specificities and oxygen needs. Variables like variety, terroir, viniculture, aromatic profile but also expected shelf-life and distribution channels are dictating the level of oxygen required by different wines to reach their optimal organoleptic characteristics.
We believe that we need to adapt our closure offering to support winemaker intention. Together we look to preserve wine signature and to ensure superior cellar aging performance. Our closures provide the performance that winemakers are waiting for:
- TCA- and fault-free
- Smooth and easy extraction and reinsertion
- No crumbling or breakage
- Reliable bottling performance
- Clean, safe, and compliant product compositions
- Bottle to bottle consistency
All these properties are also in line with the expectations from sommeliers and wine lovers.
ASI: What is your most popular closure system and why?
Stéphane: Our current best-selling closure system is the Nomacorc Green Line. Driven by a steadfast commitment to innovation, sustainability and continuous improvement, the Nomacorc Green Line is derived from sustainable, renewable, sugarcane-based raw materials. It represents the best compromise in terms of performance, design, and sustainability.
Performance is driven by excellent bottling properties coupled to precise and consistent oxygen management, allowing the bottles to age in the same and anticipated way. Design was developed in such a way that consumers will still experience the traditional look and feel of inner closures. As for sustainability, the renewable plant-based raw materials used in Green Line coupled with a low production footprint allows us to claim carbon neutrality for this line of product.
In 2020, our new category of closures, SÜBR, accounted for our biggest portfolio growth. SÜBR is the first micro-natural closure, produced by mixing cork granules with a biodegradable binder. These commercial results back up Vinventions innovation strategy concerning new types of closures designed to meet the industry’s expectations in terms of performance and sustainable development.
ASI: What has been the most significant change in closures over the last 10 years?
Stéphane: 20 years ago the fight against cork taint and TCA was the main driver of closure solution development, ultimately leading to the birth of our Nomacorc brand. In the last 10 years, consistent oxygen management was a high demand from wineries and this topic is still very relevant. TCA still remains a concern for natural corks despite repeated claims from the natural cork companies to have eradicated this problem. In the last 3 to 5 years we have seen a new request from our customers directly linked to the search for sustainable closures to support their general sustainable strategies. At Vinventions, sustainability drives innovation and all our products are designed with recyclability and circular economy in mind. In 2013, we introduced the Green Line. A couple of years ago, we introduced our micro-natural SÜBR using cork-taint free cork granules and a biodegradable binder. In 2021, we are thrilled to announce the launch of our Blue Line using recycled plastic. The Blue Line will contribute to significantly lower our plastic footprint by recycling plastic that would have been otherwise incinerated. As you see we take care not only of material sourcing but also of our product end of life.
ASI: For Vinventions, sustainability and innovation seem to go hand-in-hand. When you look at developing new closure systems, are you looking to replace the “cork experience” or expand the consumer’s mind to embrace a new one?
Stéphane: Our innovation is driven by our sustainability goals and our new products are designed to be recyclable using renewable, biodegradable or recycled materials. With Nomacorc and SÜBR, we keep the traditional bottle-opening experience. The design of our closures was developed to keep the same consumer perception. We aim at sensory neutrality, what we mean by this is that we avoid any cork related taint onto the wine aromatic profile defined by the winemaker.
ASI: In your recently released Sustainability Report you said that “every 7th bottle worldwide” has a Vinventions closure. Which global markets do you find are the most accepting of alternative closures? Which the least?
Stéphane: Vinventions produces different closure solutions including Nomacorc Green Line (and soon Blue Line), SÜBR but also our line of screw caps called Vintop. This allows us to serve all countries globally and thus respect the wineries strategy depending on regions, type of wines and rotation cycles. In general, all countries are interested in our closures and have adopted massively alternative closure solutions. To put this in perspective, it is probably important to remind us that real one-piece natural corks are close to 10 % global market share only. Around 80 % of wine produced in Germany are using screw-caps, while Italy and France are strong on Green Line. Countries that produce natural cork, like Portugal, are less inclined to go for alternative solutions.
ASI: Many winemakers and critics believe that fine wine is a natural product that matures best under a natural closure (aka cork) in a natural setting (old cellar). Vinventions has devoted considerable resources to studying oxygen ingress in a range of closure systems. Do you believe this is an outdated romantic notion or still the reality today?
Stéphane: We love romance and we love wine too and this is why we wanted to understand in details wine science and wine requirements for a perfect ageing. We also invested a lot of time and resources to develop unbiased methods to assess the performance of the different closure types. What is striking with the one-piece natural corks is the high variations that exist from one cork to the other that are responsible for a big bottle to bottle variation. We love wine but we want Every Bottle Better! So our belief is the following. If you want to age “Grands Vins” you need:
-great wines crafted to be aged
-the right temperature conditions
-a closure with minute amount of oxygen permeating into the bottle
-a closure that allows all bottles to be the same
We design our closure to do this very job! We respect winemakers’ decisions to keep working with natural corks, but we encourage them to test our closures and “Taste the Difference” as the truth is in the wine glass.