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Space-age wine


Two native Oklahomans apply space program thinking and technology to their California Chardonnay.

Greg Horton August 17th, 2011

Tulsa resident Chris Large sold his boutique wine shop in Utica Square in 2009. He and his wife, Natalie, were ready for a change.

They had spent years in the food and wine business, and they wanted to translate their knowledge and experience into a product that could genuinely revolutionize the wine industry.

“We had learned over the years that for most people, it’s about that $10 bottle of wine,” Large said. “I had been in the boutique wine business, but I had a concept that was about as anti-boutique as you can get.”

Keeping in mind the concept of the $10 everyday drinker, Large wanted to make good wine at an affordable price and place it in a package that didn’t contribute to the planet’s environmental problems.

“I looked at all those $10 bottles that we’d sold over the years, and I realized that they were ending up in landfills,” he said. “It motivated us to come up with a different approach, one that allowed us to make the wine we wanted, but reduced our carbon footprint.”

The answer was an AstraPouch, a proprietary packaging technology from South Africa. The pouch is a food-grade polymer that will keep wine fresh on a shelf for one year, or for 30 days after opening. Compared to glass, AstraPouch has an 80 percent reduced carbon-footprint rating. It’s the greenest packaging in the wine industry.

“There is really only one place to save money and make a dent in the wine business anymore,” Large said,  “and that’s packaging. Not only does it save on expenses related to glass, breakage, cork and corked bottles; it’s much cheaper to ship because it weighs so much less.”

Large partnered with winemaker Dave Dobson and custom crush facility Carneros Vintners in Sonoma County to produce ecoVINO Chardonnay. The fruit is sourced from Mendocino County, but Large said he acts primarily as a “negociant,” so that he will buy fruit from whatever areas he needs to in order to make the wine he wants.

The real question isn’t about packaging, greenness or carbon footprints, however. No one cares if you reduce your carbon footprint if your wine sucks.

“It’s premium wine,” said Matt Sterr, managing partner of Norman’s Spirit Shop, 1117 Garver. “It has a light, fresh style, with good fruit and firm acidity. It’s a perfect wine for this heat we’re having.”

That will be one of ecoVINO’s primary struggles: separating itself from bulk wines in boxes and bags. The artwork by David Clark Design will help, but ultimately, the wine will have to speak for itself. So far, so good.

A friend of Large’s had a friend who was a national buyer for West Coast chain Trader Joe’s. He submitted the wine for Large. The buyers loved ecoVINO and promptly purchased so much of it that Large is now “guesstimating” that they may  have to make as many as 250,000 cases within the next couple of years.

The wine, 15 percent of which went into bottles that use “green glass” technology, is available in both AstraPouch and bottle at Spirit Shop. Freeman Liquor Mart, 4401 N. Western, also has it. Large said he put some in bottles as a way of hedging his bets.

Saving on packaging doesn’t lessen the quality of the wine.

—Chris Large

“We didn’t know what the reception would be with restaurateurs,” he said, “so we put some in bottles. We’ve been overwhelmed by the response. We sold 400 or 500 cases in Oklahoma already, and Trader Joe’s has us in stores.”

Large said they are looking at other big-box chains, but that they’re only going to work with them in states that don’t have Trader Joe’s.

“I think we’ve reached a point in the wine business where most consumers are over issues like corks, bottles, twist tops and traditional packaging,” he said. “The real question is, ‘Is the wine good?’ In the case of ecoVINO, saving on packaging doesn’t lessen the quality of the wine.”

Large said ecoVINO Cabernet, also from Mendocino County, will be available in the state later this year.

 
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