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Wine was born with cork and in cork he will always find his favourite stopper


Renzo Cotarella, CEO and chief oenologist at the emblematic Marchesi Antinori, is a firm supporter of the wine-cork binomial. Born in Umbria into a family of winegrowers, he studied agronomy, but enology ended up having a stronger appeal. He has been at Antinori, where he started working on the Castello della Sala project, for four decades. Today he is responsible for all the company's wines, seeking a balance between tradition and innovation.

What is your first memory of cork?

My memory of cork goes back to many years ago when I was a student at Conegliano Veneto School of Oenology. I had a great teacher of Oenology, Dr. Borghigno, and each time he spoke about the work processes, to obtain quality wine, he would almost intimidating say: “You can produce an even exceptional wine, but know that the cork is what preserves or enhances or can even spoil the quality achieved, therefore when you are at work, always choose a cork producer who can best guarantee quality”. I have taken this advice to heart throughout my career.

Your love affair with wine began by pulling a cork. How was that? What was it that struck your imagination?

1998, The Chez l'Ami Louis Restaurant, Rue du Vertbois 32 in Paris, an unforgettable lunch with some of my dear friends, including Robert Parker, Daniel Oliveros, a famous collector of wine from New York, Mr Riedle, Jean-Louis René Chave, owner of the wine cellar of the same name and producers for over 500 years of Hermitage.

With an incredibly fantastic meal, we combined two stratospheric wines: A Chateu Le Gai 1946 magnum and a 1900 Leoville Poyferrè 6-litre mathusalem.The most emotional moment, I would even say moving, was when we were all involved in the careful and delicate opening of the big bottle of 98-year old Leoville Poyferrè. Taking no less than 5-6 minutes, we managed to remove the cork completely intact. It’s something I will never forget, because on tasting the wine we were astonished to find it perfectly intact, thanks to the cork.

From that moment to present day, how has your opinion of cork changed?

I am firmly convinced, at least for medium-long aging wines, that natural cork represents the best we can use. Today, more than ever, we have to ask cork producers to guarantee the quality of the cork, through scientific research and advanced control methods, to avoid problems for the wine, but also contribute to its better development.

Can you imagine a world without the unique sound of a bottle being popped? Would you describe that sound as being culturally relevant, considering its recognition around the world?

There is no doubt that the sound of popping a cork is something very familiar, but beyond the sound lies that unique emotion, that small yet fundamental gesture that stirs in us each time we are about to open a bottle of wine.

Cork is the most sustainable material in the world. Do you believe we can help our clients reduce their environmental impact and become even more competitive on the export market?

Sustainability and care of the environment are a must in our industry. Definitely, among the various means of closing a bottle (aluminium, plastic, rubber and whatever else the market has to offer) cork, as a natural element, represents the best one can offer to guarantee respect for the environment and, as we have seen in recent years, the cork producers who are most attentive to this principle are dedicated to recycling used cork to manufacture elegant household furnishings and more besides.

What is your forecast for the future of cork and wine?

An inseparable pairing. Wine was born with cork and cork will always be the best way to close it. However, professionalism and reliability in the cork production sector will be increasingly needed.

There are 195 countries around the world, but only 7 are declared oak forests for cork production, Italy being among them. What would you like to see happen with cork oak forests in the near future?

I hope they will be preserved and even extended. They not only represent a quintessential , unique source of cork production, but also a source of containment for atmospheric pollution, which is increasingly worrying on a global scale.