There may not be a genie inside the bottle, but a new cork can seemingly work wonders. Italy's Arnaldo Caprai winery has embedded a miniature chip, hardly larger than a grain of rice, in synthetic corks topping a limited-edition Sangiovese, called Contemporare, from the Umbria region.
The smart cork, which is supposed to be tamper-proof, can hold pages of information on a wine, its producer and its provenance, and the chip can both send and receive information.
This is the first in-bottle application of Radio Frequency Identification by a winery. (Attempts to use the chip on the outside of bottles have produced erratic results, since it has difficulty transmitting when it gets wet.) The technology is a refinement of the RFID systems the military has been using for years to track planes. It is now being widely deployed in the fashion and food industries, as well as in manufacturing and shipping. Retail giant Wal-Mart has asked its major suppliers--including the world's largest wine companies, Gallo and Constellation--to adopt the technology to improve retail distribution.
Caprai was initially approached by Smartcorq creator, Marco Astorri of Lab Id in Bologna, to collaborate on an antitheft device for retailers. "I liked that idea, and the cork's potential as a weapon against the growing global problem of fraudulent wines," said winery owner Arnaldo Caprai, "but I also liked its ability to communicate to consumers. It will change the way people manage, store and shop for wine."
The Smartcorq will allow shoppers browsing retail shelves to learn more about individual bottles by using a handheld reader. Collectors could also use the corks to learn a wine's provenance or manage their cellars more efficiently. Industry applications such as warehouse and inventory management and shipment tracking are being implemented rapidly as the RFID technology becomes more practical. Caprai said he expects that the wine industry will embrace it more broadly when a natural-cork version becomes available.
Caprai showed off the cork to the press in New York recently, and it will be demonstrated for the first time to consumers and members of the trade at Vinitaly in Verona from April 6 to 10. Though his winery is best known for its Sagrantino di Montefalco bottlings, which run as high as $100 a bottle, Caprai makes a range of wines and chose to use the smart cork to debut a new Sangiovese that will retail for less than $40.
Sips & Tips | Wine & Healthy Living
Video Theater | Collecting & Auctions