What exactly is Second Skin?
A tactile bottle-hugging paper pulp encasement that is nine times lighter than Ruinart’s packaging predecessor, generating 60 percent fewer greenhouse gases during production.
Second Skin’s bespoke criteria is lengthy, including the ability to withstand immersion in an ice bucket for long periods, an R-embossed fastening to fully close the wraparound case, and a bespoke colour to match the crayères, the chalk caves housing Ruinart’s vast stocks of wine deep beneath the streets of its headquarters in Reims.
Sounds complicated. How is it produced?
Made by James Cropper in the UK’s Lake District – a paper mill which supplies everything from Hallmark greeting cards to advanced aerospace materials – the papermaker’s innovative product COLOURFORM was the basis for Second Skin; a thermoformed moulded fibre, onto which Ruinart’s bespoke elements were incorporated.
Why describe the move as ‘bold’?
Because being luxurious is in Ruinart’s DNA and eco packaging is not renowned for looking premium. Retailers however, seem far from concerned. ‘We’ve had zero kickback from the Second Skin packaging’ says Dawn Davies MW, head buyer for prolific Champagne retailer The Whisky Exchange. ‘This is the new sexy – to be luxury and eco’, she says.
Unsurprisingly perhaps, Ruinart’s president Frédéric Dufour agrees. ‘We’re convinced that sustainable development is a driving force for innovation and creativity. In everything we do, we want to combine our passion for beauty, art-de-vivre and sustainability. It’s our compass.’
Why has Ruinart gone to so much trouble?
The house invested heavily in development and research on this, spending €1 million over the course of two years. Notwithstanding flying the flag as Moët Hennessy’s environmental ambassador, Ruinart is also making a positive contribution to the wider Champagne region’s environmental goals; emissions generated by each bottle of Champagne were cut by 20 percent between 2003 and 2020, a result achieved through a 7 percent reduction in bottle weight across the region. For a wine region whose packaging accounts for one third of a bottle’s carbon emissions, this is a milestone achievement.
Is anyone else using Second Skin?
Not yet, but Ruinart has taken the deliberate decision not to patent the design, so the door is wide open. Durfour confirms that ‘several winemakers, especially in Champagne, [have] approached us to find out more about this innovation’. That said, many if not most houses already have their own eco packaging strategies in place these days. Bollinger for example, is working with forests that are owned by the house while Billecart-Salmon is maximizing recyclability by using mono material packaging.
Does this make Ruinart Moët Hennessy’s greenest Champagne house?
It’s difficult to confirm categorically, but while the group has created a soil biodiversity programme – entitled Living Soils Living Together – for all its maisons, Sandrine Sommer, Moët Hennessy’s chief sustainability officer, says ‘Ruinart has been the pioneer maison pushing its global environmental approach further with its Second Skin case.’
To back up its candidacy as the greenest house of the group, Ruinart has also committed itself to further environmental projects, such as dedicating its entire 40ha Taissy vineyard to a biodiversity pilot project (replanting with hedges and trees) with Reforest’Action, which manages the restoration and creation of forests in France.
Sounds impressive, but shouldn’t Ruinart focus on the wine’s credentials?
Naysayers, and indeed competitors, may suggest that it’s important to focus on the wine’s credentials first and foremost, but is that entirely fair when wine packaging has historically contributed so negatively to the environment? Even so, Ruinart says its soil diversity programme [one of the four pillars of the Living Soils Living Together programme] will improve soil quality and in doing so, the quality of the vines, grapes and ultimately – the wines.
Will improved eco credentials truly matter to drinkers?
Well, ‘you can’t just do big gift boxes any more’ because it’s all about ‘gifting with purpose’ says Ruinart’s cellar master Frédéric Panaïotis, based on his experience touring various countries, particularly northern Europe. Davies sees the same pattern, saying that ultimately, ‘more and more people want to be more sustainable these days.’
For an in-depth look at the project, based on a trip to the mill where Second Skin was made, see the winter 2021 edition of Club Oenologique