Revolutionizing Wine through Innovation and Sustainability: Alileo Wines, From Sicily to Massachusetts
It was a chance encounter in 2001 that brought Alexandra Dane and Antonio Bertone together. Some might describe them as extreme business travelers–always on the move– others might say it was just plain serendipity.
As their courtship blossomed, Alexandra and Antonio found themselves traveling to Sicily, the home of Antonio’s family. They spent long, sun-soaked days in August, dreaming about starting a family of their own and bridging the traditional Sicilian rituals with the Dane family’s entrepreneurial spirit. The idea of creating a low-intervention wine brand with their Sicilian family had always been a topic of conversation over the years. Antonio’s cousin Rosario had been a winemaker for most of his life, and his father used to make wine with his brothers every year. But it was during the grip of the Covid pandemic in 2020 that their plans took on a new urgency.
Antonio’s mother was diagnosed with terminal cancer, and Alexandra and Antonio realized they needed to create a permanent connection to Sicily that would endure beyond her passing. It was a pivotal moment that sparked the idea to start their own wine brand and honor the Italian family heritage in a meaningful way. And so, their journey into the world of winemaking began, fueled by their love for each other, their families, and the rich traditions of Sicily. Alileo Wines was born.
Alexandra’s background as a serial entrepreneur in health and technology brings invaluable experience to the formation and day-to-day operations of their business. Having seen all aspects of starting and scaling a business, as well as dealing with the challenges of shuttering a business, her expertise helps them make informed decisions and avoid costly mistakes on a daily basis. Contrasting that with Antonio’s background– his career focused on dreaming, designing, and bringing ideas to life as tangible products on store shelves. A good balance of process orientation and creative thinking.
The Sicilian family connection is at the heart of their brand. As a first-generation American with Sicilian roots, the ties to Sicily run deep for Antonio. His father hailing from Molise and his mother from Sicily, the familial bond is strong. In Sicily, building wealth can be challenging, unless one comes from a long-established prominent family. This realization drove Antonio and Alexandra to launch their brand in the US, as they saw an opportunity to create something that could benefit not just their immediate family, but also their wider community. The heritage is evident in every aspect of their brand, permeating through their values, traditions, and approach to winemaking.
The vineyards and grower that they are working with in southern Italy have a long and storied history, with continuous operation since 1849. What sets these vineyards apart is their close proximity to the sea, which imparts a unique quality to the grapes. Located just steps away from the world-renowned Saline di Marsala, known for producing the finest sea salt since the time of the Phoenicians, the vineyards benefit from the microclimate created by the nearby sea. The climate, and soil composition of these vineyards contribute to the distinct terroir. The soil composition, influenced by the nearby sea and the ancient salt flats, adds a distinctive mineral character to the grapes.
Currently, all of their grapes are sourced from this single estate. However, as they continue to grow and scale their business, they anticipate the need to collaborate with additional growers in the region to ensure consistency while maintaining their commitment to low intervention and natural winemaking practices. Their goal is to work with growers who share their passion for terroir-driven wines and who can contribute to the unique characteristics that make their wines stand out in and around Marsala.
As a reflection of their belief in organic and low intervention practices, they wanted to extend that commitment to the packaging of their wines. They made a conscious decision to focus on bag-in-box packaging for all their wines, except for the sparkling wine. While the environmental benefits and gains of bag-in-box packaging have been well-documented, they also saw it as an opportunity to challenge the perception of bag-in-box wines in the US market. They recognized that they could have opted for traditional glass bottles with attractive labels, but they chose to take on the challenge of changing consumers’ perception of bag-in-box wines in the market. Currently, they offer four different wine varietals in 3-liter bag-in-boxes, with plans to introduce smaller formats in future harvests. They believe that this decision aligns with their values and helps them make a statement as a brand that is committed to sustainability and innovation in the wine industry.
The ‘Young Grillo’ wine is a unique offering from the vineyard, as it is made exclusively from 100% Grillo grapes. However, this poses a challenge as it technically qualifies for DOCG (Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita) labeling, which has strict rules on wine production and does not recognize “natural” or “low intervention” winemaking practices. Since all of their wines are unfiltered, they are unable to use DOCG labeling due to the strict rules against unfiltered wines. This presents a dilemma for the vineyard, as they are pushing the boundaries of traditional winemaking and may need to change the name or find a compromise to continue producing and marketing the ‘Young Grillo’ wine.
Alileo’s wines are shipped from Sicily to a climate-controlled container and then transported to their warehouse in Gloucester, Mass., where they are stored in a climate-controlled environment. The inventory is carefully managed based on their growth ambitions and sales forecasts to ensure efficient distribution and fulfillment.
Running a wine business in the Boston area that sources grapes from Sicily and utilizes innovative packaging like bag-in-box instead of glass bottles is an exciting and challenging endeavor. It reflects Alileo’s commitment to sustainability, low intervention winemaking practices, and pushing the boundaries of traditional wine production. By challenging the status quo and embracing innovation, the vineyard aims to change the wine industry for the better, offering unique wines that minimize their environmental impact.
Syrah- flavors of blackberry and plum are complemented by firm tannins and a bold spiciness that tantalizes the palate. This wine exhibits a marked acidity that imbues the wine with a refreshing and lively character
Young Grillo- straw-yellow, this wine exudes a vibrant and youthful appearance. Its bouquet is redolent with a profusion of zesty citrus aromas, particularly of lemon and orange, along with tropical fruit scents. Legend has it that the Grillo grape variety was named after the “cricket” insect, whose chirping sounds are said to be audible in the vineyards during the ripening season. It is said that the sound of these crickets was so ubiquitous in the vineyards of western Sicily, where the Grillo grape is predominantly grown.
Rosati Bronzato- ruby red color, shimmering with alluring brilliance. Upon first inhale, the intoxicating scent of luscious cherry and red fruit wafts through the senses, beckoning a deeper exploration. In perfect harmony, this wine is velvety and smooth, gliding across the tongue with ease.
Zibibbo Macerato- the bouquet is awash with citrusy and muscaty notes, each as alluring as the next. One’s senses are immediately transported to a place of pure pleasure, a place where the sun-kissed vines of the Mediterranean flourish. With each sip, the palate is enveloped by the wine’s crisp acidity, complemented by a subtle, yet alluring sweetness. It is a wine that lingers long after the last drop has been savored.