The 'Diamond Process' was judged on the basis of three technical criteria: degree of innovation, improvement to the quality of the wine and spirits, and respect for the environment. The award was presented to Oeneo at a reception in Bordeaux last night.
The technology, which was jointly developed by Oeneo's cork division and the French Atomic Energy Commission, selectively removes the offending molecules (haloanisoles) from raw cork material. It uses carbon dioxide in a supercritical (highly compressed) state as a solvent, in a technique similar to that used to decaffeinate coffee beans.
The technology adds a further dimension to the debate surrounding wine closures. Many producers, worried about 'corked' bottles and attracted to lower production costs, have for some time been turning to synthetic products and screw caps as alternatives.
In addition to concerns that consumers prefer the romance of the real cork, these alternatives have been criticised for sealing the wine too well. Most wine benefits from the very small amount of permeability that natural cork allows.
The 'Diamant' corks were endorsed this May by UK retailer Sainsbury's and have had encouraging feedback from around the world. They will soon be mass produced in a new Oeneo plant under construction in Spain.