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Family-Run Alileo Wines Brings Sicily State-Side (In A Sustainable Box)

Family-Run Alileo Wines Brings Sicily State-Side (In A Sustainable Box)

Alileo Wines

For the average person, there are few parallels linking Massachusetts and Sicily. The former is a small yet integral part of our country’s formation, the latter a picture-postcard Italian island where New England’s idiosyncratic phrases “Baaaston” and “wicked” have rarely been uttered (save for a few tourists). But thanks to Antonio Bertone and Alexandra Drane, the husband-and-wife founders of Alileo Wines, these two distinct places share a stronger connection than ever.

The dream to link their Gloucester-based family in wine across the Atlantic began in 2020 when Bertone’s mother fell ill. “We were cooking dinner while listening to some of her favorite songs, and we started to create this idea of building something that would connect us to Sicily forever,” Bertone explains, assuaging her fear that the connection to their ancestry would wane with her passing.

The journey of Alileo Wines speaks to the strength of family, “when we started talking about [creating Alileo] in a more serious capacity, it lit my mom’s face up.”

The vin-centric idea — to start a wine brand from nothing — didn’t appear from thin air. Bertone’s immigrant father was passionate about making wine at home through the 1970s and 80s. Each year in October, he took a week off from work with his brothers, traveling between each of their houses, to make enough wine in their basements to last them the year. “It was his happy hobby,” Bertone says. Additionally, “I was inspired by watching my cousin, who is now Alileo’s winemaker, study oenology and work for some of the more prestigious winemakers of Sicily.”

Fueled by the desire to build a legacy for future generations, Antonio and Alexandra undertook a side hustle — in the middle of Covid, no less — that would unite their family across continents.

Building a Boxed-Wine Brand

Crafted in partnership with Bertone’s relatives in Sicily, Alileo Wines is a natural extension of his family in Massachusetts. “My mom and her family grew up in a kind of agrarian lifestyle, and my dad’s family grew up with a dream of making and selling a product. I think perhaps being your own boss is inside a lot of my family,” Bertone says.

After receiving a positive response from Sicilian family members at the idea of building a family business, what was once a place they would visit once or twice yearly became more frequent to establish their resources. “[We would] travel around visiting facilities, meeting facility owners, and explaining our concept and vision to them,” he continues, “when we explained our focus on boxed wine, it brought a smile to their face.”

Bertone worked in the technology industry and has a background in consumer products. After a successful soft launch of Alileo Wines in 2021, he transitioned from tech full-time in 2023 to focus on the brand’s growth.

Alileo Wines - Antonio Bertone and Alexandra Dramen
Antonio Bertone and Alexandra Drane / Image courtesy of Alileo Wines

However, with expansion comes growing pains and moving on from relationships they’ve had since the beginning. “Right now, we’re transitioning from one smaller supplier to a larger one with more fermentation capacity. That’s the name of the game. The grapes aren’t a problem; it’s finding places to make the wine that will have the tank space.”

Bertone’s cousin is the winemaker, spearheading the creation of four 3-liter bag-in-box Sicilian-centric varietals: Zibibbo Macerato, Young Grillo, Syrah, and Rosato Bronzato. Bertone says, “Over the last couple of years, I’ve learned much more about the winemaking process, but I truly trust [my cousin] as this is his art and craft.”

Serving Sustainability

The decision to embrace the bag-in-box packaging format was not merely a matter of convenience but a deliberate choice rooted in sustainability. By taking a format that’s generally “looked at in a negative way,” Alileo Wines purposefully goes against the grain to celebrate the environmental benefits of boxed wine.

By opting for this innovative packaging solution, Alileo Wines significantly reduces its carbon footprint by minimizing transport emissions by 50% and lowering landfill waste by 85%. Additionally, each bag-in-box holds three liters, the equivalent of four bottles of wine, and stays fresh for 30 days, inviting a more mindful approach to drinking.

Moreover, Alileo’s dedication to organic viticulture ensures that every grape is “happy and healthy” and free from harmful pesticides and chemicals. Despite Bertone’s best efforts, he says more must be done. “Sicily is getting hotter and hotter. I wish our small production could have a larger impact on the environment, but we need many more people changing their behavior and methods to start to turn the tide.”

As a consumer marketer, Bertone was intentionally disruptive with the brand’s launch, seeking ways to gain traction. “We’re not raising money for this venture; we want to grow the old-fashioned way slowly and with revenue,” he continues. “Knowing we’re good designers and thinkers, we could’ve gone the glass bottle route, but we felt that if we were going to get a consumer’s attention, let’s take something undesirable and try to change their perspective.”

The Future of Alileo Wines

With a steadfast commitment to quality and innovation, Alileo Wines is carve out a niche in the competitive world of wine. “This industry is quite difficult and complicated from a regulation and analog logistics standpoint, but we’ve been fortunate to start to gain a good reputation,” says Bertone, who continues looking for partners to grow their distribution.

In addition to expanding their geographic footprint, they’re also preparing to add a new red and white to complement the existing varietals. There are also additional plans to expand their bag-in-box size offerings.

Amidst the hustle and bustle of growth, one thing remains constant: the unwavering dedication to family. “Being parents, we want to show our children there are better ways to do things,” Bertone says. “We’re currently going through the B Corp certification process, and it’s fun quantifying what Alileo can do in terms of environmental impact.”

From across the dinner table to across the ocean, family is at the core of Alileo Wines, something we’re reminded of with a simple glance at the name. “It’s a scramble of our names. You have Alexandra and Alessia, our niece, but like our oldest child, Lily, our daughter, and Leonardo, our son. And, of course, my name is Antonio. So when you start playing with the As and Ls, it comes together.” He continues, “These are all great ingredients for a brand with a vision towards longevity and growth.”

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