The argument’s in the can

Last week’s article on the success in Germany of Rich Prosecco — the Paris Hilton endorsed Italian sparkling wine in a designer can — attracted an email from Melbourne based Barokes Wines.

Barokes say that in the last year, even without the help of Paris Hilton, they sold over 2.3 million cans of Australian wine worth $9.4 million, principally to Asia but with sales, too, in Australia, New Zealand, the Americas, Europe and Scandinavia.

Like Rich Prosecco, Barokes canned wines appeal strongly to younger people accustomed to enjoying drinks, whether alcoholic or not, in ready-to-drink formats. But because Barokes offer a range of wine styles in cans – and spreads its marketing effort more widely, it may ultimately appeal to a broader demographic.

For example, Barokes is making headway in the competitive airlines business not because it appeals to a particular age group but because a can is lighter (and therefore cheaper to transport) and safer than glass.

Its growing success, like those of other innovative but controversial products, breaks down preconceived notions. In turn, this creates new commercial opportunities as well as benefiting the consumer.

Take, for example the wine cask. Who’d have thought that a plastic bag in box could drive a conservative industry’s popular sales push? But, in Australia, it did. And casks still account for around half of domestic wine sales. Originally a vessel for only cheap bulk wine, the cask later adapted to provide drinkers with more upmarket varietals at lower prices than could have been delivered in bottles.

And consumers have been clear winners from the recent re-introduction of screw caps – a move driven by producers fed up with cork’s shortcomings.

By introducing the screw cap to top end wines first, makers sent a clear message that the move was about quality, not economics. In breaking down our bias for cork, the screw cap opened the way for other innovative closures like the glass Vino-Lok and plastic Zork.

It also put the wind up what was a complacent cork industry to fight back with innovative, effective new hybrids like Diam – composed of fragmented cork, decontaminated and glued back into shape.

While the idea of wine in cans faces similar, early resistance to earlier innovations, it offers solutions to several problems.

From a marketing viewpoint, as Barokes have shown in Japan and Rich Prosecco in Germany, the package itself makes wine appealing to new audience.

On a larger scale the issue of shipping costs and global warming means that, inevitably, wine exporters will seek to reduce the weight of goods.

For some that might mean shipping in bulk and bottling in the destination country. While that means a reduction in added value to the country of origin, it’s an entirely logical choice for multinational companies concerned more with overall returns.

Another course of action will be to find lighter wine containers be they a new generation of glass, plastic or internally laminated aluminium cans.

Should cans enjoy broad commercial success – and Barokes efforts suggest that they could — then another of our wine biases comes under siege.

The idea of Grange in a can may seem far-fetched. But so did the notion of Grange under screw cap just a decade ago. Yet that will be the reality from the 2006 vintage*. What this shows is that innovation brings change, and not always in predictable ways.

 *Subsequent to this article being written Penfolds winemaker, Peter Gago, revealed a plan to develop a unique glass-on-glass seal for Grange. See ‘A new seal for Grange’, May 30th 2007 on this site.

WINE REVIEWS 

Lark Hill Canberra District Chardonnay 2005 $30
This is the best Canberra District chardonnay I’ve tasted. It’s sensational and, not surprisingly, comes from the vineyard with the best long-term chardonnay track record. It’s the culmination of two decades’ work by the Carpenter family with a few recent changes, in particular, seeming to have rounded off an already class act.  The quality impact of biodynamic production is hard to quantify as the fruit was always good. But the use of wild-yeast ferments in just the right oak barrels, blocking palate-fattening malolactic fermentation and a screw cap seal mean a luxuriously textured, pristine varietal wine with the freshness and taut structure to evolve for many years.

PHI Lusatia Park Sauvignon 2006 $43, Chardonnay 2005 $48, Pinot Noir 2005 $52
A few weeks back I wrote of the graceful wines being made by Steve Webber and Leanne De Bortoli in the Yarra Valley. Steve and Leanne apply those same low-intervention principles in a joint venture with Stephen and Kate Shelmerdine, owners of Lusatia Park Vineyard. The wines express the subtlety and elegance of fruit from the Shelmerdine’s elevated, cool site in the southern Yarra Valley. To me the standout is the beautifully perfumed, fine, silky textured pinot noir. And the whites appeal, too, for their finesse, texture and subtle varietal expression. The wines are distributed by Mezzanine, phone 1300 136 561.

Yalumba Eden Valley Viognier 2005 $18 to $23
Yalumba offers three viogniers, each outstanding at its price – and little wonder. Since establishing Australia’s first significant plantings in the Eden Valley in 1980, they’ve worked hard to tame and bottle what winemaker Louisa Rose calls an ‘incredibly challenging’ and ‘unpredictable’ variety. The amazingly plush, complex $60-a-bottle ‘The Virgilius’ comes from those original plantings; and at the other end the $10-$13 ‘Y’ is a tasty South Australia blend. In between, at $18 to $23 retail, comes this opulent version from the Eden Valley. Partly barrel and partly tank fermented with indigenous yeast, it offers viognier’s unique and delicious apricot-like aroma and flavour and silky, slippery texture.

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