Time could be right for tetra pak wine

Is Australia ready for high quality regional varietal wines in tetra paks? We’ll know soon enough following this month’s launch of One Planet Adelaide Hills Sauvignon Blanc 2009 and McLaren Vale Shiraz 2008. They’re billed as “the green pour” and the marketing focuses on a zero carbon dioxide output across the product lifecycle. But the wine quality, and sheer convenience of the lightweight pack, means it won’t just be Bob Brown drinking OP.

One Planet Chief Executive, Sam Atkins, says one-litre tetra pak wines enjoy big sales in the USA, Canada and Argentina, with the French Rabbit brand now taking off in Europe and the UK. He says these are mostly cheaper wines, equivalent in quality to our wine casks. Convenience and economy, it seems are the key selling points – just as they are for our home-grown one-litre tetra pak offerings from Banrock Station and Long Flat.

Atkins believes One Planet tetra paks are the first in the world to offer premium regional varietal wines. Retailing at around $14.95 they’ll be pitched squarely against high-quality bottled products – a big ask in the current glutted, deeply discounted market. They certainly have the quality – both comfortably achieve Wine and Food’s three-star standard: the light, fresh sauvignon blanc shows the tropical fruit end of the varietal spectrum; and the shiraz is big, bold and fruity in the particularly robust style of McLaren Vale’s hot 2008 vintage.

The test will be on the shop floor. But Atkins remains confident and has the national support of Coles with its 1st Choice, Vintage Cellars and Liquorland outlets taking on the brand in advance of a wider rollout. In the warehouse-style 1st Choice stores, the wines will have their own purpose-built displays – for visual impact and to separate them from wine casks.

Atkins sees parallels with the successful re-launch of screw caps in the late nineties. Back then winemakers spread the message that screw caps delivered better wine than cork. The change was all about quality. Convenience was incidental. This time the key messages are wine quality and environmental friendliness. If people see the tetra pak only for its convenience, or as just another wine cask equivalent, they may not pay a premium for it.

So how good is the tetra pak as a wine container? And what does the wine come into contact with? Atkins says it’s six-layered product and the wine is in contact with an outer layer of polyethylene. It’s also used for long-life milk and fruit juice.

He believes the manufacturer’s suggested shelf life of two years is conservative, and could be as much as four years. Atkins says he’s tasted wine at two and half years and “felt comfortable with it”. Certainly the current wine is in excellent condition seven months after packaging.  This suggest tetra pak is a better medium-term container than another light-weight alternative, PET plastic bottles with their shelf life of around 12 months.

Atkins created the One Planet concept with Phil Reedman MW. Reedman had played a key role introducing screw caps to the UK as a buyer for Tesco supermarkets. This time they’ve spotted an opportunity to appeal to environmentally aware wine drinkers and for “specialised markets including boating, sporting and outdoor events… airline, rail, cruise ship and ferry industries”, reads the press release.

Atkins says the airlines are keen on a 200ml tetra pak now being developed. And restaurateurs are lining up to for the 750ml packs as pouring wines ¬– to be marketed as “green pours”. He says they like the wine quality and the advantages of handling and disposing of such a light package (10.5 kilograms a dozen versus 16–18 kilograms for glass bottles).

Atkins plans to export the wine and already has distribution contracts in the USA, Canada, Scandinavia and the UK. And he’ll be expanding the range of regional varietals in partnership with contract makers.

The Adelaide Hills sauvignon blanc was made by Sarah Fletcher and the McLaren Vale Shiraz by Tim Burvill. To these will be added a Yarra Valley Pinot Noir, in conjunction with Sticks, a Margaret River semillon sauvignon blanc with the Edwards family and there’s a Coonawarra cabernet sauvignon in the wings. And for the American market they’ll sourcing cabernet and chardonnay from California.

And if you thought Marlborough sauvignon blanc might be a no-brainer, think again. Atkins says it’s now so commoditised and discounted in Australia they opted for material from the Adelaide Hills, for its better image.

The catchy posters and point of sale material for One Planet’s launch push both the environmental and wine quality propositions. One, featuring a picture of Tim Burvill, maker of OP McLaren Vale Shiraz 2008 reads, “ The best of both worlds – for once you don’t have to make a sacrifice to help the planet”.

Philip Reedman MW, formerly of Tesco Supermarkets UK, appears in another with the message, “How heavy is your footprint? – Drink seriously good wine whilst considering the environment”.

And sauvignon blanc maker Sarah Fletcher appears in a third, reading, “Looking towards the future – better for the planet and in turn, the future of our kids”.

We’ve seen wine in tetra paks before. But not of this quality and not with such a groundswell of support from a major retailer, restaurateurs, airlines and overseas distributors. My hunch is they’ve sensed the time is right. Just as we embraced the screw cap a decade ago, we might now be ready for good wine that isn’t in glass.

Copyright © Chris Shanahan 2010

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