August 1, 2015

Large volumes of wine are increasingly exported in bulk prior to bottling in another country that is, or is close to, its final market.  This is proving to offer both logistical and cost benefits, some of which should ultimately get passed onto the consumer; approximately double the amount of wine can be shipped in a container without the glass bottles, which in turn significantly reduces carbon footprints.

The two major options for transportation vessels are flexitanks and stainless steel ISO tanks.  Flexitanks are effectively large multi-layered bags made from polyethylene which range in size from 10,000-28,000 litres. The 24,000L version fits inside a standard 20ft shipping container and can be temperature controlled.

The UK is one of the world’s largest importers of wine so it’s not surprising to find that there are major bottling facilities there.  Accolade Park in Avonmouth is currently the largest.  The majority of the country’s supermarket own-brands are now be bottled close to home and additionally allow customisation of labelling for marketing purposes etc.  Next time you are shopping in the UK take a look at the back label; by law a wine bottled there must state as much on the label (usually in very small print on the back).

The Wines and Spirit Trade Association (WSTA) in the UK has a code of practice for the transportation of wine which aims to “guarantee acceptable cleanliness and freedom from any defect or contaminant which could adversely affect the product”.

It isn’t only the cheaper wines that are shipped in this format. Figures from the recent 6th World Bulk Wine Exhibition suggest that 43% of all wine is now transported in bulk.  In 2008 only 20% of Australian wine exported to the UK was shipped in bulk, latest figures show it is now closer to 80%.

Technological improvements over recent years combined with the increased expertise of operators make this a very safe and efficient method of transportation.  Quality is monitored at the start and end of the journey by thorough chemical analysis of samples.  The tanks used to transport the wine have very low oxygen transmission rates preventing oxidation.  Additionally the large mass of wine itself provides decent thermal inertia even on voyages of several weeks thus avoiding any spoilage due to temperature changes en route.

Premium fine wines are, however, unlikely to use this form of transport in the near future for their precious liquids; estate-bottled wine with a cork that states “Mis en bouteille au Chateau” is still very important to certain regions of France.  Anything that brings down the cost of quality wine and helps the environment gets my vote.

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