Adapting to alternative packaging – wine in a can

By Greg Stokes

The world’s first known winery dates back to 4100BC in Europe. Large earthenware vessels (Qvevris) were used to store the wine and were covered with beeswax and were possibly in use as early as 6000BC. People have been drinking wine for millennia and over the years, the wine containers have changed.

A thousand years later, the Phoenicians introduced wine to the people of the ancient world. They transported and stored wine in ceramic vessels, or amphorae. They were lined with beeswax and were easy to transport and carry.

Then the Romans started to use ‘dolia’, large wine containers which they cemented within ships’ decks to keep the wine steady and safe on long voyages to far-flung parts of the Roman Empire.

When the Romans encountered the Gauls in modern day France, they found that they transported beer in wooden barrels and realised their potential.

Amphorae were replaced as the wine vessel of choice.

Oak soon became the most used wood, primarily due to its abundance in Europe and because its tight grained wood meant that the barrels were watertight.

Glass bottles didn’t emerge as a container for wine until the 17th century. They were sealed with knots made of leather or cloth, sealing wax or wooden plugs.

Different shapes and sizes were used and it’s not until the 1820s that wine bottles resembled the traditional wine bottles used now.

Early glass bottles used cork cut from the bark of Spanish and Portuguese trees and offered an airtight and durable closure with their elastic and durable characteristics, thus allowing a slow maturation of the wine contents.

It’s not until the 21st century that any further innovation in wine packaging becomes evident.

Plastic bottles, wine pouches, Tetra Paks, vac sacs, bag-in-a-box, wine in tubes and wine in a glass all appeared. Uptake of these new inventions varied, but one common issue was their inability to store wine whilst maintaining the wine’s integrity (colour, aroma, taste), stability and longevity.

Another packaging format (the can) for wine was introduced in the 1930s, however a number of failures plagued this idea, such as the wine going off in less than 50 days, the wine’s integrity being compromised by the can/can lining, the wine attacking the lining and the can, aluminium uptake from the can leaching into the wine being consumed by the consumer, H2S issues, reduction in the wines, etc., etc.

However, 20 years ago a solution to these many serious problems, including consumer health issues, was invented. An Australian invention – Vinsafe – was created by the globally acknowledged pioneers of the wine in a can category, Barokes Wines, and solved all these serious wine, packaging and health issues.

The idea of producing a wine that could maintain its quality and integrity consistently during canning was conceived by me in 1996 after an incident where a glass bottle of wine accidentally fell into an outdoor jacuzzi, almost breaking. Necessity breeds invention and from that incident the idea of packaging quality wine in a safe, convenient container was conceived and the research into the Vinsafe system commenced.

While having a clear focus on the need for this new product, less clear was the form that this should take. Getting the right combination took several years of research and development and necessitated mortgaging of my (and other’s) homes to pay for it. I began by investigating the effects wine had on vessels made of plastic, tin cans and other packaging mediums like Tetra Pak, including the effects the packaging itself had on the wine. One by one, each was dismissed. In some cases because they were not easily recyclable (tetra is double layer and so is very expensive to recycle), in other cases because the element (e.g. plastic) integrates with the wine and so contaminates the wine within a very short time.  He rejected others such as tin cans as the wines aggressive characteristics corroded the can from inside out, and the VacSac because they allowed oxidation of the wine.

I was not the first to choose the can as a preferred vessel for wine.

Since at least 1936, (the year after beer was first successfully packaged in cans in the US), a small number of wineries had attempted to can their products – but all unsuccessfully. Early efforts saw canned wine fall victim to a range of problems, including the wine becoming cloudy within a couple of months and pin holing with the wine eating tiny holes in the cans themselves.

The 1950s witnessed another series of “canning” attempts, including the 1954 effort of Carina Kan-o-wine California White Port. These too were unsuccessful.

With the passage of another few decades, wineries again attempted to can their produce. These efforts included the 1971 French attempt to export canned Beaujolais to the US, the 1979 Villa Bianchi Winery attempt and the 1980 attempt by Taylor California Cellars. Yet again, these efforts were unsuccessful with the wine, for instance, becoming contaminated from the plastic coated liners and the can itself, which deteriorated and gave the wine an awful sulphur (rotten eggs) smell.

More recently large companies such as Suntory, Asahi, Southcorp, KWV (the South African wine co-op), major packagers (such as Rexam, Ball, Amcor, Cunard Metalbox etc.) as well as a number of large US wineries all attempted to can wine, but all failed some after less than 50 days in the can!

After significant research into all the available convenient packaging formats, including extensive technical research, wines structure/construction and test packaging of wine, I concluded that the only package which he could use to achieve his dream was aluminium cans.  Initially, the durability, stability and environmentally friendly nature of this packaging format made it a key consideration, but it was also problematic for wine storage.

The failures of the wineries, and more recently the can manufacturers, stem from their attitude and how this manifests in their objective. The wineries were seeking “something” to hold their wine (i.e. what they produced) while can manufacturers are (still) trying and failing to produce the can that safely holds wine – any wine, anywhere for the consumer.   

Understanding the impact on canning wines

The missing ingredient is an understanding of all the aspects that impact on canning wine consistently and safely for the customer (the wine, the vessel and their interactions) to consume, are very important and that each has to be crafted into a holistic solution. Hence the reason my business, Barokes Wines, succeeded where all others failed is because they approached the task differently. Barokes was after a solution to the problems that the container (i.e. aluminium cans) caused to maintaining the wines integrity as the winemaker had made it, each and every time the wine was canned – as opposed to just thinking they could use this new highly interactive container for wine as a replacement for the traditional inert glass bottle, without considering the aluminium beverage cans negative impact on the wine itself (as a living thing) within that can.    

This holistic approach taken by Barokes to the problem of canning wine resulted, after several years, in Vinsafe – an innovative wine delivery system that incorporates the wine, can lining, can and filling specifications and parameters, including the exclusion of oxygen during the filling process, enabling the technology to deliver an exact equilibrium across the whole product between the wine, can lining, can headspace and the can itself.  This exact equilibrium allows the wine, lining, headspace and can to all expand and contract at exactly the same rate under heat and cold.  This is the only technology to do so and is a real invention that works for not only the wine and winemaker but the consumer to safely consume wine from a can and enabling wine in cans to be enjoyed by consumers locally as well as exported across the world!  Vinsafe = safe Vin in a can.

It was not until the invention of the Vinsafe wine in a can integrated packaging technology that it has been possible to can wine succesfully so that it maintains product integrity, stability and longevity.

Successful use of the Vinsafe system created an alternative packaging for wine – hermetically sealed in specifically-crafted, internally lined cans which allows the delivery of canned wines to the world through channels closed to glass, and in a way suitable for contemporary lifestyles and the on-the-go lifestyles of a younger generation of wine consumers.  In addition, the packaging is portable, stackable, fully recyclable and is “fast chilling” (and so uses less CFCs).  The Vinsafe patented technology was the basis of the creation of the wine in a can category pioneered by Barokes since 2002.

It was never our intention to replace a bottle of wine in a fine dining scenario.  However, there are many settings where a bottle of wine is just not convenient, suitable or is too large, hence wine in a can meets that consumer demand for portable, durable, single-serve, sustainable and environmentally friendly packaging and now allows wine to be enjoyed in these settings.

Our aim has always been to introduce wine to new market segments where the packaging works and encourage others to participate in this through the use of our technology and this is what we have successfully done.

Vinsafe is now recognised globally as the foundation for consistent quality wine in a can production – a claim proven through its global commercialisation since 2002 and the extraordinary accolades awarded to wines produced using this innovative technology and by the wine industry through licensing of Vinsafe.

Wine in a can is now booming globally, and nowhere more than the USA where sales have jumped to US$200 million in the past year.

This increased demand comes despite recent canned wine studies conducted by the AWRI and Cornell University (USA) finding continuing serious issues. These issues can produce severe and ongoing problems with the cans/can linings with non-Vinsafe cans, unstable wine products with very short product shelf life of 1-3 months, uptake of the can lining into the wine, aluminium uptake from the can itself into the wine (then being consumed by consumers) in as little as 30 days, H2S issues and product inconsistencies which in some cases have resulted in product recalls, variability, customer complaints, consumer litigation, loss of wine etc. –  all impacting significantly on the wine producer’s once a year wine vintages, valuable brands and the consumer, not to mention the can filler and can maker’s exposure in knowing of these serious issues.   Compare this to the minimum 12 month guarantee that accredited can manufacturers provide on Vinsafe cans and the over 400 medals awarded to Vinsafe canned wines at international wine competitions to date, with a number of these being silver medals awarded to wines canned 4-5 years prior, and it’s very clear that Vinsafe is the solution for canned wine producers.

Vinsafe accredited fillers in Australia include Campari Group, San Miguel Best Bottlers and CCF, while in New Zealand,  Bevpac is Vinsafe accredited, with others soon to be accredited.   A number of these Vinsafe fillers can now manage smaller volumes, hence wineries can test their markets without having to commit to large volumes and they have the ability to apply printed sleeves to cans, thereby also getting around the can printing MOQs.

The Vinsafe technology was commercialised in 2002 and since then Barokes Wines, as the pioneers of the wine in a can category, have been producing and selling canned wine under the ‘Barokes’ brand into domestic and export markets. Barokes (as part of their R&D Library) have wine in a can packaged over 20 years ago.

To date a number of Australian and New Zealand wine producers have successfully utilised the Vinsafe technology to produce quality canned wines for domestic and export markets, thereby allowing them to safely reach a new generation of consumers with their wines.  Some of the more notable wine producers who have used Vinsafe to can their wines, include Pernod Ricard, Constellation Brands, ABInbev, Brown Brothers, AVL, Fourth Wave, Angoves, Yealands Estate, Marlborough Wine and Archer McRae, to name a few.   

Vinsafe is an innovative globally proven Australian technology which allows wine to be canned with consistency whilst maintaining the wines integrity (colour, aroma, taste), product stability and longevity.  Globally patented and with a technical R&D library spanning in excess of two decades, the inventors of Vinsafe know pretty much everything there is to know about successfully canning wine and also licence the Vinsafe technology and their ‘know how’ etc. to can makers, fillers and wine producers in Australia and New Zealand keen to reach a new generation of consumers and new market segments with their wines.

Globally recognised as the creators of the wine in a can category using Vinsafe as the foundation for consistent quality canned wine production, has allowed winemakers and producers to safely can their precious wines without risking their wines integrity, valuable brands or their consumer markets.

This article will also be published in the October 2021 issue of the Grapegrower & Winemaker magazine.

Watch Greg Stokes’s 2021 PACKWINE Forum presentation on the topic here: 

By 2021 PACKWINE Speaker Greg Stokes

Like another great Australian invention, the ‘cask’ in the 1970s, wine in a can has revolutionised wine consumption and is currently the fastest growing wine category, globally. Since the 1930s, there have been many attempts to can wine but, without exception, all these failed. It was not until Australian inventors Greg Stokes and Steve Barics completed the development of the Vinsafe technology in the early 2000s that it became possible to can wine successfully. However, introducing an innovative alternative packaging format to wine producers was not easy.