Wine in a box is one of South Australia’s most significant inventions, and quality wine brands are finally giving the once-maligned format its due respect.
It’s hip to be square
Cask wine is a global social phenomenon birthed here in South Australia in 1965.
Wine in a bag in a box – the beloved goon bag of house parties, picnics and camping trips – was the siren’s call of 1980s upwardly mobile suburbanites who preferred instant gratification over wrestling with a corkscrew.
But something has changed in the boxed wine market. Suddenly, they’ve become very, very good.
Andrew Brookes, winemaker at Banrock Station, says if you try the current generation of cask wines, you’ll find the reason for the quality improvement is pretty simple.
“We put the same wines in glass bottles as we do in casks,” he says.
It’s a welcome revelation; a sort of stick-it-to-the-wine-snobs vindication that the cask drinker’s palate isn’t anywhere as unsophisticated as ScoMo’s attempts to make friends at a Country Fire Association fundraiser.
Andrew says the move to casks has been gathering momentum across the industry. For Banrock Station, it’s about minimising their environmental impact, and others are following suit for a host of reasons.
“There’s a lot of good wines going into casks now, because it’s just so much more convenient for packaging, storage, transport.”
The environmental footprint of cask wine is also significantly smaller than bottles.
Studies by Scandinavian government agencies – because in Sweden and Norway only the government-owned bottle shops can sell alcohol stronger than a mid-strength beer – found the carbon footprint of cask wine is between 12 per cent and 29 per cent that of bottled wine.
Trust those happy-go-lucky Swedes to link the ultimate party in a box with doing good things for the planet.
The advantages of cask wine are apparently more appreciated now than in the bacchanalian days and boogie nights of the Baby Boomers’ heyday.
The longevity the packaging brings to the wine makes it possible to consume a glass or two on a weekend and save the rest without quality diminishing over the month.
Georgia Viner, Banrock Station’s Brand Manager, says the cask’s flexible tap has been a game changer, but it wasn’t always so.
“When cask wine was invented it didn’t have the tap, it came with a peg… since then we have come a long way – we have the one-way flow tap and a collapsible bladder meaning wine comes out but no oxygen flows in, resulting in a much longer shelf life,” Georgia says.
Six weeks is the shelf life of a typical opened cask, which is perfect for wine lovers looking to moderate their alcohol consumption.
Today, the wine cask’s innovation is being driven by a desire for sustainability. This will see the sandwiched plastic and foil bladders change to an easier to recycle format.
The beloved goon used by Australian winemakers is, surprisingly, unable to be recycled locally. In the United Kingdom, it is.
This prompts a discussion on our nation’s recycling capabilities (and the lost economic opportunities until we close the loop) that is best left for mulling over with a good mate, while resting one’s head on a freshly drained and gently inflated goon bag.
But back to the wines themselves.
Another move within the wine industry is toward vegan wines, fining the wines without using eggs, milk or isinglass.
Andrew says Banrock Station is at the forefront of this movement and has been actively seeking and trialling vegan fining agents in recent years.
“We’ll only fine the phenolics or tannins out of wines if we have to,” Andrew says.
“Since switching to vegan, we may just use some vegetable protein fining agents rather than animal products. There’s a couple on the market at the moment that are derived from pea and potato.
“We’ve put it into practice where everything has switched to vegan for the Banrock Station wines for 2021. The wines look incredible and we’re really happy to be using these products.”
So, just to be perfectly clear, cask wine is having its moment. Perhaps you could call it a rebirth.
And the secret to good cask wine is simple.
“It’s just about making good wine in general,” Andrew says.
“It doesn’t matter what format it’s packaged in. All Banrock wines are packed full of flavour – whether it’s in cask or glass, it doesn’t really matter.”