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Wine in cans: improving the process.

We've seen a lot of wine-in-a-can articles recently, reporting on the latest innovations from Australia and domestic novelties like Niebaum-Coppola's canned sparkler, the Sofia Mini. But despite all the buzz, the canned wine concept is not a new one.

U.S. wineries first began canning their products in 1936, the year after beer was first successfully packaged in cans. In the December 1950 issue of Wines & Vines, Leo A. Berti--who had worked for the American Can Co.--chronicled three of the wine industry's early attempts at canning wine.

In the first case, the canned wine fell victim to something called Fresno Mold, which was rampant in California at the time. Though the winery's bottled wines were also contaminated, consumers blamed the cans for the flawed wine, since this type of packaging was new. The second winery had problems with the wine becoming cloudy within a couple months, which turned out to be due to the wine's instability. The third winery managed to avoid both Fresno Mold and unstable wine; instead, the wine ate tiny holes in the cans, thanks to a combination of low pH and high oxygen content.

As Berti wrote in 1950: "The commercial failure of the 1936-1939 packs of wine can be traced to the same problems that trouble us today--the inherent instability of wine packaged, packing diseased wine and occluding too much oxygen in the package."

Despite these problems, wineries didn't give up on cans.

In 1954, two wines were packaged in cans: Carina Kan-o-wine California White Port, made by Yosemite Winery of Madera, Calif., and Mother Goldstein New York State 100% Pure Sacramental Concord Grape Wine, produced by Bacon Liquor Company of Hartford, Conn. Neither product was particularly successful (perhaps the hideous brand names had something to do with it), and they soon faded away.

The 1970s saw another crop of wine-in-cans. In 1971, the French tried to export canned Beaujolais to the United States, without much success. In 1979, Villa Bianchi Winery of Kerman, Calif. (now located in Paso Robles and known as Bianchi Winery) canned a series of wine coolers.

In 1980, Taylor California Cellars began canning wines for United Airlines, and struck a deal with Delta the following year. Geyser Peak introduced a canned wine under the brand name of Summit in 1981. In '82, Villa Bianchi Winery added still wines to its canned cooler lineup.

These experiments were also fairly short-lived.

"We had some quality control issues," explained Glenn Bianchi of Bianchi Winery. "The liners of the cans had some type of plastic coating, because the wine would react if it touched the aluminum. The liners would eventually deteriorate and give the wine a sulfur smell, so when you opened the can it would smell like dirty socks or rotten eggs."

Longevity was also a problem--the wines had only about a six-month shelf life--and consumers didn't take to the cans as readily as the winery had hoped. "We thought there was a big opportunity (for selling canned wines) to the airlines," Bianchi said. "They loved the idea. But the airlines couldn't sell the idea of canned wines (to passengers)."

Producers of today's canned wines claim to have solved the problems that plagued the early canned wines. According to Mark Hughes, wine packaging innovation specialist for Colorado-based Ball Corp., who helped develop Niebaum-Coppola's Sofia Mini cans, the process for packaging wine in cans is a cold-fill process, which is similar to that of beer.

When asked how wine can technology has improved since the '30s, Hughes asserted that the wine itself was the source of the problems in decades past, rather than the cans. "The process of packing wine into cans in the past didn't fail because of technology," he said, "and there were many successful commercial wine and wine cooler packs in the late '80's.

A critical part of the process is that quality wines are necessary to provide good commercial test pack results, which is the same for beer and other beverages."

The Sofia Mini, with its Coppola clout and stylishly slender can, has inspired other wine producers to consider cans.

"Since the launch of the Sofia Mini, there has been a significant amount of interest from a wide range of individuals representing a variety of organizations," Hughes said. "As single-serve consumer consumption for wine continues to increase, Ball's alternative package can deliver wines through channels closed to glass, in a serving size that is just right for many of today's occasions."

The Australians are also on the cutting edge of wine can packaging.

Barokes Australian Premium Wine is packaged using a process called Vinsafe, which has been patented in Australia and numerous other countries under the International Patent Cooperative Treaty.

"Barokes Vinsafe is the only wine-in-a-can technology protected by patents and patents-pending around the world," explained John Gale, international sales and marketing head for Australia's Barokes Pty. Ltd. "This technology has allowed Barokes to achieve what others are unable to--successful wine-in-a-can."

The result of research and development efforts undertaken by Barokes in 1996, Vinsafe is comprised of three key elements, in order of importance: wine parameters, can lining and filling requirements/specifications.

"A Master of Wine is in charge of ensuring the premium quality, quality assurance and quality control of the Barokes Vinsafe wine-in-a-can product," Gale said. "The 'Barokes Principle' of wine for a can is a key element in achieving a successful product."

The Vinsafe technology, Gale added, also provides shelf-life stability and longevity, enabling the canned wine to retain its original quality for up to five years. "We still have the original series of cans--from the 1997 vintage forward--available for viewing and tasting."

Protecting the patented Vinsafe technology is of major concern to Barokes, and the company is currently suing another Australian producer--Woomba Wines--in Australia's federal court over intellectual property issues. "This is an ongoing litigation issue not only in Australia, but shortly to be taken to the global arena," Gale said.

Barokes is holding off on releasing its wines in America until full U.S. patent protection is granted. "We have had a number of approaches from U.S. distributors, importers, retailers and wineries wishing to discuss the possibilities of import, distribution and sales of Barokes Vinsafe wine-in-a-can," Gale said. "To date, no one has been selected and this opportunity remains open." Barokes wines are currently available in Asia, Australia and the EU.

Barokes offers license agreements to companies around the world--including wineries, importers, distributors, can manufacturers and can filling companies--that wish to use the Vinsafe technology.

"We are proud of our achievements and have taken the required amount of time to patent our products prior to releasing them to the market," Gale said, "and fully testing the product prior to release to the consumer--unlike other companies--in order to deliver a premium and safe wine-in-a-can."

Convincing U.S. consumers to embrace wine-in-a-can as a permanent and welcome part of the wine scene, however, will be another challenge.

RELATED ARTICLE: Allan Green's "Vintage" Wine Can Collection

Step into the Greenwood Ridge tasting room in Mendocino's Anderson Valley, and you might notice the winery's dragon-etched bottles, the giant bulletin board made of wine corks or the numerous awards covering the tasting room walls. Or, if you're like me, your eyes will lock on a glass display case housing dozens of wine cans from the '70s and '80s.

The wine can display contains duplicate cans from Greenwood Ridge owner/winemaker Allan Green's wine can collection (the full collection is in Green's home), which includes almost 400 specimens from around the world.

Green switched his collecting allegiance from beer cans to wine cans in 1980, when he founded Greenwood Ridge Vineyards. Where did he find all those cans of wine? "A lot of them came from beer can collectors who didn't want them," Green said. "I also have friends in England who send them to me."

Among Green's favorites are vintage-dated cans from France, and one can in particular called Vin-Tin-Age, which features an illustration of a rosy-faced man who looks like he's consumed a few too many cans of wine.

Green said he has tasted some of the canned wines, but hasn't been terribly impressed with the quality. "If you had really good wine, would you put it in a can?"

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Author:Caputo, Tina
Publication:Wines & Vines
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Dec 1, 2004
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