This year saw many new technologies and changes take place in the world of winemaking, one such event that has had an impact on our shores is the use of PET soft bottle for 750 ml wine storage. Now alternative packaging for wine is no new trend, with glass itself being introduced in the 18th century. But will this new technology be the future or a passing trend? I spoke to Simon Back, of Backsberg Estate who is the first South African producer to use the PET bottles. We discussed topics from the marketability of the bottle to the effects on the wine itself in the new Tread Lightly Range.
Simon and the team at Backsberg are very excited about this venture, and see it as the way forward in times were increasing emphasis is being placed on being environmentally friendly.
“The enjoyment of a great bottle of wine should never be at the cost of the environment”, says Backsberg proprietor, Michael Back. “Whether by measurable process or by intuitive approach, every step we take in producing our wines must be challenged. The packaging and transport of wine contributes significantly to our carbon footprint and therefore needs to be addressed.”
These bottles are not new to the market, but this is the first time they have made an appearance in the 750 ml form. The potential advantages and disadvantages however are still to be seen.
Weight. A 750 ml glass bottle weighs around 400 g; the same size in PET weighs 54 g, one-eighth of the weight. This makes transport more efficient.
Robustness. PET bottles don’t break, which makes them safer and easier to transport.
Size. PET bottles are considerably smaller, so you get more of them in the same storage space during transport. Once again making it more efficient.
Recyclable. Although questions still remain as to the true recyclability of plastics.
At the core of the reasons behind adopting PET bottles is the environmental issue. By limiting the weight of the bottles, reductions in your carbon footprint are realised through savings in the transport chain. An example would be in the UK each year 1 billion bottles of wine are consumed; rough estimates state that by reducing the weight with the PET bottles around 90 000 tons of CO2 would be saved annually. Now we in South Africa don’t consume 1 billion bottles of wine a year, but with an industry that relies heavily on land, air and sea freight for our goods, the savings could be worthy of the change.
Wine quality. PET allows more oxygen ingress than glass, and thus the wine has a shorter shelf-life, losing freshness more quickly. This still waits to be proved.
Health implications. Whether or not there are problems related to keeping wine in plastic, is a controversial area. With no real answers as of yet.
Image. Plastics have an increasingly negative image in the eyes of consumers: convincing them that plastic is the environmentally friendly option will be difficult, and it will be hard to get away from the cheap ‘look’ that plastic bottles have.
With regards to the health implications, Simon had this to say:
”In this regard, I’ve seen some confusing statements and occasionally factual errors appear, even in respected publications. Suffice to say, that no harmful chemicals have been detected in measurable amounts from PET under any condition of use. The PET bottle has been cleared as safe for food and beverage contact by health and regulatory agencies around the world, including the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), Health Canada and the EU’s Food Safety Authority.”
The question is will PET replace glass? I feel it is too soon to tell, I do however feel that the product is more suited to lower end wines and I think that we won’t see the day were we will find premium wine products adopting the PET technology. The technology is still new so its advantages and disadvantages will only become apparent over time. Let’s keep an eye on Backsberg and see where this new technology takes them, and thanks for the time to chat Simon and good luck for the future of your tread lightly range.
What made you want to become a winemaker?
I had not planned to be a winemaker and was pursuing research in molecular biology for a doctorate. However, I realized after 3 years of basic research that I am not cut out for this. With my experience in fermentation technology at Masters level and a wine project done during my graduation I applied to an advertisement for a Trainee Winemaker. I learnt on the job that this is really an exciting job where you do not have mundane protocols and quality checks. I also realized how much there is to learn every year during vintage and with respect to tasting, blending and maintaining the quality. With more and more exposure, few harvests outside India, a couple of courses on Wine from London and I knew this was the job for me.
What are the challenges you face in India as a winemaker?
In India, we have vineyards which are growing throughout the year due to lack of a very cold winter. The harvest happens from end of January to end of March as grapes cannot grow well or ripen during the monsoon from June to September. Weather and temperatures at harvest are quite good with about 8 to 12 degrees at night and about 25 degrees in the daytime with hardly any rain. Labour is readily available and all harvest is done manually
However, it is difficult to convince the local table grape growers
- to take lower yields in the wine grape variety vineyards as dictated by the functional canopies.
- Use lesser Irrigation
- Planting on gentle or rolling slopes, retaining the land topography and not converting everything to flat vineyards
- Harvesting the fruit early to reach the winery
With winemaking per se, there are challenges like:
- Getting flavor maturity ahead of sugar maturity
- Getting optimal ripeness in certain varieties
- Getting right level of extraction for the reds
As this is a new industry here, there are also challenges with:
- Lack of suppliers making winery specific equipment
- Importing consumables and getting material on time
- Managing quality with ever increasing quantities
Where do you see Indian wine in the future?
Indian wine is improving year after year and as the industry is quite young we are still in the process of figuring out which varieties and styles work for us. We already have a few wines of exceptional quality but I feel that in another 6-8 years we will quite a few good quality wines that could challenge top international wines
Who is your biggest influence in your winemaking?
I have been lucky to see and work with several winemakers from California (including our Consultant winemaker), France and Australia. However, I have been influenced more by different styles of winemaking. These experiences have taught me what to do, what to avoid and the right time/ vintage to do a particular process. Even after so many harvests, I feel there is still so much more to learn.
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