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Wine Preparation and Storage Mediums

by Staff Writer - B. Shaughnessy | February 10, 2012

The process of quality winemaking involves the careful execution of steps in a tightly controlled environment. This can best be seen with the vintners attempt to prevent oxidation. With the goal of preventing oxidation, the state of the environment surrounding winemaking is critical. Failure to follow accepted procedures--including not following the accepted practice of processing the wine in an oxygen free environment--can lead to disastrous results.

During wine processing, the vintner has many different types of controls at their disposal. The main reason for this is that during processing the wine is still stored on-site and can be directly controlled by the vintner. However as soon as the wine has been placed into storage (bottling) for the sale to consumers, vintners loose the ability to effectively monitor the wine they have produced. It is therefore critical that the wine is packaged in a manner conducive for the preservation of quality.

An overall goal for any winery is that wines retain their proper characteristics through storage and eventually consumption. This can be a difficult task as wine is susceptible to a vast array of contaminates and natural processes which seek to break down the wine. Complicating this matter is the fact that bottling operations can often be delayed. This results in batches of wine requiring storage before final packaging. Thankfully, techniques are available for the storage of wine before bottling. These techniques utilize the storage of wine in typically the largest container possible with the wine filled to the brim. These containers are placed in an oxygen free environment where wine can be successfully stored for several months before bottling.

Wine packaging operations are often referred to as wine bottling due to the popularly of the wine bottle medium. However, it is important to view the final "bottling" operation as packaging. This is due to the various technologies available, many of which do not use a bottle for storage. It is therefore critical that the vintner determine which packaging medium will be used. This can be a difficult task as the various packaging mediums all have advantages and disadvantages. Parameters that must be taken into account when selecting a packaging medium include wine types, shelf life, target audiences, etc. The various packaging mediums available for wine packaging include traditional wine bottles, bag-in-a-box, plastic bottles and aluminum cans. In addition to these mediums, specific closure mediums and in some cases capsules must be taken into consideration.

Out of all the wine packaging mediums available, the glass bottle is the most recognizable. Glass bottles are one of the oldest methods used for the storage of wine. The fact that bottles are still the preferred method of wine storage demonstrates how technology can stand the test of time. No other packaging medium offers wine the protection that a glass bottle offers. Benefits of using glass for a packaging medium include natural impermeableness to gasses as well as the bottle not being conducive to wine taint. There are some disadvantages to using glass bottles. These include the fact that glass can shatter easily and that UV radiation can pass through the glass surface of the bottle and damage the wine.

Glass bottles come in many different shapes and sizes. As with most of winemaking, there are some regulations concerning the size of the bottle. In the European union, the only approved bottle size is the 75cl bottle size. In addition to the standardization of a specific bottle size, manufacturing techniques have been developed to accurately control the capacity of the bottle produced. This is beneficial for the winery, as it is now possible to determine the volume of the wine in the bottle by measuring the level of the wine in the neck of a filled bottle. Finally, additional improvements in manufacturing techniques have resulting in sterile bottles being delivered directly to the winery. This is also beneficial to the winery as the often troublesome bottle cleaning steps--the very steps that can often introduce contaminates into the bottle--can be eliminated. It is interesting to note that even with the introduction of sterile wine bottles, some wineries still use a cleansing process on their sterile wine bottles.

Another packaging medium that has gained popularity is the bag-in-a-box medium. The bag-in-a-box medium is an interesting concept. It is a medium traditionally used for the bulk purchase of a wine that is to be consumed within a short time span. The main reason for this is that the bag-in-a-box medium does not offer long-term protection against oxidation. In terms of the bag-in-a-box medium itself, a special bag is placed within a cardboard box and filled with wine. When the wine is ready to be consumed, the tap within the bag is engaged with wine being removed. The design of the tap prevents the introduction of oxygen into the bag.

As mentioned earlier, the bag-in-a-box medium is susceptible to oxidation over a long term. This is due to the construction of the bag itself. The plastics used in the bag construction are not impermeable to oxygen. This presents a serious problem where a large surface area of wine interacts with a source of oxygen. Advancements in technology have yielded different plastics as well as compounds included within the plastic. An example of this would be multi-layered plastic with the presence of a layer of oxygen blocking aluminum. These technological advances have improved the bag-in-a-box medium, but the longevity for storage is still not present. Therefore wine distributed via the bag-in-a-box medium is typically popular for parties or for providing wine for customers at a bar. Whatever the use, it is important to remember that bag-in-a-box wines should be consumed as close to the filling date as possible. When looking to purchase bag-in-a-box wines, it is important to reference the filling date and not the selling date.

Another method of wine packaging includes plastic bottles and aluminum cans. Both of these methods are popular within the beverage industry and with respect to wine packaging, they have developed a niche market. A good example of this would be airline beverages. Plastic wine bottles are perfect for this environment as the plastic is a lightweight material and typically cannot be turned into a weapon. Both plastic bottles and aluminum cans have their drawbacks. Plastic bottles suffer the same oxygen concerns as the plastic used in the bag-in-the-box medium and therefore have a very short shelf life.

Drawbacks with aluminum initially were observed with the chemical reactions that occurred between the aluminum and the wine. This often resulted in the wine being tainted by an unpleasant taste. The solution to the problem was in the application of a lacquer coating to the inside of the can. Even with the tainting problem solved, the aluminum can has still not gained ground as a popular packaging medium. It is speculated that the public has not accepted the aluminum can as a legitimate medium for wine distribution.

In addition to the selection of a packaging medium the vintner must also select a closure medium as well as a capsule. The choice of a closure medium is usually related to glass bottles as the bag-in-a-box, plastic bottle and aluminum can mediums each have closures specific to themselves. With glass bottles, several different options are available.

A closure medium is simply a device used to seal the wine in the container. With respect to glass bottles, several different options are available. These options include natural cork, synthetic cork-like plugs and aluminum screw on caps. Natural cork is the material of choice for quality wines although it can present challenges. The greatest challenge concerning cork is the danger of cork-taint caused by molds within the cork. Cork taint can destroy a fine wine and due to this problem, much of the wine industry has shifted away from the usage of cork. The good news here is that with the problem being recognized, cork industry organizations have developed procedures that significantly reduce the occurrence of cork taint.

If cork is not to be used then plugs made from synthetic materials as well as aluminum screw on caps can be used. Plugs that resemble a cork are popular as they can eliminate cork taint however the nature of the synthetic material can make these plugs difficult to install. Aluminum screw caps have recently become popular after long having a reputation of being associated with inferior wine. The main drawback to aluminum screw on caps is that they do not allow a minute amount of oxygen to enter the bottle. This minute amount oxygen is regarded by some individuals as absolutely essential for the maturation of wine.

The last item a vintner must consider for wine packaging is the use of a capsule on a wine bottle. A wine capsule is the familiar foil covering that is applied to the top of the wine bottle. Originally used as a method to protect the cork against the cork weevil, the materials utilized for the capsule included hot wax as well as lead foil. The use of lead has been banned for quite some time and today capsules are made from tin, aluminum and PVC.

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