From waterskin to bag-in-box: a brief history of wine packaging and storage
Wine in a bag-in-box (English “bag in a box”) can be increasingly seen on the shelves of supermarkets and catalogs of reputable online stores. Why are more and more famous wineries offering wines not only in bottles, but also in bag-in-boxes? Is there a trick here? Can the new packaging change the usual ideas about the storage and bottling of wine? So far, the rows of bottles with labels look more familiar.
In Ukraine, the level of wine culture is rapidly rising, and the image of a noble drink is firmly associated with bottles. The cardboard box does not seem so reliable and attractive. In fact, this is just a prejudice. Wine was poured into glass containers only a few centuries ago, and it is rather fragile and unreliable. Bag-in-boxes are a return to the most traditional technologies at a new stage of development.
What is bag-in-box
Bag-in-box is an aseptic bag made of durable multilayer polymer, placed in a cardboard box. The contents are poured into the bag through the neck soldered into it, which is immediately hermetically closed with a valve or tap. For commercial applications, a one-way valve is used, to which an adapter (BiB connector) and hose can be connected. For end consumers, a plastic faucet is made that goes to the outside of the cardboard box.
The bag and valve reliably protect the contents from oxygen, microorganisms and sunlight. Well, a cardboard or plastic box protects the bag from damage and greatly simplifies transportation. It is much more convenient and cheaper to transport liquid and pasty products in such packaging. Therefore, wine in bag-in-boxes is a promising technology for catering, where large volumes of goods are required.
In one bag-in-box, depending on its volume and purpose, from one and a half (for home) to twenty (for HoReCa) liters of wine is placed. Since less packaging is needed, it is easier to dispose of it with a minimum of harm to the environment. All this not only reduces the costs of winemakers and restaurateurs, but also reduces the cost of wine for end consumers by about a quarter.
So, here are 5 key advantages of bag-in-box:
● environmental friendliness.
Bags in a box were originally invented in 1955 to transport battery acid. The novelty turned out to be revolutionary and was widely used, especially in the food industry, including winemaking. In the beverage industry, bag-in-boxes are used to pack and store wine, juices, drinking water, and syrups.
Bottling wine from bag-in-boxes is a separate topic, and several sub-topics can be distinguished in it:
● vending machines – wine dispensers;
● wine walls for self-service;
● wine machines – new type wine dispensers developed by the Ukrainian company mBev for bars and restaurants.
We invite you to read the articles at the links. And now let’s remember the history of winemaking and show how bag-in-boxes organically fit into it.
How wine was bottled, stored and transported in the past
Historically, the first container for fermentation, maturation, and then aging of wine is an earthenware jug without handles dug into the ground. In Georgia, such jugs are called qvevri, in Armenia – karas. In these countries, the ancient technology of winemaking has been preserved to this day. It is convenient that all processes take place in one container. But you can’t transport it, you need to drink wine on the spot. But what about travel, hiking, trading? If even a little air gets into the container, the wine will spoil very quickly.
The waterskin helped solve the problem – another ancient device, a bag made of a whole animal skin turned inside out. The skin was removed through the neck opening without making other cuts, rubbed with salt on the outside, and soaked with burnt tar inside. A leather bag made it possible to protect the wine from oxidation and transport it over long distances. In Georgia and Armenia, most of the wines were stored in wineskins until the early 20th century. Thanks to this, we know how such containers affected the wine. Russian writers and the military, visiting Georgia, admired local wines that are not inferior to Spanish ones … But on one condition: bottling directly from Qvevri! The smelly wineskin hopelessly spoiled the taste and aroma. A new stage of development was a clay amphora, sealed with resin or wax. Inventing it, the ancient Greeks did not abandon the waterskins.
Leather bags were very convenient to take on hikes, it was safer to transport wine through mountain passes in them. Amphora did not affect the taste of wine or oil and for a long time became a universal food container. However, she had one drawback: fragility.
The ancient Romans conquered a huge territory, they had to transport wine overland over very long distances. For this, amphorae were poorly suited, and the invention of the Gauls came to the rescue: an oak barrel. In the Middle Ages and until modern times, the barrel was the main way to store and transport wine.
Pouring wine into glass bottles began around the middle of the 17th century. So the Musketeers could not drink wine from bottles, this is one of the mistakes of Dumas. The new technology became widespread only at the turn of the 18th and 19th centuries. The machine production of wine bottles with precisely reproducible shape was established by Michael Owens at the end of the 19th century.
Wine in a bag-in-box: back to the future?
It is worth taking a closer look at the bag-in-box packaging – and it becomes clear that most of all it resembles a waterskin. Only now a bag of wine is packed in a rectangular box and made at a completely different technological level. The multilayer film of metallized polymer does not affect the drink and protects it from the external environment. Not as reliable as a glass bottle, because oxygen still slowly penetrates through the adhesive seams. But it is quite enough to guarantee a decent shelf life of about 2 years. And even after opening the valve or tap, the wine retains its taste and aroma for 8 weeks. This is quite enough to have time to sell the goods in bottling. In addition, most of the wines produced in the world are not intended for long aging anyway, except for expensive collection samples.
Australian winemakers have been using bag-in-boxes since the mid-1960s. The idea of ”boxed wine” was invented and patented by winemaker Thomas Engove. He wanted to sell his inexpensive wines in large containers. But it immediately turned out that too much air gets into the large bottle, and the wine oxidizes much faster than usual. Then Angove began to use bag-in-boxes with a volume of 1 gallon (4.4 liters) instead of glass bottles. A little later, the inventor Charles Malpas and Penfolds patented a sealed plastic faucet.
Gradually, the leading role in the production of equipment for bag-in-boxes passed to the Europeans. For example, the current world leader in this field is the French company Vitop. Bottling wine in a bag-in-box at the winery is done in three stages:
1) evacuation of packages disinfected during production;
2) filling (sometimes with nitrogen injection to further protect the wine and prevent air from entering the bag);
We help set up such bottling lines for our partner winemakers who want to take advantage of the bag-in-box technology. It is needed not only for retail sales, but also for company stores, restaurants and wine bars. HoReCa establishments use wine walls and wine machines – bag-in-box dispensers.
In addition, there are many foreign suppliers of finished wine products in boxes. By the end of the 2010s, the share of such wines on the Australian market had already exceeded 50%. Boxed wines are bottled in all wine-producing countries…
There is a myth that you can only buy fakes or the cheapest wines in BiB. This is wrong. If 50 years ago Engove started with cheap wines, now famous “reserve” and even “grand reserve” wines are massively sold in bag-in-boxes. The Wine Group (California), the second largest wine producer in the world, since 2009 has fundamentally abandoned 187 ml glass bottles in favor of BiB.
The foreign press is increasingly writing that light and environmentally friendly bag-in-boxes will gradually replace bottles. In the end, only collection wines will be poured into glass, which can be stored for many years and nobly “age”, improving their taste. Perhaps, we are still waiting for the next surprises – new ways of storing and bottling wines.