April 28, 2015

The History of Wine Transport

history of wine transportWine lovers take note because the history of wine transportation is much more fascinating than you might think. From ancient history to modern methods, we are experts on all angles of the wine transportation industry. Listed below are a few of the fascinating aspects of how wine has reached its destination over the centuries — and how we can help you with this goal today using modern flexible bulk wine transportation methods that save you money.Requirements for Wine Transport

Since ancient times, all wine has had the same problems when it comes to storing and transporting. To successfully transport wine, you must meet these 5 criteria: 

  1. Must be airtight to avoid oxidation

  2. Must maintain a stable temperature

  3. Must be strong enough to handle shocks and impact of transport

  4. Should be resealable

  5. Should not react with the wine*

*The final criteria has an exception discussed below. 

Wine Bottles Were Originally Made of Clay

amphoraPart of the reason we know how far back humans consumed wine is due to the fact that there are still remnants left behind from transporting wine. Archaeologists and historians agree that the oldest wine vessels found so far are from Georgia in Russia. This country that borders Turkey has clay wine jars that date back to 6,000 B.C.E. There is also evidence that leather bags were used to carry wine, but it is likely that this negatively affected the flavor of the wine. Clay containers called amphorae were the standard method of wine transport from Ancient Egypt, Greece and Rome, for over 5,500 years. The had a narrow opening to avoid oxidation, handles for easy lifting and a tapered bottom allowing sediment to collect.

Airtightness Was Critical

Of course, back then, they did not have a smooth way to transport wine, so amphorae were carefully loaded on animal-driven carts, river boats or even carried by hand to their destination. That destination eventually became a town market or a shipping port. However, no matter what type of transportation option that was used, wine had to have the air kept out of it or it would spoil. Ancient civilizations used different methods to seal these containers including gummy tree resin, oily rags, and partially wet clay stoppers. But it was the Romans that settled on cork stoppers, which have been the standard until just the past few years.

The Origins of Bulk Wine Transport

Obviously, those heavy wine pots were not intended for long-haul shipment over land. Even thick ceramics are fragile, and there were no perfectly-even, paved highways before cars were invented. Shipping wine on a boat eventually became popular, and there are shipwrecks that still have ancient wine pots in them near Alexandria, Egypt. Ancient Roman ships had to haul huge quantities of amphorae to meet the increasing demand for wine.

Oak Casks Impart Flavor and Allow for Larger Quantities

oak casksThe Romans discovered the use of oak barrels for transport from the Gauls. Their strength, light weight and watertight seal made them excellent for transporting wine. The one drawback was that oak turned out to impart tannins and additional flavor to the wine. It turned out, however, that people actually enjoyed this additional flavoring and it remains critical component of modern vineyards and distilleries. Oak casks became the standard by the 3rd century A.D., completely replacing amphorae.

These oak casks could also be built in very large barrels called tuns (the origin of the modern word ton), capable of holding 250 gallons (or 950 liters). This began the true origin of bulk wine transport.

Glass Bottles Transform Wine Transport 

wine transportAround the 1600’s, glass blowers perfected a bottle that was thick enough to withstand a bumpy journey on land or sea. This revolutionized the market in key ways, and it was all due to the fact that most of the merchandise arrived unbroken and without turning to vinegar. Glass was the perfect way to store wine because it did not alter the flavor, and it was around this time that aged wine could become a commodity. However it remained illegal to sell wine by the bottle in England until 1860, so wine sellers had to sell by the barrel while individual consumers kept a collection of wine bottles to decant in their homes. By the 1900’s, the wine bottle and cork were a mass-produced standard of the industry, and it did not appear much could change to improve this model.

The Unexpected Wine Transport Revolution

Transporting wine in bulk like they did in ancient France has been an ongoing ideal for wine merchants throughout the centuries. At one time, metal bins were used to store wine and ship it to nearby warehouses where it could immediately be bottled. The expense, weight and fragility of glass made it costly and inconvenient to ship, but offered better controls over oxidation and spoilage than oak casks. 

Interestingly, around the late 2000’s, the revolution in bulk wine transport finally happened. While safety, tank integrity, and plastic aftertaste were issues in the past, the new models of flexible plastic bulk wine transportation tanks have everything required to be the professional sommelier-approved option wine producers have been dreaming of for the past 8000 years.

Australian Market Pioneers Flexible Plastic Wine Tanks

flexi tank wine transportWhile flexible bulk liquid tanks can be used for a variety of perishable liquid foods and beverages, Australia led the charge in the wine market truly cashing in on this form of wine transportation. Most of Australia’s wine is consumed outside of that country and has to be shipped to markets thousands of miles away because Australia is so far away from the big wine markets in America and Europe. In places like England, the wine is shipped in flexible plastic bulk tanks from Australia and then immediately decanted into ready-to-consume wine bottles. The difference in profits margins between the era of shipping bottles to England versus shipping wine in bulk liquid tanks is staggering. Flexi-tanks are now recognized as the best method for transporting bulk wine internationally.

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