“Sod the wine, I want to suck on the writing. This man White is an instinctive writer, bloody rare to find one who actually pulls it off, as in still gets a meaning across with concision. Sharp arbitrage of speed and risk, closest thing I can think of to Cicero’s ‘motus continuum animi.’

Probably takes a drink or two to connect like that: he literally paints his senses on the page.”

DBC Pierre (Vernon God Little, Ludmila’s Broken English, Lights Out In Wonderland ... Winner: Booker prize; Whitbread prize; Bollinger Wodehouse Everyman prize; James Joyce Award from the Literary & Historical Society of University College Dublin)





08 February 2010



Queensland Wines Go Plastic Liquor Commish Loves PET
Green Dressing Adds Savour

This discussion of the plastic wine bottle was broadcast on the Australian Broadcasting Corporation's Radio National program, Bush Telegraph, on Friday 5th. February 2010. Regular announcer Michael Mackenzie was the host; the participants were Adam Chapman, chief winemaker at Sirromet Wines, Queensland; Ian Matthews, head of Portavin, Melbourne; and Philip White, author of DRINKSTER. The latter chappie made this transcription, which has not been cleaned up or edited: it's a warts and all rendition of the conversation as it happened.

Marketers, media skills consultants and communicators of all types should examine this broadcast to study whether the proponents of the PET-Pack winebottles got the sort of promo they set out to achieve back when they agreed to be part of the show.

It's interesting to hear Michael pronouncing Sirromet to rhyme with gourmet, which is obviously what the marketers would enjoy: the name is actually T. E. Morris, backwards. It should therefore be pronounced Sirromeet.

Of course the furniture - the illos, the ads - has not been placed to have any relevance whatsoever to the matter under discussion. These are here simply to indicate to potential advertisers just how their future placements might look within the text of DRINKSTER.

Michael Mackenzie: Let’s change pace now, because it’s time for Food On Friday. First it was the blasphemy of the metal screw cap; and now, wine drinkers are facing another shock - the plastic bottle. Yes, the days of the glass wine bottle could be numbered – perhaps.

Some in the industry are looking at plastic bottles as a way of reducing environmental impact. Plastic weighs less, it has a smaller have a smaller carbon footprint, apparently, and it’s easier to recycle than glass ... but not all wine lovers can stomach, literally, the idea of wine in plastic.

Prominent wine critic Philip White, will tell us soon why he won’t be drinking it, but first I’m joined by two people who’d like to convince him otherwise. Adam Chapman is the chief winemaker at Sirromet Wines, south of Brisbane, which last year became the first winery to sell its wine in plastic bottles to Australian consumers; Adam, welcome to the show -

Adam Chapman: Morning. How are you?

MM: - I’m well; its good to have you with us ... and with me here in the studio is Ian Matthews. Ian is the manager of the packaging and distribution company, Portavin, and Ian, welcome to you.

Ian Matthews: Thanks for the invitation.

MM: Ian I’m going to come back to you in a moment, but Adam if I can begin with you, as the chief winemaker from Sirromet Wines, ah, how did this all begin?

AC: Um well basically we’ve been doing a lot of our environmental impact sort of studies for the last ten years, um, um, and that involves everything from obviously the carbon footprint, you know, the worm farms, recycling, er, water management, benchmarking and so on. And uh, this is this putting in step, or putting our actions um to help reduce our impact, and er, we did a study and found out it was mainly packaging, and electricity that um you know is the only things that would help reduce our carbon admissions, so we thought well why not give it a go and it’s just been great for us because um you know it’s a benefit. We run four big concerts here a year and um Queensland licensing –

MM: These are music concerts, you were saying? Music concerts?

AC: Yeah. Big music concerts. A Day On The Green. And um Queensland Licensing um decided that there was no glass to be at the event. So lucky, you know, we had this wine in bottle um, and it’s just gone gangbusters from there.

MM: So, in fact there was a whole range of reasons why you were drawn to this idea of changing materials for bottling because you had the overall energy audit that was being conducted through your company and then you had the added impetus of your own Liquor Commission in, or Licensing Commission in Queensland saying “We don’t want people to er use glass any more as a, as a weapon." (Laughs)

AC: Yeah. It was just quite ironic, but um, you know I spose it’s just one good story or um (giggles) comes out to be another good story and er you know the lable 820 er above er works quite well for the Verdelho and the and the Cab Merlot that we’ve just got the two wines in there –

MM: Why only two, Adam?

AC: Um at this stage we’re just obviously still testing the market out but um most concerts we have here are between say five and ten thousand people and they love it. They just can’t get enough of it. It’s it’s a great concept and not only them I mean the boating fraternities and you know events and um you know all these other places airlines and all that, that’s the next area we’re working on. It just seems to make a lot of sense.

MM: Well, while we’re talking about airlines, Ian, I might bring you in on this because with your company Portavin, you’ve actually brought me in a bottle that is used by one of our major airlines from your factories.

IM: Absolutely.

MM: Yeah. It’s small. Of course they are, aren’t they? On airlines, I mean we like them small. I mean I love airline stuff because I love things that come in compart-ments. I’m kind of like that. I’m still seeing someone professionally about that. But ah, you’ve brought in a bottle of Clare Valley Cabernet Petit Verdot Malbec. And it’s ah, in a tiny bottle, and by all appearances until you pick it up you’d swear it was glass.

IM: Yeah and I’ve often given bottles, er people wine in that bottle format and about fifty percent of ’em actually don’t realise it is actually PET. Most people think it’s still glass.

MM: Now let’s try and er demythologise some of this. What does PET stand for – I want you to say it.


IM: Ah. Polyethylene tetra phthalate. And it’s terribly difficult to say that’s why -

MM: It is –

IM: - and that’s why, that’s why we say PET (laughs)

MM: Yes. Adam?

AC: Thank God you’re there, Ian –

MM: - ah no, it’ll be your turn soon (laughter) we’re all gonna have to say it together as far as I’m concerned. Now these PET bottles, er, what is the shelf life Ian, of the wine within these bottles?

IM: Yeah. It does have a, or, we, we actually go saying it’s a “Best Before” date, because ah, a shelf life is basically once that expires you’ve actually gotta withdraw the product from the market because it, because it’s a, it could be a health hazard –

MM: What? See, I mean you say this to me and already alarm bells are ringing!

IM: No no!

MM: What does it do to the, to the wine?

IM: No no! So we go, we go, we call it a “Best Before” date. Which means it’s totally different. Like, there’s no way when the product reaches the Best Before date that its’ gonna harm anyone. It’s it’s just the fact that the wine may lose freshness from that point on so what the the thing with the Best Before date is that you can there’s an additive that goes in the bottle when you manufacture the bottle and it resides in the the wall of the bottle and it basically prevents oxygen coming from the atmosphere outside into into the wine –

MM: There’s a there’s a special term for this. It’s an, it’s a oxygen sort of consumer or something isn’t it, it’s a –

IM: Yeah. Oxygen scavenger –

MM: Right.

IM: And it depends on how much you put in as to what Best Before date you have on the product in the bottle.

MM: Well in general what would be the shelf life of wine inside this kind of PET bottle?

IM: Yeah that one you’ve got there is er nine months and if an airline say was using that for an international er situation, we we’d add more of the scavenger to extend it out to fifteen months.

MM: And that adds more to the cost, though.

IM: It’s a slight amount to the cost, but yeah. It’s still realistic.

MM: Okay. Where – I’m looking at the bottle you’ve brought in for me, this is, this is one of these small bottles and it contains all the usual labelling on the bottle. Where does it say the “Best Before” date?

IM: Ah it’s actually printed there in ah an inkjet code, and if you look closely you can actually see it –

MM: Oh there it is! Ah before 21st of the 5th 2010 so I’ve got another three months up my sleeve here. Four months, yeah? Okay. Ah look this is very intriguing Ian because this raises a whole lot of issues when it comes to plastic versus glass and Adam I’m going to come back to you on this and then we’ll go to our wine connoisseur and critic on this too. Ah, Adam as a as a chief winemaker with Sirromet Wines surely this is counterintuitive to the wine industry because after all, good wine you lay down and mature in glass but you can’t lay down and mature in plastic.

AC: Right. Can I go?

MM: You go for it. (Laughter) You challenge me if you feel like it.


Right. Here we go. Some stats first. 96 per cent of wine purchased is consumed with 24 hours. Eighty per cent of people buying wine is around that thirteen, fourteen dollars or less; and they’re just basically saying “Look I’ll have a bottle of Verdelho or I’ll you know, and I wanna pay ten bucks or somethink.” So when you look at all these stats, um I know people think about laying wine down to cellar ah to age but you know we’re just out there we’re selling current vintage wines and the whites and it’s basically consumed specially for us on the concerts you know we we go through thousands of bottles on these days –

MM: Oh yes you’re hardly gonna be cellaring a wine at a Big Day Out or On The Green are you?

AC: No! That’s right. But that’s not the concept. Um look I totally agree it’s, at this stage we’re not certainly putting our super-premium wines in there. We’ve just looked at the market; we understand the stats ah we see there’s an environmental thing, there’s a weight thing, like all the good things tick, tick, tick and tick, and we just believe this is a good concept that works and helps the environment out, it helps the Liquor Licensing, helps all these bits and pieces out and um people like the concept.

MM: We’ve already had a call ah from a listener who’s been ah evesdropping on this conversation and Ian I might put it to as you’ve been so upfront about some of the the I guess the minimum standards -

IM: The technical side.

MM: Yeah the technical side of it but we had a call from a listener who wanted to know whether there could a chemical reaction between the wine and the plastic.

IM: Yeah that’s been very well researched in the US and Europe. And the um, FDA, the Food and Drug Authority in US, has actually put the PET with the scavenger under er quite a deal of scrutiny, and the um results that have come back, are that anything that does leach out is less than threshold for er health and safety er situations. And in some cases it’s a hundredth of what the limit is, so there’s there’s essentially nothing that you can taste in the wine that comes from the plastic.

MM: Taste is one thing. What I can’t taste is what worries me.

IM: Yeah and the FDA ah rec - er regulations and er their authority says that there’s absolutely nothing coming out of the of the PET to damage your health –

MM: But what if I mistakenly, but Ian, what if I mistakenly pick up a bottle and pour it into a glass having not checked that inkjet date on the bottom of your unit here and it’s actually three or four months out of date, or beyond the Best Before date?

IM: Yep. Still no problem. All, all you’ll find is that the wine will have succumbed to some extent –

MM: To oxidisation –

IM: To ox, oxidation –

MM: Right. Gotcha. Oxidation. Right well then look, listening to all these conversations I’m sure with some degree of scepticism himself is renown wine critic Philip White. Hullo Philip.

PHILIP WHITE: Hullo Michael.

MM: Are you reassured?

PW: (Laughter) Ah it’s all a matter of – as they say – sperkective -

MM: (Laughter)

PW: - you know, half the wine in Australia, and I can’t come out of this without looking like an insufferable snob – but half -

MM: Well it’s your job! You’re a wine critic for goodness sake! You know you have to be a -

PW: (Laughter) Half the wine in Australia is drunk from bladder packs, so, you know, it’s not such a big step for that part of the market to go to a plastic bottle. Ah, and of course the sorts of people that you have at a rock concert for example: for the last ten years they’ve all been walking around with a bottle of water in their hand.

MM: Sure that’s a good point. But I mean we’re talking here about very boutique or niche markets here if you’re doing outdoor concerts or you’re doing airlines, anywhere where there’s public involved and there’s potential danger from glass I can see that as a market but it’s not a huge market –

PW: No. There’s a few difficulties. I know that um the British market’s been a little bit reluctant to grab the PET-Pack bottle, ’cause - like Wolf Blass markets a lot in plastic - um, because it’s so thin, it looks smaller. So people think they’re not getting value for their money when it’s when it’s on the shelf next to a glass bottle.

MM: And even though I’m a cheapskate Philip, I want to pretend to people I’ve bought something that’s worth more than it is, which is why turning up with a plastic bottle to a dinner party isn’t gonna look me, you know, look me in the eye as well as a glass bottle, surely?

PW: No, of course not. And you know, um, I think the days of the petrochem business are fading. And while I understand and appreciate that ah, the glass, the, the footprint of a PET bottle is lower than glass, er, you know, I don’t want any of my food in plastic. We’re used to having, you know you get a chicken and it’s wrapped in cling wrap. Cling wrap. Whereas you go to a beautiful butcher in Paris; the chicken is dry and you get it in a paper bag; I know which one I’d rather eat. So I go to great lengths to avoid my food being in plastic of any sort.

MM: Adam Chapman, as chief winemaker at Sirromet, I think only mentioned two varieties in a bottle within your company at the moment. Do you have anything you want to throw back at Philip on this?

AC: Do you drink milk?

PW: Yes of course. And there you go. We used to have milk in glass, and now we drink it from cardboard. Or plastic, indeed. Um but then at the other extreme, you know with er, you find research which is going on at Penfold’s at the moment, where they’re even trialing Grange in a bottle which has absolutely no plastic, no cork, and the seal is glass on glass. Now of course that’s gonna be a $500 product, if indeed they proceed with launching that, but er, the premium end of the market will always prefer the glass. You know, I mean –


Can I pose something else to you Philip? Can I just say something else? At the moment the Australian wine industry, in some of its major markets overseas, is struggling to be heard. We have a wine glut in this country. We’re not selling as much overseas product anymore because our branding within those major markets like the UK, Europe and America has gone down in terms of value. Surely bottling in plastic is only gonna diminish our brand even further?

PW: I agree completely. It’s inevitable. But you know, this – look at it historically. They were having this argument at one stage about going from the wine skin – and you know, in the Holy Land the battle was whether you used a pig skin or a goat skin – and then the Romans go to Gaul and discover the barrel because the Celts have invented the barrel. You didn’t need six slaves to carry an amphora, which would shatter if they dropped it. You know these things have always changed, but the main thing is that glass is still, by far, the, the best premium container for a premium product. It’s a food. It goes into your body. Er, I don’t walk around with a plastic bottle to drink water. I like to have my water out of stainless steel, because it’s cleaner.


You are a snob, aren’t you!

PW: (Laughter) Huh! Yes!

AC: Philip -

MM: Adam?

AC: Look, at the end of the day, we’re not, I’m not, I’m pretty sure Ian’s with me as well, we’re not sitting here putting premium wine down and trying to put to put that across. The concept is, and it is a concept, is it’s environmentally friendly as far as, ah, carbon emissions is concerned, it fits with our concerts. If we couldn’t do this, if we couldn’t for some reason, bottle in PET, we couldn’t have four concerts a year. It’s like 50,000 people or so, that can’t come to our winery because of liquor licensing.

MM: So you’re doing it literally in house because that works for you at those public events –

AC: We have to do that –

MM: Yes, yes –

AC: We have to do that –

MM: Ian what about you? You’re you’re actually a manufacturer: what are you doing in terms of trade at the moment; volume on this?

IM: Well I think the key to remember with PET in the wine business is that it’s a very niche market that it fulfils so that it –

MM: And will it continue to be so?

IM: I think so. Um, it’s never going to have the dominance that glass has. I mean glass has been the dominant container for wine for an awful long time in the past, and it will continue to do so in the future. But when you get certain situations that call for maybe looking at things in a different way, like Adam when he’s serving wine at an at an event, and you look at the airline industry where they’ve actually got to carry these bottles of wine halfway around the world, ah suddenly, er, a product that weighs about a fifth of what it does in glass starts to make sense.

MM: It does, and I’ve actually opened up one of the bottles that you say makes sense and Ian I’m about to have a little swig here, straight out of the bottle. How’s that for sophistication? Here we go -

IM: Do you want a brown paper bag?

AC: Put it on Youtube (laughter)

MM: Guys we’re running out of time, but I just wanted to taste that and see, and of course that’s well within the date and it tastes fine to me – but I’m sure people will have their views, and -

AC: I’ve got four stats here –

MM: What’s that sorry?

AC: I’ve got four stats here if you want. Reduces packaging by 84 per cent –

MM: Quickly!

AC: - nineteen per cent less in energy, and 78 per cent less solid weight, er waste, sorry, and emits 52 per cent less greenhouse gas. I mean that –

MM: Well I guess the jury is out as to whether people will also want to drink it ... but Adam Chapman, Ian Matthews, Philip White: it’s been a pleasure crossing swords with all three of you! Cheers to you! Have a lovely weekend if you’ve been listening around the country; we’ll be back on Monday.



The Open Froat said...

you're a bad man, whitey

max said...

What's your point?

Philip White said...

glass is better, obviously

the trougher said...

Perhaps Sirromet was usuing plastic in a desperate attempt to avoid this happening:

Two Queensland wineries shut down their vineyards

Tuesday, 13/04/2010

Two of Queensland's biggest wineries have mothballed large vineyards.

Leeanne Gangemi, from the Queensland Wine Industry Association, says Sirromet and Jimbour have fallen victim to tough international trading conditions and a glut of wholesale wine.

She says the smaller players in the industry are focusing on innovation and cellar door sales.

"The good thing is that the majority of the wine industry in Queensland is still doing fine and not mothballing anything," she says.

"I think the thing to keep in mind is the very different busines models for the businesses that are mothballing as compared to the more family-owned vineyards."