According to the California Wine Institute, California makes 90 percent of all U.S. wine and is the world’s 4th leading wine producing region after France, Italy, and Spain. When you factor in imports and exports, bulk wine transport is a major economic driver in the northwestern region and represents a bulk liquid cargo that must be efficiently, cost effectively, and safely moved across, into, and out of the U.S. This means that large and small vineyards, winemakers, distributors, and wine-sellers must make important decisions regarding the best method of transporting bulk quantities of wine.
Among the food grade bulk liquids that are being transported across the country and across the world, wine is one of the easiest to damage. The product requires a steady temperature range between 55 to 65 degrees Fahrenheit – a deviation from which can ruin the product thus making it undrinkable.
As the U.S. wine market continues to expand, producers must find ways to maximize transport volume while minimizing costs and spoilage.
Traditional bottle shipping by the case is an expensive solution designed to best preserve the product while facilitating retail sales. Shipping wine in consumer-ready bottles ensures that they are ready for sale upon delivery and minimizes the possibility of contamination. Higher costs are incurred as a result of the need for additional packing materials to prevent breakage, increased shipping weight, and the greater difficulty of consistent temperature control.
Producers are looking for lower cost options such as Flexi-tanks and food grade tank containers to achieve higher shipping volumes of grape juice and wine at a lower cost and with greater quality control options. Each method has its pros and cons, so producers must weigh them carefully in order to decide how to best transport their bulk products.
Stainless steel food grade tank containers provide refrigerated transport and storage options to dramatically increase the volume of wine that can be transported per shipment. This highly regulated method requires a meticulously cleaned and sterilized tank to eliminate contamination. In addition, there are bottling and packaging requirements before the wine can be sold to consumers.
Additional advantages of Flexi-tank and food grade container transport of bulk wine include the elimination of bottle and label damage during transport.
FlexiBags (Flexi-tanks) are large single-use bladders that can be transported in standard shipping containers. This method seems to offer the most benefits with the fewest downsides. FlexiBags come sterilized but are intended to be disposable for one-time use. Bulk wine transport via FlexiBags significantly reduces the cost of transportation and holds the equivalent of about 32,000 750ml bottles of wine. This dwarfs the 12,000 to 13,000 bottles of wine that fit in the same size shipping container, and the approximately 26,000 liters transported by some tank containers. However, this method of transport still requires the wine to be bottled at its destination and the Flexi-bags to be disposed of.
Both Flexibags and tank containers may be transported on drop-frame chassis. The newest models are being constructed at lighter weights with stronger reinforced necks and frames to provide greater transport stability for bulk liquid loads that have a tendency to shift in transit. In addition, these chassis can be outfitted with refrigeration units and can provide storage options in addition to transport capabilities, which can potentially reduce warehousing costs.
As technological improvements in containers, chassis, and refrigeration evolve, we expect this trend toward Flexi-tanks that offer both quality control and cost effective transport solutions to wine producers to continue.