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Demystifying what happens to wine in transit

Felicity Murray talks to Justin Knock MW about his new role as adviser to the technical and product teams at bottling specialist Cobevco on the latest packaging and bulk shipping solutions for wines

Justin Knock Cobevco

Felicity Murray talks to Justin Knock MW about his new role as adviser to the technical and product teams at bottling specialist Cobevco on the latest packaging and bulk shipping solutions for wines

Winemaker Justin Knock MW advises Cobevco’s technical and product teams on the development of packaging solutions for global customers and communicate the latest technology developments in bulk shipping and in-market production.

Having produced wine across Australia in the Hunter Valley, McLaren Vale, Yarra Valley and Margaret River, as well as in France and Spain – and with degrees in food science and industrial chemistry – Justin has a deep understanding of the winemaking process backed by practical industry experience.

While working for Southcorp Group in Australia he undertook research on brettanomyces, micro-oxygenation and yeast nutrition. For several years he was the group’s European-based winemaker and delivered technical and educational training across Europe and the Middle East. Justin launched his own boutique wine brand in 2008, drawing on the knowledge gained throughout his 15 year career. More recently he has worked with importers in Scandinavia to develop international industry relations with producers from Australia, New Zealand, the US and Chile.

So what made him want to take on this new role on the packaging side rather than the production?

“Living in the UK means there are relatively few winemaking options, however, I have experienced a re-emergence of UK packaging over the past few years. The trade can have a somewhat negative attitude to bulk shipping and in-market bottling, which is surprising as it has been a feature of the wine trade for most of its history: until the 1960s it was common for wines like cru Burgundy and classed growth Bordeaux to be bulk shipped and bottled all over Europe. We are now in an era where a return to authenticity and sensitivity to the environment are important philosophies for wine producers, and, in my view, bulk shipping is a very natural extension of those values. There is an amazing opportunity to bring more understanding to the process and foster a positive attitudinal change, which is what make me want to take on this new role.

“Cobevco is looking to expand the range of services that it can offer to new and existing customers, so my role centres around improving communication with producers, agents and retailers to highlight the valuable role that Cobevco can play in the beverage supply chain. Wineries need to know that their wine is in good hands once it leaves their site and trust Cobevco to be the custodian of their brand. There is an important message to send out: bulk shipping and in-market packaging makes good quality, environmental and financial sense for a very wide range of drinks companies. Resources and capital are increasingly under strain, so we want the trade to understand how we can help their businesses become more efficient and sensitive to customer demand.”

In regards to maintaining the quality of a customer’s wine, Justin’s knowledge and experience is clearly an major asset to the company’s operations. “Part of my role is to help winemakers ensure that their wine, once bottled, looks, smells and tastes the same as it did when it left their site. We advise on how to best prepare wines for deep sea shipping to reduce the risks of oxidation, refermentation and spoilage in general. Such advice is critical because New World wines are not permitted to undergo further ‘winemaking’ once they arrive in the EU, so they must leave their country of origin in a condition that is as close to bottle-ready as possible. As winemakers will attest, you cannot improve a product’s quality during bottling, you can only maintain it, and so, as brand custodians, we aim to safeguard the standards that producers deliver.

“I think my experience working as a winemaker has given me an understanding of the questions wineries may have when exploring the idea of bulk shipping, so I know how to demonstrate its benefits, including cost and environmental advantages. Similarly, my work with distributors and retailers across the UK and Europe has made me more aware of different attitudes towards bulk shipping and how to overcome any concerns there may be.  

“Cobevco is also working closely with candidates in the MW programme, who are experienced and influential tradespeople working in a variety of roles, from buying, retailing and journalism to winemaking and importing. I want to demystify what happens to wine in transit. By improving their knowledge and understanding, we can begin to affect attitudes to in-market operations in a positive way.”

So what was his first major challenge in his new role at Cobevco?

“The first step has been to understand Cobevco’s business and learn what is possible. I have been spending time with the technical team, sharing ideas and knowledge, identifying grey areas in understanding for the trade and working out how to tackle them.”

Looking to the future, Justin expects to see some changes happening in the way wines are packaged.

“Compared to other categories, it is apparent that wine comes in a reasonably limited range of packaging formats that look incredibly similar, despite producers trying to convey different messages about their products. With this in mind, I think that we will soon see a much wider range of packaging options being utilised in a more mainstream way, such as bag-in-box. There is absolutely no sense in shipping inexpensive wine that has been made for immediate consumption half way around the world in glass bottles – it’s environmentally costly, expensive and generates no real benefit for the consumer. I think that having a chilled box of wine in the fridge is extremely practical and civilised. It mimics what happens in the Mediterranean wine producing regions of Europe where you can buy wine directly from the tank, which is a wonderfully simple way to enjoy wine.”

Finally, I asked if he was still involved in winemaking.

“I have a small Pinot Noir project in the Yarra Valley, just outside Melbourne, but it’s become a bi-annual vintage rather than a yearly commitment. I love making wine and certainly miss the hard physical work and camaraderie of vintage, the closeness to the grapes and wine and the pleasure that comes from crafting something with your mind and your hands. And yet I absolutely love living in the UK and on Europe’s doorstep – it is a wine lover’s wonderland and a place that can always surprise with something new or different. “

8 March 2013