Australians think of themselves as big drinkers, an idea explored recently on the ABC, by Shaun Micallef, who was on the verge of becoming a living national treasure, until he revealed that he was a teetotaller. Nevertheless, he found plenty of people who enjoy ‘getting on the piss’, even we have slipped to 19th in the world in alcohol consumption, well behind the Eastern Europeans.
However, self-medication has increased dramatically in the pandemic, and the twin pincers of enforced locked down and restricted purchases has meant that the humble wine cask has made a big comeback: in the first four weeks of COVID-19 cask wine sales jumped by 21 percent (according to data from Wine Australia and market researcher IRI Market Edge). So, we will celebrate the wine cask here, not for its contents but for its design.
The wine cask is an air-tight plastic bag, filled with wine, fitted with a tap, stored in, and opened through, a cardboard box. Known throughout the land as a ‘goon bag’, maybe as a ‘dipped lid’ to its predecessor, the glass flagon. It's origins as an Australian design are less well known.
In 1965 Thomas Angove, third generation of that famous South Australian wine making family, came up with the idea of a sealed plastic bag to carry wine inside a cardboard box. It was said to have been inspired by ‘wine-skins’ carried by Greek shepherds, that collapsed as the wine was drunk, keeping air out to prevent the wine from being oxidized.
He patented his idea for an “improved container and pack for liquids” and became the first to market wine in a box. Early versions were clumsy, requiring a corner to be pulled out, cut off, to enable wine to be poured, and then sealed with a rubber band or paperclip as seen in this illustration of the unfolded box:In 1967 Penfolds created the ‘Tablecask’, a plastic bag inside a round tin that incorporated a ‘tap’ by Geelong inventor Charles Malpas, which could be inserted into the wine bag like this:In 1970, David Wynn, another famous wine family name, bought the rights to an ‘Airlessflo’ tap and the ‘bag-in-a-box’ system, used in the USA to carry battery acid (please resist a wine whine here). The cask system was instantly popular, and the technology was soon adopted by other manufacturers.
As is customary in Australia, it attracted a number of nick-names including ‘Chateau cardboard’, Cardboardeaux’, the ‘Dubbo handbag’ (or a town near you), and our favourite ‘vino collapso’. More recently a large version was launched as a ‘bagnum’. The goonie, when removed from its box, became a source of fun such as a drinking game: a variety suspended from the Hills Hoist (as discussed in a +one column here).
After emptying it could be reinterpreted in a number of ways: inflated by blowing through the tap it became a pillow on which to rest your head; useful when you had imbibed too much of the box contents. Or they could be made into handbags, by Andrew 'Noodle E String' McLennan, a Darwin entrepreneur.Wine casks became so popular they were about half the volume of wine sold in Australia by 1980. However, volumes later declined, and the Australian Bureau of Statistics shows that there was a 30 percent drop in cask sales at the same time as bottle sales increased by almost 40 percent between 2004 and 2014.
But back to the design: the wine cask had two particular advantages. Firstly, by keeping the wine from oxidizing it enabled a cask, often kept in the fridge, to last for up to a month after opening, allowing intermittent drinking which was not otherwise possible.
Secondly, it was very sustainable. The rectangular form could be packed tighter than bottles, meaning more wine could be shipped in the same volume. It was lighter in weight, reducing transport costs. It was safer with less possibility of breakage. And the packaging was cheaper to manufacture and more easily recyclable than glass bottles.
More recent design developments focus on replacing the cardboard box, given an alternative surround such as a glamorous handbag:Or doing away with the box altogether, making a naked bag with its tap exposed:
Darren De Bortoli, managing director of De Bortoli wines recently told The Guardian that COVID had brought on panic buying as people were concerned that liquor stores would close. He said: “it's not like people are drinking shitloads more alcohol”, as even people “who are very much wine afficianados” are getting on the cask wine trend.
Testament to a great Australian invention that does happiness with sustainability at the same time.
plus 1 / plus one / +one is a collective of designers and artists promoting sustainability and Australian design. You can contact +one at [email protected].