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'Barrels are bullshit' says next-gen Aussie cooper with eyes on Asia

By RJ Whitehead , 24-Apr-2014
Last updated on 25-Apr-2014 at 09:40 GMT

'Barrels are bullshit' says next-gen Aussie cooper with eyes on Asia

While wine barrel innovator Flexcube is targeting New World wineries in the Americas for half of its international sales, the Australian company has not forgotten about vineyards across the Asia-Pacific region.

Flexcube has gained much media attention recently for its patented oxygen-breathing polymer and oenological oak wine barrels in Australia. These have been designed to last four times longer than traditional oak barrels while helping reduce the oak costs of barrel-matured wines by as much as 70%.

While some wine regions, like France, have been largely reticent to look at new barrel technology, Flexcube’s concept appears to be generating interest among newer, non-traditional producing regions. 

As a result of this potential, the company is targeting growth next year of more than 40% revenues, to A$5.2m (US$4.8m).

Asia expansion

Every winemaker that buys barrels, we want to talk to them,” Peter Steer, Melbourne-based Flexcube’s owner, told FoodNavigator-Asia, adding that the company is already present in India, which has a fledgling wine industry of its own, and has plans for China.

Wine-growing regions in India and China tend to be French influenced, but they don’t have terribly high margins and barrels are expensive there, so there is plenty of potential for alternates like ours. India is unrecognisable from five years ago, and India and China are both quick on the uptake of new technology.”

Steer is still working on a strategy for the company to tap into China’s fast-expanding winery industry. But while he understands the urgency to get there, the question of how to do so trumps any timeframe.

We need and want to be in China but haven’t developed the plan yet. China is growing so fast, yet I think we need to be there a lot faster than we had been thinking,” continues Steer, adding that the country currently grows more wine grapes than Australia and also imports as much for maturation.

But it’s always a case of the sales tactics that work in other countries won’t work in China. We could just knock on doors in America and that would work along with a bit of word-of-mouth promotion. In China, though, this approach would be a complete failure. In China, it’s more about influencing the right people and then waiting for them to influence others.”

Memories of the screw cap

There are many similarities between the technology Flexcube is promoting to the world and the screw cap, which and was met with sneers from traditionalists when it emerged some years ago. Both products are more sustainable, cheaper, and some believe they make for better wine. 

At the end of the day, these add up to benefits for the consumer, but as is usually the case, those who are the biggest and have the most to lose are least likely to change what they do, Steer says. While finding it slow to break into French wineries, Flexcube has been making inroads and is in the middle of protracted negotiations with one of the biggest estates there. 

They love to emphasise tradition, but they are one of the fastest adopters of high-tech equipment in the end. Winemakers recognise that barrels are bullshit, ” he says.

We won’t claim we will get 100% [of the global barrel market] but we do claim we will achieve a high proportion. As winemakers realise they can make the same quality wine with our vessels as they can with traditional barrels while also being more economical and sustainable, it’s a natural choice.” 

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