The head winemaker at Don Sebastiani & Sons, Greg Kitchens, describes how his staff prepares Pepperwood Grove wine for packaging in the bag-in-box (BIB) format.
Using a new in-house BIB filling line, Kitchens developed protocols for dissolved oxygen, carbon dioxide, fining and filtration.
Pepperwood Grove remains available in bottles and 3-liter BIB format. Kitchens strives to keep them stylistically identical.
Three years ago, Don Sebastiani & Sons of Sonoma, Calif., embarked on a 3-liter bag-in-box (BIB) project for Pepperwood Grove. With the ongoing success of this brand in standard 750ml bottles and demonstrated consumer interest in premium boxed wine, we dove into this segment with our Pepperwood Big Green Box.
As this new package proved successful, driven by value and quality, we invested in a new state-of-the-art 3-liter (3L) BIB filling line designed by Scholle Packaging. The first in-house-produced Big Green Box shipped in June 2012, and we are now offering co-packing services to other wineries and negoÇiants in the industry. We have learned a great deal during the past two years—here is our story.
In May 2010, working with Scholle, we designed our new 3L BIB Big Green Box package and researched potential custom 3L BIB bottling facilities to bring this new idea to life. We selected Sonoma Wine Co. of American Canyon, Calif., as our partner and delivered approximately 1,000 gallons of three different wines to their facility. Our research led us to deliver these wines with as low as possible levels of both dissolved oxygen (DO2
) and dissolved carbon dioxide (DCO2
With our in-house 750ml glass bottled wines under either natural corks, synthetic closures, Zork or screwcap, we normally bottle at approximately 0.8 parts per million (ppm) DO2
and 400 ppm DCO2
for reds and 800 ppm DCO2
for whites. With the first run, we achieved DO2
levels of less than 0.5 ppm and DCO2
of approximately 250 ppm. The O2
pickup when manually bagging wine is about 0.5 to 1.0 ppm. The wines gracefully maintained this level fairly well for some time. Research on this packaging format indicated good quality for 12 months.
Upon evaluation of the boxed wine, our research indicated that it holds up well for approximately eight to nine months, showing degradation approaching the one-year mark. Utilizing our own equipment, we are making adjustments to our fill times to keep the DO2
pickup to 0.5 ppm or less and expect to observe improved results in 12 months with an increase in life expectancy in the boxed wine.
Regarding shelf-life expectancy, due to the short window for consumption we are a little lighter on SO2
additions prior to BIB production. For our 750ml line, we normally target about 30 ppm free SO2
. But with BIB, we dropped that number to between 22 and 25 ppm so that the wines show better when they hit the market upon release. We have not noticed much of a “bottle shock” effect with the wines after going into the bag. There is a little window of awkwardness when the wines accept a little DO2
and appear to be affected by the movement involved in filling a BIB. We have noticed that the product bounces back pretty quickly.
Based on our experience, we have determined that boxing runs of 500 12-liter cases is best, while smaller boxing runs seem to cause more damage to the wine. Due to the size of our equipment for processing, each run is most efficient and best for quality at 1,500 gallons minimum.
Microbial stability of the boxed wine is very important. Filtration of these wines is a must to prevent microbial problems. Value wines tend to be exposed to more microbes in mechanical harvesting and the mass-production process and thus are more susceptible to microbial instability. In order to preserve these wines as best as possible, we crossflow filter each wine up to three days prior to bottling in order to have the wine clean enough to pass through a 0.45 absolute micron filter as it travels into the bag.
Quality control is very important, and good laboratory analysis of the wines is key to ensuring a good quality product in the market. Our lab pulls samples at the same time increments as our 750ml glass bottling line to ensure that our membranes are holding up and that this package is virtually “bullet-proof.”
Since the initial release of five wines was very popular, we have added more wines to the Pepperwood Grove BIB line. We offer a non-vintage Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Grigio and Moscato for the whites, and a Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon and Old Vine Zinfandel for the reds. We source these specific wines from where we consider them to grow the best.
As an example, our Old Vine Zinfandel mostly comes from vineyards in Lodi, Calif. To assemble blends with varietal character and value, we buy volumes of Zinfandel from Mendocino and Monterey counties to add some cool-climate fruit for structure and balance. The combination of all these elements provides a blend that over delivers for price and quality.
At one time, cold stabilizing the red wines was contemplated. We thought that the BIB consumer would naturally put this product in the refrigerator. After consideration of the change in profile of the red wines, we decided not to pursue this course. After two years in production, we have only received a handful of complaints from consumers who put them in the refrigerator and ended up with a mouthful of tartrates.
Today, the BIB consumer seems to be a bit more wine savvy than previously assumed. This new wine-consumption avenue has been painted by some pretty good competition that is putting good wine in BIB packaging. Low-quality BIB wine produced 10 years ago is a thing of the past. More people are drinking wine from a box for the value and the noticeable increase in wine quality. These wines are not for everybody, but the new wine consumer who drinks a glass or two every day has definitely stepped up to the plate when it comes to buying boxed wine.
Stylistically, I do not make BIB wi nes any different than our 750ml wines. I like the fact that our consumers can pick up a bottle of our Pepperwood Grove wine and it will be the same blend that we offer in BIB. We like the fact that we came out with some wines that are normally not offered as BIB by our competition, such as the Zinfandel and Pinot Grigio.
Pepperwood Grove NV Pinot Grigio has a target pH of 3.4 or less and titratable acidity in the range of 6.5 to 7.5 grams per liter (g/L). We fine the wine with a combination of gelatin and PVPP to keep the wines bright and clean in color. We like a Pinot Grigio that is light in weight with just a touch of residual sugar to please the palates of our fans (0.5 g/L RS target).
All wines are kept below 14% alcohol (most are 13.5%) for tax purposes. This is a bit challenging on the Old Vine Zinfandel, but another RS bump to about 0.5 g/L seems to help keep that blended wine tasting like Zinfandels that are 14.5% alcohol.
Consistent sourcing on a majority of the volume helps maintain the blend profiles in the BIB package. Most of our Pepperwood Grove line is sourced from appellations like Lodi, Clarksburg and the Valle Central of Chile from long-term contracts with our friends down there. I travel twice each year to oversee our blends and aging on our base wines for these programs. Once again, the same wine goes into all of our packages to ensure consistency for the consumer.
We are currently running our BIB line about one week per month to keep up with production and have plenty of time to fill the need for other customers. If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to ask. We are all in this together and welcome some competition to join us in the market. Let’s all get to some more boxing!
Greg Kitchens developed an early interest in wine, eventually earning a biochemistry degree from the University of California, San Diego, in 1998. He worked at Beaulieu Vineyard and Sebastiani Vineyards before joining Don Sebastiani & Sons in 2001. Kitchens has been the head winemaker there since 2009 and works with a wide range of brands.