The wine cask turns 50

I can’t imagine many readers of this newsletter drink cask wine, but many of us would have in our younger days. Cask wine is – or was – many wine lovers’ introduction to wine. 

The wine cask is 50 years old this year, and Angove (tastings), the Renmark-based family winery that claims to have invented it, is making some noise about it. The late Tom Angove is credited with being the first to put wine in a bag in a box, in 1965, although it did not have a tap and was closed by a peg after you’d snipped the corner of the bag and taken the first pour. Angove shelved the idea because it was too messy. 

What’s not being told during these celebrations is the wider story. Soon after the invention, Penfolds (tastings) picked up the idea and produced the Penfolds Table Cask, designed like a barrel lying on its side, held by two supports. But the tap was leaky and although thousands were sold, there were many angry returns from customers upset about stained carpets and so on. This was the late 1960s, and Penfolds also shelved the idea. 

Then came one of the truly great men of Australian wine, David Wynn, he of Wynns Coonawarra Estate (tastings), who did by far the most to popularise the cask. The Wynns wine cask improved the design, specifically the ever-troublesome tap, and took the concept to the masses. In the 1970s, demand for wine rocketed, partly because of the advent of the wine cask. 

Wynn was presented with the Maurice O’Shea Award in 1993 (and an Order of Australia), and when I interviewed him at that time he was keen to stress that he had never promoted cask wine on price. It was all about convenience. People could keep a cask in their fridge and have a glass a day with their meal, and what was left in the container would not deteriorate – as it had up till then in bottles and 2-gallon flagons. David Wynn was always a quality man, and he promoted cask wine as a quality item: his advertising slogan was along the lines of “The luxury of a glass of wine very day”. Very clever. The mass-discounting came later. 

Cask wine still accounts for one-third of all the Australian wine sold within Australia. But it has slipped a long way from the 1980s/’90s when it accounted for well over 50%. No doubt, cheap bottled wine, including cleanskins and supermarket home-brands, help to explain this. 

As for the future, I expect the wine cask will always have its place. Just not on my table!

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