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New to Our Portfolio: Fuoristrada::Off Road Tetra Paks

Michael Schmelzer of Fuoristrada

From vineyards in Tuscany that have been organically farmed since 2004, we are happy to introduce Fuoristrada :: Off Road Sangiovese, and Grillo from Sicily,the first vegan/organic wines to be sold in Tetra Pak containers, the ultimate in Green Packaging.

Produced by winemaker Michael Schmelzer, who also makes Retromarcia, these wines are not “bag in a box wines”; they are “the modern solution to an elephant sized ecological problem”.

“To think of putting the equivalent of two elephants into containers to bring across the Atlantic is insane to me,” said  Michael, “especially if it’s not meant to age.”  In addition to making the best wines that are currently available in alternative packaging, Schmelzer is big on facts and supporting evidence.  Along with his Grillo and Sangiovese wines, the most recent addition to our Italian Portfolio, Michael sent us studies and sheets on why Tetra Pak containers are the ecological wave of the present and future.  Consider this:  if 1,000 cases of bottled wine = 12,000 pounds of glass, and 1,000 cases of Tetra Pak wine = 1,080 pounds of Tetra Pak containers, then every 1,000 cases of Tetra Pak wines does indeed save 12,000 pounds of glass, which is the equivalent of two female African elephants.

24,000 liter packs of Tetra Pak wines on one pallet vs. 12,000 bottles of wine on 14 pallets

Why should we care about the weight behind the containers that house our wine? Is there another obesity epidemic that we are not yet aware of? Or is is just our gluttonous consumption of energy that Michael is concerned with?  To address this question, Michael sent us a copy of a report titled, “Life Cycle Inventory of Container Systems for Wine”, which runs 137 pages long.  To contextualize the graph below, the authors wrote: “Of the five life cycle phrases included in this analysis (material production, container fabrication, transportation to winery, distribution and postconsumer waste management), the production of container materials accounts for the largest share of total energy for all container systems.”

With each Tetra Pak containing one-liter of wine, and each bottle containing 0.750 liters of wine, one container of 24,000 liters of Tetra Pack carries the same amount of wine as 38 pallets of glass bottles.  Adding tough love to injury, Michael pointed out that his wines go directly to the consumer, without the wholesale middleman, which means that his wines are only shipped once, again reducing the impact on the environment.  (Michael ships his wines bulk to Canada, where they are “bottled” in Tetra Paks and sent directly to us.)

Having once read that over 90% of wine is consumed within hours of purchase, Michael was inspired to seek alternative packaging.  For 1.5 years, he studied the options, before concluding that Tetra Pak was the key to his solution.  As far as growing grapes goes, it was Michael’s ten years as a chef that influenced his decision to work organically and biodynamically in the vineyard.  When learning the art of winemaking in Australia, he discovered the quality of biodynamically farmed produce–noting the orange yolks of the eggs, the calcium content of the oranges–before deciding that his fruit should should be equally qualified.

Grillo Vineyard in Campo Reale, Sicily

Sowing the seed in 2003, Michael, who is American, moved to Italy and purchased 10ha of organic vineyards, in the “belly button of Chianti Classico”.  When he planted in 2005 and began farming biodynamically, he did not yet know what it would entail or how difficult it would be, but he did know that conventional vineyards tend to spray when it rains, to help prevent the grapes from rotting, and that these chemicals simply wash off of the vines and into the soil.  He decided that if he built from the roots–from the base up–then he would have healthy vines that were less frequently inundated with mold and pests.

And, since the biodynamic principles of Rudolf Steiner’s prescribed farming techniques are over 300 years old, Michael knew that he couldn’t go wrong.  “These farming practices are so complete,” he said.  “People were poor [when the practices were first initiated].  They didn’t spend time or energy on things that didn’t work, so what’s been passed through the generations is what works.”

And though he has always made vegan wines, he just recently started to market the practice on his Tetra Paks.  With conventional wines, there is a list of over 200 ingredients that can legally be added, including fish bladder and gelatin from hooves (!).  With organic wines, the list is limited to 50 or 60 optional ingredients.  Michael chooses to add nothing but grapes and a small amount of sulfur to his wines–only 70 parts to his white wines and 45 parts to his reds.  (Organically certified wines are allowed up to 100 parts of sulfur.)

Knowing that the average consumer might not expect such high quality wines in Tetra Paks, Michael said, “How quickly this is successful is determined by how people sell them.  If a retailer puts them in the ‘bag-in-a-box’ section, then the people for whom the wine is intended won’t buy it.”

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