Flexcube oxygen-permeable maturation vessels, known as New Generation Barrels, are now widely used across all major wine-producing markets where they co-exist with traditional oak barrels.
Launched in Australia 2001, Flexcube has made significant inroads in traditional wine markets around the world. Their ground-breaking new generation barrels are now available in Australia, New Zealand, the USA, South Africa, China, Chile and Europe, so no wonder SA technical sales manager Bertus Fourie firmly believes the global perception of wine maturation as we know it, is rapidly changing.
“We’re relatively new here – the company opened its doors in 2009 in South Africa – but we’re now experiencing widespread acceptance,” he says. “There’s a positive growth in the South African market with almost a 100% resales to my current clients. And the same goes for our international sales. We are having great success in the USA’s Napa Valley.”
Locally Flexcube clients include heavyweights such as Neil Ellis, DGB, Boschendal, Rooiberg, KWV, Kaapzicht, Hartenberg, Bosman Family Vineyards, Durbanville Hills and Stark Conde/MAN Vintners. Smaller producers like Eaglevlei have converted more than 95% of their maturation regime to Flexcube and BarriQ oak and, in Australia, some have already converted to 100%. Bertus believes the company’s success can be ascribed to Flexcube’s innovative approach.
“The concept is straightforward: oxygen permeable polymer cubes containing wine are coupled with true barrel oak, the exact same oak that is used to make traditional oak barrels” says Flexcube’s Managing Director, Peter Steer. “We put the oak in the wine, not the wine in the oak” he says.
“New generation barrels allow for enormous flexibility across the winemaking spectrum, from the most elite, expensive wines where sensory quality is key to more commercial wines where the focus is on cost management and cash flow. Sustainable winemaking, improved wine quality, larger volume wines’ exposure to ideal maturation and cost reductions can all be achieved with Flexcube” says Bertus Fourie.
QUALITY IS KEY
The company, which has spent millions on research and development and global patent rights, focuses mainly on quality. Bertus says that while Flexcube makes total financial sense, this is not the company’s key message. For Flexcube it’s all about wine quality and style.
Years of extensive and carefully conducted global trials have shown that the quality of wine matured in Flexcubes equals and in many cases exceeds the quality of the same wine matured in top-grade oak barrels.
“The wines from the cubes tend to be fresher. In a global market where consumers look for fruit and good integration, with the oak just being the basis for the fruit to express itself, I’ve come to realise how I used to overpower my wines with expensive oak,” are comments across the board where winemakers have conducted trials.
NO TELL-TALE TAINT
That nasty taint, a criticism so often levelled at wine stored in plastic tanks, is not an issue with Flexcube’s new generation barrels. This is due to the selection of the thermoplastic polymer Flexcube uses. It’s an ultraclean, high-density, food-grade polyethylene which is completely inert. The material’s development process required that each production step had to be considered to ensure the polymer had the right sinter density and didn’t degrade during moulding.
There’s no difference in wine chemistry parameters for wine stored in Flexcube’s new generation barrels or new top-end oak barrels. Plasticizes like Phthalates, which are a concern when plastic materials are used in wine production, are absent in Flexcube-matured wine. New generation barrels are also free of bisphenol A (BPA), an industrial chemical used to make polycarbonate plastic and epoxy resins. This is of great significance, especially in the US, China and Europe, where BPA has received negative publicity.
MIMICS OAK BARRELS
Research indicated the evolution of wine in Flexcubes and oak barrels to follow almost the same dynamics.
Three types of permeability, high, medium and low give the winemaker the ability to tailor vessels with specific oxygen permeation rates to suit a particular wine style which is a huge advantage as it allows wines with lower phenolic and tannin structures to be matched with low oxygenpermeability vessels, and wines with higher levels or requiring earlier release, to be paired with high oxygen-permeability vessels.
BarriQ oak which is used in Flexcube’s new generation barrels, is as important as the consistent oxygen permeation.
“Not all oak is the same and wine quality comes from more than oxygen alone,” Bertus says. “That’s why Flexcube partnered with acclaimed Oak Masters, Alban Petiteaux and Francois Parthon de Von in Cognac to recreate the oenological quality of barrel oak, but without the bending and hooping of traditional cooperage. This led to the creation of Flexcube’s own range of genuine barrel oak, BarriQ and LBarriQ. In barrel selection line-ups icon wines made using new generation barrels with BarriQ are now indistinguishable from top barrel-made wines.
“It’s about the quality of the oak,” Bertus says. “We’re not an oak alternative, but a cooperage. And a very good one at that. Which is why we want the industry to think of us as one of their coopers – our message is not to replace barrels, but to consider us one of your coopers. It is a winemaker’s responsibility to consider and apply techniques which not only benefit the growing costs of production, but also benefit the wine.”
Flexcube’s new generation barrels deliver consistency when it comes to oxygen permeation, toasting and oak selection. “It is undeniable that barrel differences exist. The causes are almost unavoidable in cooperage due to tree-to-tree variation, grain differences and toasting variability, which not only influence the sensorial evolution of the wine due to inconsistent extraction, but also inconsistent oxygenation. This effect can clearly be seen when older barrels are compared to new ones, or differences between barrels of the same cooperage is considered. Consistency (and predicting the evolution of wine) is one of many constants that Flexcube delivers to a valuable cuvée to the winery.”
“More than 5 000 000 litres of wine have already been matured in Flexcube’s new generation barrels around the world and the number keeps growing”, concluded Flexcube’s managing director Peter Steer.