Hong Kong is a hot place and the shipment and logistics of wines are a particular concern. A few years ago, an article by Lisa Perrotti-Brown MW led us to a technology company called eProvenance. eProvenance make small tracking devices that allow us to attach them to our wine shipments so that we can see how our wines are feeling (temperature wise) throughout their journeys from New York for example to Hong Kong. I am proud to say that we were the very first to start using them here and I only know of a few more good merchants who use them now.

Here I speak with the experts on wine provenance about the general care of wine and their specific technology.

eProvenance sensors in a case

MC: What do you know about how temperature affects wine?

eProvenance: What temperatures damage the wine? It’s common practice to simply look at the cork and capsule for signs of damage. If the cork has pushed out or the wine seeped through the cork, then the wine is declared cooked.  However with little scientific data on the actual chemical change to the wine at various temperatures, eProvenance commissioned a controlled experiment conducted by ETS Labs in California.

  • ETS Labs cooked wine to 30°C, 40°C and 50°C degrees simulating the heating and cooling of day/night transport.
  • ETS Labs concluded that cumulative exposure to 30⁰C for more than 18 hours changed the taste, changed the color, flattened the aromas, reduced the SO2, and increased Ethyl Carbamate. In white wines, turbidity noticeably increased, and in red wines, tannins decreased.

“In general the professional tasters picked up a decline in the brightness of the aroma before the cork pushed. Therefore we cannot rely on the cork pushing as a metric of wine quality.”
~ Eric Hervé, ETS Labs

MC: How do you look at a bottle of wine and see symptoms of improper care?

eProvenance: There are several tell-tale signs of improper care:

  • The cork, be it pushed slightly in or slightly out, is a sign that the wine inside the bottle has expanded and/or contracted by fluctuations in temperature, and as a result dislodged the cork from its original position.
  • Leakage down the side of the bottle is another sign that wine has expanded due to temperature fluctuations, and caused the wine to push up and through the sides of the cork.
  • Heavily damaged labels are generally a sign of rough handling or high humidity levels, causing the label to wrinkle or detach itself

MC: However pristine labels on older wines are sometimes a warning sign as well since 30+ year old bottles can’t always have perfect labels.  And if they do, one might re-examine how authentic these bottles are.  In terms of leakage in older bottles, we do see more leakage in many older German wines for example that is probably due to being filled too high.  Yet they still taste delicious.

eProvenance:  Yes true.

MC: What do fill levels tell us about a bottle?

eProvenance: Fill levels otherwise known as ullage can be a result of several factors.  Some that pertain to how the bottle was filled and others that pertain to how a bottle was cared for. In most bottles, fill levels are measured at bottling – generally between 10 and 15mm of air space between the cork and the wine.  This allows for some expansion room when the wine is subjected to fluctuating temperatures.
In older bottles wine breathes through the cork as it ages, adding complexity mellowing tannins and lowering the fill level.  Some wine is absorbed by the cork as a part of the normal ageing process.  However, low fill levels can be a result of a dry storage environment causing the wine to slowly evaporate.  They can also be a result of wine leakage due to a faulty cork or high temperatures.

MC:  How long does it take a bottle to get over its bottle shock or flight fatigue?

eProvenance:  Unfortunately much of this information remains highly anecdotal with little to no scientific evidence.  Wine producers themselves share different views on this issue as well.  What we do know is that if a wine suffers from severe temperature shocks during transport this creates a chemical change that is irreversible.  Heat speeds up chemical reactions and therefore can cause the wine to age more rapidly.

MC: In your experience, what are the best methods of shipping wine?  What questions should we be asking our shipper?
eProvenance:  The best methods to adopt when shipping wine are those that assure that your wine is well cared for from its departure point to the point of arrival.  Many problems in wine transport occur during transfer phases, loading and unloading, and clearance procedures. Therefore you need to make sure your logistics partner perfectly coordinates all these different phases of transport.

There are several solutions to assuring your wine is transported in the best conditions, which range in cost and efficiency.

  • The best solution remains refrigerated transport all the way through and making sure that your refrigerated unit remains plugged in during all phases.
  • Insulated containers and blankets can provide protection from sharp temperature fluctuations and can provide thermal protection during short trips (less than 1 week).   However there are restrictions to consider:
    • Recommend that the wine is cool when placed inside the insulated unit
    • Avoid shipping when it is very hot outside
    • Once it gets hot, it stays hot
  • Cool packs which can provide protection during short trips, in addition to thermal blankets
  • In general avoid shipping during summer months where high temperatures increase heat damage.

MC:  Can one be really  sure though?  I guess this is why we use your technology.  So that we can monitor our wine shipments from the source until they arrive in our climate controlled warehouse here in Hong Kong.  We can track all segments of the transport and storage process and let our logistics team know how they’ve done.

Who else uses your product?

eProvenance:  We provide our services and expertise to all sectors of the wine industry.  We work with wine producers around the globe, in Europe, California, South America and Australia and New Zealand, to monitor cases of wine from their point of origin. We also work with importers and distributors in the UK, US and Asian markets as well as high end retailers.  We have recently developed our activity with transporters and logistics providers as well.  The eProvenance System uses high-tech RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) sensors and a secure, online global database to monitor wine shipment temperatures across distribution channels.

Related:  Wine Spectator, Where in the World Is My Wine?