Boxed wine is one of Australia’s most extraordinary contributions to the wine industry, also known as carton, bag-in-box, or more commonly, goon (de flagon).
Australian winemaker Thomas Angrove patented the design of a one-gallon polyethylene bladder in a cardboard box in 1965, inspired by the ancient method of storing wine in goat skins. The first model required drinkers to cut off a corner of the plastic bag and reseal it with a special grade peg (used to carry battery acid).
History of goon
Once a faucet was designed in the 1970s, Goon quickly climbed to account for around 50% of wine sales in Australia. Back in the days when restaurants sold “house wine,” goon was known to be primarily economical and convenient, more associated with low-budget families and low-income people.
Wine in the 1970s was still seen as meant for special occasions and barrels may have helped change that. Thirty years later, between 2004 and 2014, there was a 30% drop in barrel sales but a 40% increase in bottled wines. As domestic sales declined, the concept of the keg (and its contents) were exported.
Goon has come a long way from its origins and earliest reputation. The visual appeal of the box and the bag has evolved, as has the narrative that the wine label communicates about history, geography, identity.
As the environmental benefits of canned wine have become more important to new consumers, the quality of its contents has also improved. Jilly Wine Company’s Chateau Cardboard Red, at $ 71 for three liters, is a far cry from the gallon packs of table white, table red, port, mild sherry, and Muscat launched in 1965.
There are good reasons Australians love goon, and there are good reasons why love grows.
Whether picnic or camping, the goon is infinitely easier to transport than glass. It is suitable for a lifestyle.
Lighter packaging also reduces carbon dioxide emissions, as most of it during the wine production process is transported.
A life cycle analysis of bag-in-box packaging shows that they are also more durable than glass bottles.
While plastic – the bag and the faucet – can present disposal problems, the ratio of raw material to volume of contents, manufacturing process, lightweight packaging and transportation make it a better choice for environmental reasons, which is why goon is becoming more popular and global choice.
Market research has shown barrel wine sales jumped 21% in the four weeks to April 2020, explained by a combination of people confined to home and concerned about money.
Once purchased, if you drink in moderation, you can avoid going out drinking wine for longer, which was safe and convenient during Covid restrictions.
Contrary to popular opinion, goon is not just the choice of people who might want to drink a lot. The vacuum bag keeps wine fresh for up to six weeks after opening.
Cheaper wine is less taxed. Wine is taxed on its market value, and not on its alcohol content, through the wine equalization tax. This supports a health argument against goon, to serve no interest except the alcoholic beverage industry when there is ample evidence of harm from alcohol. Increasing taxes have been found to reduce alcohol consumption and harm.
Goon doesn’t necessarily equate to cheap wine or three day growth. The raw material used to produce it is also cheaper than glass packaging. Apart from Iceland and Norway, Australia has the highest alcohol tax rates among OECD countries. There is a range of implications for the price of wine.
Snobbery and wine in a bag
Quality is often associated with price, generating a stigma around the goon (evident on the label). There is a lot of snobbery in the wine industry.
Wine is associated both with wealth and status (an expensive bottle) and with being poor (crazy); the age corresponds in the same way. What does a teenager know about the fruity taste of lexia or moselle besides sweetness? But there is a flaw in this argument which is based on a combination of factors – quality, environment, nostalgia, cost, lifestyle. âIt took a monumental shift in perceptions of wine to make screw caps popular and mainstream,â according to University of South Australia wine marketing expert Professor Larry Lockshin.
The average wine consumer associates boxed wine with cheap wine, a stereotype that deserves to be dismissed. It is time that our secret love was no longer so secret.
Australians can become more honest about their love of goon now that it is gaining popularity elsewhere. Boxed wine accounts for around 50% of the wine consumed in Australia, Norway and Sweden. The French have been boxing Bordeaux since 1997, and 44% of the wine sold in French supermarkets is packaged in cardboard.
Youth and nostalgia
Goon hymns, goon-of-fortune and goon bag pillows are always on hand, but the quality of the wine has matured with us. Brisbane author Edwina Shaw drew on her personal experience in her 2019 novel Thrill Seekers:
Our crusade. We wanted to be the coolest, and that meant being able to drink everyone under the table. So we made a pact to drink a four-liter barrel of wine a day, each, until we won. Moselleâ¦ We weren’t just any old drinkers – we were the âGoon Babiesâ.
When I arrived in Brisbane in 1984, the Goon Babies were legends; funny, intelligent and creative thrill seekers. Shaw’s book also traces self-destruction and loss. I understand the irony of writing so cavalier about the jerk we could afford as students. But it would be snobbish and ageist to suggest that packaging alone produces the wine or the problems that might lead us to drink, or that alcohol problems are the preserve of the poor and the young.
Generation X drinkers are now in their 40s and 50s, and many of us will not be able to stand Moselle. We have to accept the fact that wine in a bag cannot be aged either.
But as Colin Alevras, sommelier at New York restaurant DBGB’s, puts it: âThe wine bottle is a technology from the end of the 18th century. It is time to move on.”