Chateau Cardboard on a clothesline, gooning and a short story of Australian wine
Did you ever hear of a goon bag or goon sack? I didn’t until recently an Australian guy told me about a drinking game called Goon-A-Fortune, when I actually asked him a question about the domestic market for Australian wine. Pardon my ignorance, but the word “goon”? “Never heard of the goon bag? No! “I am actually talking about a quintessential Australian drinking game, where one or more silver goon sacks or bags are pegged to a rotary hoist clothes line. All players sit or stand underneath the rotary clothes line while the clothes line spins. When the clothes line comes to rest the player under whom the goon bag has stopped must drink the content of the goon. Besides when the wine bag is empty you can inflate the bladder and use it as a pillow. Very handy when you need some rest after the game.” He continued: “I stopped “gooning” after my student days, but I must confess (to the horror of my wine friends), that I still drink chateau cardboard every once and a while.”
Goon bag or goon sack
Invented by a fellow called Thomas Angove back in 1965 in South Australia (now celebrating 50 years) the goon bag or sack is a silver pillow or Polyethylene bag that generally contains from 2 to 4.5 litres of cheap wine or plonk, within a cardboard box. That’s why wine in a box is often called “Chateau Cardboard”. Produced to serve the mass market, cask wine was made in abundance and sold in cardboard boxes. The advantage of a Goon Bag is the fact that wine won’t quickly oxidise when you open the bag. Nevertheless cardboard wines are best drunk fairly quickly, although the bag will keep the wine fresh for a few weeks or so. The Goon Bag is not suitable for ageing wine and is cheaper to produce than a bottle. There is an added usefulness to the goon bag too; if it all has been a bit too much for you, the remains of the silver vessel can be inflated for use as a pillow.
Fortified wine was king up to the 1960s
As the goon wine bag seems to be very Australian, the start of the wine industry was not, as Australia had no native grape varieties suitable for wine-making. Grapes were imported from Europe. The first known record of wine production in Australia, near Sydney, dates from 1791. Settlers gradually established vineyards in New South Wales, Tasmania, Western Australia, Victoria and later on South Australia in the 19th century. Much of the produced wines were shipped back to the United Kingdom and often fortified (Muscats and Tokays from the Rutherglen region and a Sherry and Port style wines). To further stimulate the wine industry the British government allowed preferential duty for Empire wines in 1925, which meant that Australia intensified the export of fortified wines. Up to the 1960s, the fortified category accounted for 80% of the Australian wine industry.
Australia’s position in the wine in the world
In today’s world Australia is the fifth largest exporter of wine in the world with 8% share of the global wine trade by volume. 75% of Australian wine exports go to four countries, the UK 35%, US 27%, Canada 7%, and China 6%. By value the top four countries total 69% of the export market: the US 24%, UK 22%, China 13%, and Canada 10%. Australia’s key competitors in the global wine trade are Italy, Spain and France in Europe, Chile in South America and California in the USA. The closest competitor in terms of volume is Chile. Similar to Chile Australia wine is also a result of low cost production, good quality land, irrigation and commitment to premium varieties, such as Chardonnay, Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon. Shiraz dominates the red/black crushed grapes in 2015 and Chardonnay dominates the white crush in the same year.
Lack of focus on domestic wine consumers
The industry’s concentration on expanding export markets created a lack of focus on developing new domestic wine consumers, though the opportunities were there due to population growth in prime wine consuming age groups and growth in the dining out market. Increasing popularity of the Mediterranean diet and more individualised, higher end beverages gave the Australians a taste for finer wines. In short: consumers are drinking less but drinking better, trading up to premium wines.
The consumption of Australian’s fine wines grew significantly in the past 30 years, though doesn’t account for more than 3% of the market. Small boutique wineries sprang up throughout Australia and winery tours became a must for tourists. For these people Australia’s wine industry represents more than just any industry, it represents a lifestyle. Not very dissimilar to the way the “gooners” or ‘goonmonkeys’ think that the goon wine bag is not only a drink, but a way of life. They both represent different segments of the domestic market at the opposite end of the price scale. Australian produced wine accounts for 84.8% of the total domestic sales in 2014. If you split this by container type, soft pack (goon bag or otherwise) takes a 32.4% share of the domestic Australian wine sales. About one of every three glasses of wine drunk in Australia comes out of a goon bag.
Is gooning still as popular as ever?
The Australian wine industry’s Vision 2025 sees the domestic market as critical to the Australian wine industry’s long term success. On the other side the government starts to carry out anti-alcohol campaigns. If the wine industry wants to keep up with the domestic market, it needs to work on the image and acceptance of the wine. This can be done by highlighting that wine goes very well with food and attributes to personal health (anti-oxidants and all). Provided that wine is drunk in moderation and has quality. This means that also the goon bag needs to adapt to changing consumer demands. Wine companies using the goonbag start a campaign ‘Ask For Cask’ and now release upmarket wines in smaller goonbags (1.5 and 2-litre) to better preserve the freshness of the wine. Goon might be Australia’s most versatile beverage solution, and in 2015 still as popular as ever, but my gooning days are over before they even started. Until now I didn’t miss “gooning” at all.