Before the introduction of the cask, bulk wine was available in half-gallon (2.25 litre) flagons. The problem was that once the flagon was opened, the wine wouldn’t keep for long. This could lead either to a waste of wine, or excessive consumption to prevent said waste. Tom Angove looked for a solution.
According to Angove’s, Tom was inspired by the wine skins used by Greek shepherds – a system that provided “airless flow” for the wine and thus prevented oxidisation. His “improved container and pack for liquids” was patented in 1965 and the company became the first to market wine in a box.
Penfolds followed in 1967 with a bag inside a round tin, called the ‘Tablecask. It incorporated a special flow tap designed by Geelong inventor Charles Malpas. In 1970, David Wynn bought the exclusive rights to the Airlessflo tap and the bag-in-a-box technology which had been used in the USA for battery acid containers. The Wynns cask was immediately popular and the technology was soon adopted by other manufacturers.
The bag in a box allowed wine drinkers to have a glass or two, while the rest of the wine remained drinkable for weeks. The membrane in the bag is slightly permeable, however, so cask wine doesn’t keep indefinitely.
Australians have invented several names for cask wine, including “Chateau Cardboard”. The cask can also be referred to as the Dubbo Handbag (with variants of the same depending on location) or “vino collapso”. The bag itself is often called a “goon bag” or “goonie”. A game played with the bag also involves another Australian icon, the Hill’s Hoist. A goon bag is pinned to the rotary hoist while the players arrange themselves underneath. The hoist is spun and whoever is under the bag when the spinning stops is obliged to take a drink. The game is known as “goon of fortune”.
The early casks were used for cheap bulk wines, but in the 1980s smaller two-litre casks appeared with vintages identified. Over the next two decades, casks accounted for about half the volume of wine sold in Australia.
By the mid-2000s, however, cask wine was in decline and in 2005 sales of bottled wine exceeded those of cask wine for the first time. Australian Bureau of Statistics numbers show that there was a 30 per cent drop in cask sales between 2004 and 2014, while bottle sales increased by almost 40 per cent. Angove’s abandoned cask wine some years ago to focus on the premium market but, as of 2018, casks still accounted for around 25 per cent of the Australian market.