Recognizing light’s damaging effect on the aromas in sparkling wine, Slovenia’s Radgonske Gorice winery is producing its new Untouched by Light sparkling wine in the dark—and using light-proof beverage packaging to protect the product from light during distribution. The package is a black glass bottle inside a black vacuum-sealed foil bag.
Light, including fluorescent lighting, has been shown to reduce citrus aromas in sparkling wine and create a light-struck aroma characterized by notes of cooked cabbage, rubber or wet dog. To eliminate all light from production of Untouched by Light wine, Radgonske Gorice starts by harvesting Chardonnay grapes at night, when the moon is new (the darkest nights).
The wine is also produced in darkness and then filled into 99.8% black bottles and aged in total darkness in cellars built within the caves of Radgona, Slovenia. When the sparkling wine has aged sufficiently, up to three years, Radgonske Gorice vacuum-seals each bottle in a black foil bag.
To keep lighting requirements minimal, workers wear night-vision glasses while harvesting the grapes, rotating bottles in the cellars and vacuum-sealing the bottles.
The first bottles of Untouched by Light wine will ship in spring 2020, and the winery currently is taking pre-orders. Klavdija Topolovec Špur, enologist at Radgonske Gorice, answers some questions from Packaging Digest about the wine’s packaging and production.
Klavdija Topolovec Špur stands by the packaging decisions, despite criticism from skeptics.
How did Radgonske Gorice come up with the idea for the packaging?
Špur: We approached Bruketa&Žinić&Grey creative agency wanting a new label design for our sparkling wine. During the process of their research, they came across Ann Noble’s “Sensory Study of the Effect of Fluorescent Light on a Sparkling Wine and Its Base Wine” in the American Journal of Enology and Viticulture. This was an insight that led them to the idea of a completely new sparkling wine, Untouched by Light. We liked their idea and decided to make it happen.
Why is the Untouched by Light bottle 99.8% black rather than 100% black?
Špur: Due to impurities in the glass.
Is there a coating or shrink sleeve on the bottle that helps make it impenetrable to light?
Špur: The glass bottle is put inside a vacuum bag, which completely protects it from the light.
We are discussing additional protection of the glass bottle while it is still in the cave [prior to vacuum-sealing].
How is the wine packaged and where?
Špur: We are packaging the wine in Gornja Radgona in Slovenia. We will use the same equipment [that we use for our other wines].
Is the vacuum-sealing process also conducted in total darkness?
Špur: There is minimum lighting for this part, because great precision is needed. And since the glass bottle is already black, and with probable additional protection, it is not possible for the light to penetrate.
Did you need to invest in new packaging equipment for this second layer of packaging?
Is there any risk of the bottle breaking during vacuum-sealing?
Špur: No…only if we are clumsy.
How do you ensure employee safety as they work in the dark?
Špur: We will have minimum lighting during the vacuuming process. We probably won’t be needing night-vision glasses for the next harvest, as well.
Špur: It turned out they are not necessary because visibility is good enough on clear-sky nights.
Where will Untouched by Light sparkling wine be sold?
Špur: The wine will be available to anyone in the world who orders it online, and we also plan to distribute it via the same channels as our other brands, focusing on the United Kingdom and United States.
How much will it cost, per bottle?
Špur: The price will be €100.
How have consumers reacted to the Untouched by Light concept?
Špur: There is more interest than we had expected. Of course, there are always skeptics saying this is only a marketing stunt, but we strongly stand behind the concept and the reasons for it. Our experience, as well as research, show this idea is justified.