Free Flow Wines are betting big on the continued growth of alternative sustainable wine packaging with an investment of around $10 million in a new state-of the-art 58,000 square foot facility in Sonoma. The facility is designed from the ground up to support Free Flow Wines projected growth of both their kegging and canning business.
From its beginning 10 years ago, quality has been a core focus for Free Flow Wines. That meant getting high quality wines to fill their kegs and making sure that they preserved that quality for the end consumer, delivering the best possible wine experience for wine by the glass.
Rich Bouwer at Free Flow Wines facility
Building on that promise, their new facility includes a temperature controlled cellar with a 210,000 gallon storage capacity built with the same high quality stainless steel tanks as the wineries making the wine; allowing them to have secure bulk wine storage for on demand filling.
“We see the number of tap handles going in increasing every year; more hotels, more restaurants,” says Richard Bouwer, Chief Operating Officer at Free Flow Wines. “Once someone has tried wine on tap, they never want to go back. Every restaurant venue we see go to wine on tap wants to stay there.”
Free Flow Wines set a new record this year with 21,000 kegs filled in one month, but the new highly automated kegging line with advanced robotics is geared for even more growth with a 150 kegs cleaning and filling capacity per hour or 1.1 million per year. “It allows us to double and triple the number of kegs,” says Jordan Kivelstadt.
Kivelstadt founded Free Flow Wines with Dan Donahoe ten years ago, but just announced that he will be stepping down from day to day leadership of the company, but remain in an active role on the board of directors, and he is still passionate about the mission of the company. “Quality, innovation, sustainability, those are what we care about, those are the core of the mission of Free Flow and what I think makes us one of the most dynamic companies in the wine industry right now.”
Three years ago, Free Flow Wines expanded from kegging into canning wine as well. Starting with 1,500 case per month, they are now at 50,000 and on the way to 150,000. Their faith in the category is underlined by the investment in a new fully automated canning line representing about half their $10 million investment in the new facility.
Canned wine currently represents about 20% of Free Flow Wines business with the rest being kegging and draft service, but they expect that share to double in the next year. “We see cans growing very quickly; this year we’ll do three times as many cans as we did last year, about 600,000 cases of cans. Next year we see well above a million cases,” says Bouwer. “We think inside of 5 years, this could be 40 million cases, this could easily be 10% of the wine category.”
And Bouwer believes that the evidence to support his projection of cans’ continued rise is there in the market. “The consumer loves wine in cans, it’s easy, it’s convenient, it’s a high quality closure, [and] we’ve seen the same take-up in other industries, whether cold coffee or craft beer.”
Jordan Kivelstadt explaining the quality control of cans
The new canning line is highly automated with a fill rate of 300 cans per minute allowing for a capacity increase from 50,000 cases per month on their old line to month to 400,000 cases per month.
The line has five quality control checks along the way, including weighing and gamma ray measuring to ensure a quality product. “Our canning line will be the highest quality canning line in the wine space. When that can comes out, we know it’s a good can and nobody else is doing that in wine today,” says Bouwer.
The new line has a 5,000 case minimum per run, but the old canning line is still operational as well and offers an entry point for wineries looking to try out cans.
By Kim Badenfort