From Small Things, big things grow
Where you enjoy wine is more important than the container it comes in, says WA innovator Small Things Wine.
Think big, start small. It's the formula adhered to by successful innovators globally.
However, one WA wine producer has taken the business strategy literally with WA’s first 100 per cent wine in can brand, Small Things Wine.
A self-described interrupter to the traditional wine industry, the craft wine company’s motto is that ‘small things matter’ — from its sustainability philosophy to its packaging size, and belief that ‘where you enjoy wine is more important than the container it comes in’.
“I had an idea that maybe wine in can could be a thing for WA,” founder and winemaker Ian Batt says.
“Like most West Australians I’m really active. We do a lot of caravan camping, fishing, surfing, so we're always out and wine in bottle just didn't ever seem to travel well for us.
“It just made sense that something that was more versatile, that we could carry with us, would be more suitable and there was nothing available.”
Batt, a former filmmaker, joined forces with Queenslanders Cleve Robinson and Michael Powers to launch Small Things Wine in 2019.
“We started with 1 tonne of Riesling as a first little project,” Batt says.
Today, they produce six wines — Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Pinos Gris, Rose, Pinot Noir and Shiraz — from fruit grown in the Margaret River and Frankland River regions. Its 2022 vintages produced 115 tonnes, the equivalent of 320,000 cans.
Batt says one of the founding principles of Small Things Wine is its commitment to sustainability.
“It’s cheaper to manufacture, to transport, it uses less energy to chill and it’s more recyclable,” he says of choosing to package its wine in a can rather than a bottle.
About 90 per cent of the aluminum used by Small Things Wine is already recycled, he adds. Its wine is also vegan-friendly and uses only a small amount of preservative before canning.
Making a small point
Batt says while the concept of wine in a can is a novelty, the canning process dictates that the quality of the wine must be spot on every batch.
“There’s no margin of error,” he says.
Small Things Wine picked up a gold medal for its Chardonnay at the International Can Wine Awards last year, and its Shiraz and Pinot Noir have won bronze medals at Margaret River and Perth shows.
“People seem to be hyper-critical with wine in can, and they don’t need to be,” Batt says.
“We spend a lot of money and a lot of effort making sure that we can acquire the very best fruit from Frankland River or Margaret River to make sure that when people have it they’re always pleasantly surprised and they want to keep coming back.”
Batt says the company’s domestic sales are strong, thanks to two big fast-food chain customers, and a growing list of stockists across Australia.
However, exporting has always been the long-term plan. Its first overseas shipment was sent to Singapore in December 2021 with the help of CCIWA’s International Trade and Investment Centre (ITIC).
“We always wanted to export, and it’s a really daunting task and there’s a lot of risk,” Batt says.
“On an international level, the Chamber of Commerce has helped us extensively in getting into new markets. That was off the back of strong contacts and relationships through (ITIC manager) Michael Carter.”
Batt says as a disruptor there is no “path before us, so we’ve got no way of figuring out how we navigate our way through this business”.
“Small businesses need all the assistance they can, so you need partners that are going to look out for your best interests. We want to leverage other people’s knowledge and experience, so that’s what the Chamber of Commerce does.”
Next up, Small Things’ is sending its first shipment of Chardonnay to Sweden in August this year, with the UK, Europe, South Korea and Japan markets to follow.
The company is also eyeing new products in sparkling wine and low or zero-alcohol wine.
“People don't need to be scared of wine in can,” Batt says. “We're not a bulk wine, we're a small batch. It's made with a lot of attention and a lot of cost to make sure that it's high quality.
"As in the name, it’s a small idea that's hopefully going to be a bigger thing in the future.”
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