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08.25.2011

Wine in the Wilderness: Backcountry Wine Transport Techniques

platy.jpgAs many of you know, I spent the past week in the wilderness. Specifically, I was floating down the Kisaralik river in Western Alaska catching fish. To get there I had to take several flights, the final of which was in an ancient float plane that could only accommodate 1200 pounds of cargo, including any passengers.

The combination of this weight limit and the reality of needing to fit everything that six people would require to survive and enjoy seven days on a river offered a bit of a challenge: how to bring a bunch of wine.

Fly-fishing for trophy trout and salmon is good, but it's better when you can unwind with a glass of wine under the arctic skies.

The main problem with bringing wine camping with you in any situation is the weight and the bulk of the bottles themselves. Many people solve this problem by bringing boxed wines (often without the box). This approach also addresses the other problem, which is spoilage due to oxidation -- simply pouring a bottle of wine into a water bottle doesn't exactly ensure that you'll have something tasty to drink after six days. The bags that come inside boxed wines are designed to keep a vacuum as the wine is dispensed, preserving the wine for a longer time period.

But bringing boxed wine with you when you go camping means they have to drink boxed wine. But what if you want to drink something better?

Enter the PlatyPreserve wine bag.

Now I'm not in the habit of reviewing or promoting products on this site, and this article shouldn't be read as a promotion for this particular product. It just happens to be what I used. I'm sure there are other solutions that are just as good out there.

These wine bags, which I believe are designed to help people better preserve the remains of a wine bottle after drinking some of it (since you can squeeze all the air out of the bag before putting the top on). But they will hold a full 750ml bottle of wine if you want them to, allowing you to lose the weight and the bulk of the glass bottle while ensuring that the wine doesn't see much air.

They worked like a charm.

The night before we left on our trip, I pulled 7 bottles out of the cellar, popped the corks, and poured the wine into these bags. I marked them with a Sharpie so I could remember which was which, and threw them into the luggage.

They survived the iniquities and perils of checked baggage through three airports, along with the abuse of river rafting for a week. Even on the last day of the trip, after 8 days of being in the bag, the wine tasted good, with only a hint of oxidation. The bags had clearly not imparted any plasticy flavors to the wine, and they were conveniently thin enough that dunking them in the 44 degree river for a couple of minutes before dinner let them cool beautifully to cellar temperature. Of course this means that they're particularly subject to heat as well, so perhaps not the best for desert trekking.

With a three-year-old, my camping and backpacking activities have been somewhat curtailed in the past few years, but as I start spending more time in the wilderness, you can bet that these little wine bags (easily washed and dried for re-use) will be a guaranteed companion.

My only disappointment with my wine supply in Alaska was finding out that I could have brought a lot more, as we were forty pounds below our maximum weight. But then, I would have needed more bags than I possessed.

If you're a backpacker with a wine habit, or like spending time outdoors in ways that involve having to schlep all your own gear, I can't recommend this approach to wine transport highly enough.

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The Oxford Companion to Wine by Jancis Robinson Wine Grapes The World Atlas of Wine by Hugh Johnson to cork or not to cork by George Taber reading between the vines by Terry Theise adventures on the wine route by Kermit Lynch Love By the Glass by Dorothy Gaiter & John Brecher Noble Rot by William Echikson The Science of Wine by Jamie Goode The Judgement of Paris by George Taber The Wine Bible by Karen MacNeil The Botanist and the Vintner by Christy Campbell The Emperor of Wine by Elin McCoy The Taste of Wine by Emile Peynaud