Article by Andrew Spence – The Lead.
A Barossa-based company specialising in turning wine industry waste into value-add products is helping to drive Australia’s booming craft spirits sector.
Tarac Technologies is Australia’s largest producer of high-quality grape spirit, which it sells back to the wine industry or to beverage producers around the globe.
Established in 1930, Tarac has also become a driving force behind the booming craft spirits industry, and is used by many of the country’s more than 50 boutique distillers.
The company processes 40 million litres of distillation wine and lees and more than 120,000 tonnes of grape marc at its sites in Nuriootpa, Berri and Griffith to ultimately produce about 10 million litres of grape spirit a year. Chief executive officer Jeremy Blanks said high-strength grape alcohol was a core product across a number of styles at Tarac, including neutral grape spirit, brandy spirit, fortifying spirit, matured brandy and industrial spirit.
He said the craft spirit industry in Australia was still very small but, was growing fast.“We certainly see it as a small but growing and important market for us to support domestically,” he said. “There are a large number of distillers who we are working with.” Blanks said Tarac offered these new producers a cost-effective, high qualitybase spirit that was consistent. “If you’re a small to medium-sized producer, it’s very hard to do that consistently yourself,” he said. “We are a company that supports the brands – we’re a name behind the brands and our approach is to work with the customers to develop exactly what they want because being a craft market, they all want something a little bit different.”
Blanks said maintaining this consistency and distilling high-quality clean spirit were keys to preserving a strong reputation. “Grape spirit is not just grape spirit. If you’re using it for a gin, for example, you need the highest grade,” he said. “If you don’t have the very best quality, the flaws or the taints will come through in your end products.”
Despite the growth in the Australian market, Tarac exports up to 80 percent of its grape spirit, primarily to North America and Europe.“We don’t always know what beverages our export products go into but a lot of it goes into brandy and the wine industry.”
A taste for premium spirits is driving growth by value in Australia as consumers look to high-quality and craft products. Despite their increasing popularity, locally owned and produced spirit brands, led by gin and whisky, account for less than 5 per cent of the market.
One of the latest distillers to release a gin featuring Tarac spirit is Barossa Distilling Company, which launched the wine region’s first craft gin in July. Born out of winery Soul Growers, Barossa Distilling Company’s Generations Gin uses Tarac grape spirit base made from marc recycled from local wineries including Soul Growers.
Barossa Distilling Company managing director Neil Bullock said being able to source high-quality grape spirit from the region was an important part of the Generations Gin story. He said up to 80 per cent of Australian gin companies were using Tarac spirit as a base. “There’s some using cane, there’s some using grain but the majority are using Tarac grape spirit,” Bullock said. “To have that quality of spirit right on our doorstep makes things phenomenally easier. “You can go down the route of doing it yourself but you’re not going to produce a better product.”
Bullock said the new gin had been “incredibly well received”, prompting the
distillery to work on a second product – a spring/summer seasonal – which
will be released in the coming months. “We’re delighted to be in some of the hippest cocktail bars in Sydney, Melbourne and Adelaide and we’re beginning to stretch further afield now,” he said. “When those guys want it on the bar, you know you’ve got a good product.”
Tarac uses a closed loop system where it is able to repurpose 90 per cent of grape industry waste. It also produces grape juice concentrate, and processes solid residuals and filter cake to make a range of products including tartaric acid, which is a natural product from grapes used in the wine, food, pharmaceutical and chemical industries, soil conditioner for broad acre farming and stock feed. “By us managing the wine industry’s residuals we deal with what would otherwise be a significant problem and an expensive problem for the industry to deal with,” Blanks said. “We also run a very large wastewater treatment facility next to our production plant in the Barossa and that takes all of our production wastewater and cleans it up and that comes back to us for process water or is sold for irrigation. “Because we have so many different products and they all vary in terms of their supply and demand dynamics, we are constantly having to work on and balance what we are producing against what we can sell.”