It was tempting to write about wine industry track and trace as a film noir (or a film pinot noir, as it were). There would be clandestine grape-stomping, midnight rendezvous in terraced vineyards, rogue chemists, cases stuffed with euros and dollars, sting operations and FBI raids, people taken away in handcuffs. In the closing scene, the one-time victim would celebrate triumph over those who did them wrong.
This much drama for wine industry track and trace? Yes, though it’s about much more than the serious work of fighting counterfeits and illicit trade. It’s about using technology to build provenance, streamline operations, and satisfy customers.
The first part of our story covers the basics of wine industry track and trace; the second part gets into specifics. Let’s start our investigation.
Seriously, why do we need wine industry track and trace?
Not all supply chains are created equal. For example, if you read our Seafood Transparency Trilogy, you know a large, geographically diverse, and fragmented supply chain poses many challenges.
Plus, some products are more complex than others, which means they have more complex supply chains. From raw materials/ingredients to what consumers expect (or demand), supply chains vary wildly depending on what’s being made, where it’s being delivered, and even “the culture” of the product.
As you might have guessed, wine has a complicated supply chain. GS1, in its 2009 Wine Supply Chain Traceability Guideline, said, “The wine supply chain has always been complex and fragmented and with more distant suppliers and ever-more demanding customers, the unique characteristics of this supply chain bring challenges to implementing an effective traceability system.”
If you wanted to get technical, you could argue that there are actually two wine supply chains.
First, there’s a supply chain for “table wine” or “mass market wine.” Depending on where you live, you’ll find these in your local grocery store, in a wine/spirits shop, or in a state-owned store (an “ABC Store,” “package store,” or “state store”). This supply chain has many actors and the product changes hands many times. The product itself changes dramatically as it moves from raw materials to a finished good. Stakeholders typically have access to technology, including track and trace technology.
The second supply chain is for “fine wines,” which are produced in much smaller quantities than table wines. Though these vintages are sold in “regular” wine shops, they’re often reserved for boutique settings frequented by aficionados with deep pockets (or at least bigger budgets they’ve set aside for their passion). The steps of production and distribution may be very localized, resulting in a supply chain with far fewer actors than for mass-produced wine. For example, a winery in Burgundy, France, might do everything from growing the grapes and bottling to distributing pallets, cartons, or cases to local retailers. Because of their size, they may not have access to the latest track and trace technology.
So, why do we need wine industry track and trace? Here are the key reasons:
- It’s a complex, fragmented supply chain.
- There are diverse ingredients and raw materials, ranging from fertilizers and water to bottles, corks, and caps — and, of course, grapes.
- Wine is heavily regulated.
- Consumers of all stripes want the full provenance for what they’re drinking.
Wine industry track and trace will improve operations for all, ensure compliance with regulations, and satisfy consumer demand for detailed information and transparency.
Two other reasons for wine industry track and trace
Like other industries, wine has business and professional organizations for its supply chain stakeholders. There are trade publications and trade shows. It does big promotions. It has all the trappings of a large, important industry.
Unlike other industries, however, wine has a following. It is more than a product. Wine is a global culture unto itself. And this means there are aspects to its history and very existence that have ramifications for the supply chain.
For starters, there’s a thriving counterfeit market and illicit trade. Granted, this isn’t unique to wine, but the intricacies of the production process and the many facets of supply and demand make it an especially daunting problem. These stories from 2020 give an idea of its scope:
Furthermore, there’s a thriving, passionate collectors’ scene around the world. There’s a huge private trade, in-person and online clubs, mega-exclusive events and dinners, and auctions with nosebleed prices. And there’s lots of money changing hands. A desirable bottle of wine can cost as much as a car. Or a house. The 2019 auction market alone was valued at more than $520 million.
As a cautionary tale that combines the scourge of counterfeiting with the rarefied air of the highest echelons of the wine elite, there’s the fascinating case of Rudy Kurniawan. If you don’t know the story, start here. You might want to grab a glass of wine — just make sure you know where it really came from.
So, counterfeiting and illicit trade are major problems, including in collectors’ circles, where today’s wines are tomorrow’s pricey classics. Provenance, therefore, is vitally important across the supply chain, which is another compelling reason for wine industry track and trace.
The wine supply chain, defined
The wine supply chain has the same core stakeholders as other supply chains: producers, distributors, and retailers. In its 2009 Wine Supply Chain Traceability Guideline, GS1 says these can be characterized as large companies with “significant technology requirements”; small- to medium-sized enterprises, many with niche specialty products and branding; and “support companies that provide materials, transportation, storage, and other services that are also impacted by traceability.”
GS1 further divides the supply chain into seven stakeholders: grape growers, wine producers, bulk distributors, transit cellars, fillers/packers, distributors, and retail stores. We describe these below, including their roles in wine industry track and trace.
Supply chain actors and their roles in wine industry track and trace
Ingredients and final products can change hands many, many times, so all actors must keep meticulous records and follow GS1 labeling standards to ensure wine industry track and trace. The requirements do get complicated, but there are a few fundamentals to keep in mind:
- Global Location Numbers (GLNs)
- Global Trade Item Numbers (GTINs)
- Serial Shipping Container Codes (SSCCs)
- Application Identifiers (AIs)
- GS1-128 barcodes
- Human-readable codes
- Universal Product Codes (UPCs) and European Article Numbers (EANs)
Grapegrowers are responsible for the production, harvest, and delivery of grapes. Wine industry track and trace begins with them, so they must keep detailed records about receiving, shipping, and the vineyard itself. The latter includes the type of vines, annual production record, origin and chemical content of water used for cleaning and irrigation, and treatments (e.g., fertilizers, pesticides, fungicides).
Key data for track and trace describes the “plot” or “block” where grapes are grown. This land is identified with a GLN allocated by the grower and should include five pieces of information:
- The vineyard’s name and address
- The identifier for the plot
- Size of the plot/number of vines
- Vine variety
- Contact details
Every shipment of grapes the growers send should have a GLN and the date of harvest so the receiving winery can have this provenance for the wine it makes.
Wine producers receive the grapes and produce, manufacture, and/or blend wine products. Key wine industry track and trace data follows the grapes as they’re transformed into wine, so producers must keep accurate records of the procedures they use to make every wine. This includes:
- The grape growers’ GLNs
- The wine producer’s own GLN
- The location(s) at the winery where grapes or juice are processed, including de-stemming, crushing, chilling, and pressing
- A GTIN for each product
- An SSCC for shipping containers (e.g., tanker trucks)
- An AI (315n) to indicate the quantity dispatched in liters
- An AI (10) to indicate the batch number
Bulk distributors receive wine in bulk from wine producers and send it to transit cellars. They also store, dispatch, process, sample, and analyze bulk wine. The wine they receive has been identified with a GTIN and a batch number; like their downstream and upstream trading partners, they must keep records about what they receive and dispatch, including recording the SSCCs and AIs associated with bulk wine containers.
Bulk distributors are identified with GLNs. Bulk wine containers, such as storage tanks, may hold only one product, or they may hold mixed products with mixed batch numbers; these have different labeling requirements. Generally, they’re identified with an SSCC allocated by the bulk distributor. When put into barcode form, the SSCC is “represented in a GS1-128 symbol.” The containers may also require a GTIN and AIs for batch and quantity.
Transit cellars are responsible for the receipt, storage, dispatch, processing, sampling, and analysis of bulk wine, plus keeping records about what they receive and dispatch. They may be part of a filler/packer company at the same site or at another location. They can also be a third-party service provider.
For wine industry track and trace, every container a transit cellar sends must be identified with an SSCC, a GTIN, a batch number, and the quantity of wine in liters. This information is encoded in a GS1-128 barcode and in human readable form. To ensure track and trace in the wine industry, transit cellars must record every SSCC, GTIN, and batch number of every item they ship.
Fillers/Packers receive containers of bulk wine from a bulk distributor or a transit cellar. Their job is to put the wine into smaller containers, such as bottles, bags, kegs, and barrels, then send cases, cartons, pallets, or “other logistics units” to finished goods distributors. For wine industry track and trace, here are how these units should be labeled:
- Cases and cartons sold at retail are identified with a GTIN and a barcode with an EAN/UPC symbol. A lot number encoded in a GS1-128 barcode should also applied as an “add-on.” Cases and cartons that will not be sold at retail are identified with AIs and GTINs encoded in a GS1-128 barcode.
- Pallets are marked with SSCCs. Filler/Packers can also include a GS1-128 barcode with AIs containing other information that maintains the parent-child relationship between the pallet and its contents.
- Point-of-sale units (e.g., bottles, cans, jugs, bags in boxes) are identified with a GTIN and have a barcode with an EAN/UPC symbol for scanning at the time of purchase. In the EU and elsewhere, units must display a lot number assigned during the filling process. This information can be in human readable form.
Fillers/Packers also receive the “dry goods” that come in contact with wine, such as bottles, caps, and corks, and must label them with SSCCs, GTINs, and batch numbers. Fillers/Packers also have to record other information about dry goods, such as the water used to wash filling equipment and any chemicals used for cleaning.
Distributors receive, store, and dispatch finished goods to retailers. They are also responsible for inventory management, and may repack or re-label goods at a retailer’s request.
If cases, cartons, and pallets are not broken up before being shipped to a retailer, the identification from the filler/packer (e.g., SSCC, GTIN, EAN/UPC symbols) does not change. If items are repacked, each gets a new SSCC. (The original SSCC must be crossed out or obscured). Distributors must record the SSCC, GTIN, and lot number of the items they ship and link these to the GLN of the recipient.
The “Traceability data and GS1 Standards” for items shipped by distributors are as follows (quoted verbatim):
- SSCC of the inbound pallet and GLN of its supplier
- SSCC of the outbound pallet, either unmodified or newly created
- Links between the SSCC of the newly created pallet and the SSCC of the pallets used in its creation and, if applicable, the GTIN and lot number of each carton shipped to the retailer
- GLN of the retail location to which the pallet is dispatched
Retailers receive wine from the finished goods distributor for retail sale. The wine is usually delivered in cases, cartons, and pallets, and records of their SSCCs and lot numbers must be kept. Individual units sold to the final consumer are identified with a GTIN-13 allocated by the brand owner. UPCs or EANs ensure products are scanned/traced all the way to sale to consumers. If a retailer returns goods to a supplier, it must ensure it doesn’t break the wine industry track and trace links that have been established.
In our faux noir introduction, we said the victim triumphed in the end. What we meant was that wine industry track and trace protects everyone in the supply chain, from winemakers and their trading partners to everyday consumers and auction houses.
Producers can prove the provenance of their ingredients and final products. They can create a story about their wines, connect with consumers, and build and safeguard their brand reputation. Distributors and retailers can maintain the chain of ownership and help ensure only genuine products make it to market, all while streamlining and automating logistics. Consumers can know more about the wines they buy, such as where the grapes were grown, when they were harvested, and if they were treated with pesticides. For fine wines that may become collectors’ items, provenance can be “passed down” as a bottle or case or entire cellar ages, providing much-needed proof that a wine is what it’s label says it is.
As the leader in track and trace technology, rfxcel can help. Our award-winning rfxcel Traceability System is perfectly suited for wine industry track and trace. For example, our Raw Materials Traceability and Finished Goods Traceability solutions create the entire product provenance with detailed data about every aspect of production. Our Integrated Monitoring solution rides along with products as they move through the supply chain, protecting them from environmental excursions, diversion, and theft. With our MobileTraceability app, you can see and control your supply chain from virtually anywhere in the world.
Talk with one of our supply chain experts today to learn more about what we can do. And check back soon for Part 2 of our wine industry track and trace series.