Timber Supply Issues Are Causing Headaches for the Wine Industry

From boxes to barrels, getting wood — especially quickly and at a decent price — can be a struggle right now.

Over the course of the pandemic, we've seen all sorts of shortages: meat and ketchup and Caffeine-Free Coke — and even the refrigerators you store all that stuff in. Luckily, we don't eat wood, because shifts in supply and demand have also caused the price of lumber to skyrocket around the globe. But that doesn't mean the timber shortage isn't also hitting the food and beverage world: Winemakers are reportedly struggling to score all the wood they're looking for.

The most obvious use of wood in winemaking is the barrel-aging process — but many wineries also use wood to package their most precious bottles, and this week, The Drinks Business spoke to a Chilean winery that was struggling to even find these upmarket boxes. "We have had some difficulty finding wooden cases," Manuel Louzada, the managing director of Chile's Almaviva winery, told the site, "but luckily we started packing the wines earlier than usual — by the end [of this process] the number of cases in the market was small."

A lumber cutting a tree with a chain saw
Taiyou Nomachi/Getty Images

And that's not to say getting the aforementioned oak barrels is easy. In August, Australian Grape and Wine chief executive Tony Battaglene was lamenting his wood situation down under. "French oak is difficult to get and even more difficult to get on a boat, and the price of freight is really starting to cause problems," he was quoted as saying.

And as he implied, scoring oak can be a pain even when supplies are fine. Australia's Grapegrower & Winemaker magazine spoke with Grapeworks, a company that handles oak for Australian wineries, which said the shipping container shortage is creating troublesome delays. "The main problem facing us is getting orders into the factories early enough to ensure delivery before vintage," Neil Addicott, who handles purchasing for Grapeworks, was quoted as saying. "Of course, our customers don't know what they are going to need so far in advance of vintage so there is a lot of research and risk required from both our clients and ourselves."

It all adds up to a lot of headaches, if not necessarily a future shortage of wine. "The rising costs of raw materials and shipping are going to be a problem for us as an industry," Addicott added, "but we are doing our best to contain these by shipping more efficiently where possible."

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