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Free Flow Wines Rolls Out RFID

The company is using EPC Gen 2 tags to track kegs of its Silvertap wines—which are sold by the glass at restaurants and bars—as they leave its cellars, as well as empty containers as they arrive and are then cleaned and refilled.
By Claire Swedberg
Sep 20, 2010There are no bottles at Free Flow Wines' Sonoma facility, where the vintner produces, stores and then ships its six varieties of Silvertap organic wines, made from grapes grown at sustainable Sonoma County vineyards. Instead, the company employs recyclable plastic kegs, thereby reducing its environmental impact, and providing restaurants and bars with a wine-by-the-glass option that challenges a tradition of wine sold in bottles. Nitrogen gas pushes the wine out of the cask, preserving the wine remaining in the keg for months. To track those casks' location and status, and to ensure they are returned, properly cleaned and refilled, the company is utilizing radio frequency identification.

Free Flow Wines' keg manufacturer embedded a UPM Raflatac DogBone RFID tag between each keg and the plastic handle that encircles its top.
Free Flow Wines opened its doors just over a year ago, and currently sells 200 to 300 kegs of Silvertap wine monthly, shipped via distributors to restaurants and bars throughout the United States (most of which have been in the San Francisco Bay area to date). As the company grows, however, it requires an automated system to track the locations of those reusable kegs. RFID technology seemed to be the solution, says Jordan Kivelstadt, Free Flow Wines' founder and director of production. The wine company is using a system provided by Mobile BIS, a division of BIS Computer Solutions Inc.

Free Flow Wines has finished tagging all of its kegs in the past few weeks, and has now begun shipping them to distributors. If the system works as planned, Kivelstadt expects it to provide an automated tracking solution that will reduce the frequency at which casks would otherwise be lost—an expensive and common occurrence for the beer and wine industry. He also intends to use the system to ensure that kegs are properly cleaned and reused in a timely manner, and that all kegs could quickly be located in the event of a recall. The company will know when a percentage of its casks are not returned by a distributor, and can then respond appropriately to investigate to whom they were shipped, and when. What's more, by knowing when the kegs are returned, the company can return deposits to distributors more quickly than with a manual count method.

When refilling a keg, the winery uses a handheld RFID reader to capture its unique ID number, and also enters the time, the date and the variety of wine it contains.
Prior to adopting RFID, the firm had considered its options and rejected the idea of placing a serialized bar-code label on each cask. "The big issue for us was we didn't want to use a bar-code system," Kivelstadt states, "because scanning bar codes on kegs would have to be done one at a time."

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