Trio of Perth small businesses combine to fill sanitiser need

Ferngrove Wine Group, Whipper Snapper Distillery and LabWest have banded together to fill an urgent need for medical grade hand sanitiser which is in critically short supply.

Ferngrove Wine Group, Whipper Snapper Distillery and LabWest have banded together to fill an urgent need for medical grade hand sanitiser which is in critically short supply.

This unique collaboration sees three Western Australian business combining their resources, skills and expertise to address the issue, whilst boosting local production through a WA-based supply chain.

Ferngrove Wines in Frankland River in the Great Southern Region of Western Australia will supply 15,000 litres of wine per week that will be distilled by East Perth whiskey makers Whipper Snapper Distillery to strip the alcohol and then distil it again to create pure, clean ethanol. Chemists at LabWest will oversee the mixing of the ethanol with other required high-quality ingredients compliant with World Health Organisation standards, to make the finished product, testing each batch before distribution.

Brad Whisson from Labwest reviewing the sanitiser

Ferngrove Wine Group Managing Director Andrew Blythe said that the Western Australian wine group is donating a significant supply of wine in the spirit of collaboration for the greater good.

“Ferngrove Wine Group is a significant WA producer and we are fortunate enough to be in a position to help, so that’s what we’ve decided to do,” Mr Blythe said.

“Given export markets have come to a standstill, we have the opportunity to supply a large quantity of Semillon and Sauvignon Blanc which was destined for export markets. We are not sure when these markets will return so we feel the best thing to do right now is help out the community in this time of crisis.

“It feels really good to be involved in a collaborative project where everyone is in it for the right reasons - to fill an urgent and important gap in the market, to keep Western Australian people employed and to keep a few small businesses running.”

Whipper Snapper Distillery is a hospitality business that relies on tourism, both of which have come to stand still due to COVID-19.

Co-founder of Whipper Snapper Distillery Alasdair Malloch said that last Monday he was about to close his business.

“We’ve had to lay off staff and we thought that we’d have to shut the doors. A few days later, we’ve done a complete pivot and have rehired and retrained staff and turned into a 24/7 operation to distil as much ethanol as we can. It’s saved our business,” Mr Malloch said.

“We’d had quite a few enquiries about making ethanol for hand sanitiser, but our grain fermentation couldn’t keep up with the requirement, so we called on our friends at Ferngrove to fast track this using their wine.

“Without the wine, we wouldn’t be able to make ethanol fast, and without LabWest, we wouldn’t be able to turn that ethanol into a high-quality sanitiser and provide front line workers with a compliant, high grade finished product.”

Mr Malloch added that he has subcontracted to Wandering Distillery in O’Connor to help boost ethanol production.

The production volume of ethanol is expected to be about 1500 litres per week. It takes about 10 litres of wine to make one litre of ethanol.

LabWest Managing Director Brad Whisson said that his small business is usually focussed on testing minerals and rocks for their composition for mining companies.

“We’ve had mining companies approach us to make hand sanitiser, but sourcing alcohol in the quantities required was a barrier,” Mr Whisson said.

“When the possibility arose of teaming up with Ferngrove and Whipper Snapper to address that supply issue, we acted quickly to pursue it. We’re very pleased to be able to use our expertise in this timely development.”

The hand sanitiser will be made for industrial supply and the first batch is expected to be ready on Friday 3rd April.

It will be supplied to the Department of Biodiversity, Conservation and Attractions, Transperth Trains, City of Perth, mining companies, aged care providers, schools, retail workers and other businesses.

This collaboration is mutually beneficial to all parties, and as the old adage goes, the sum is definitely far greater than the parts.

Dylan Urquhart

Local Perth enthusiast, impromptu tour guide, small bar discoverer.