Kelly J. Hayes: WineInk
July 16, 2009
Wine, it is thought, has been stored in glass bottles since the Romans began blowing glass in, oh, about the first century A.D. The oldest bottle of wine currently in “our” possession was unearthed in Germany in 1867 and was authenticated as having been produced in or about 325 A.D.With 1,684 years of history behind it, you would think the tradition of the glass wine bottle might be tough to tussle with. But the times they are a changin’, and a number of entrepreneurs are using a variety of innovative devices to package wines more ecologically, more efficiently and more economically.A recent New York Times story told of wine bars around the country that are selling wines poured from kegs by way of a tap system. And at the recent Food & Wine Magazine Classic here in Aspen, one could sample a number of wines in unique non-conventional packages.Three Thieves, a Napa Valley-based wine producer, has boxed the ears of the wine establishment for the past four years by selling better than passable wines in Tetra-Paks under the brand name Bandit. Cheap, unbreakable and quenchable, the Bandit wines are perfectly priced for these troubled times. Selling for $10 or less, they currently produce Pinot Grigio, Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Sangria “bottlings.” The packages contain one liter of wine, 33 percent more than a standard 750 ml bottle, and are made from 70 percent recycled material.And you don’t need a corkscrew to pop the top.The concept of selling wines in Tetra Paks has been popular for some time in Europe. Tetra Paks are those juice cartons that you buy for your kids. You know, the kind that has a straw attached to the side. In the wine business the Tetra Pak is here to stay for a number of reasons.First, consider the cost – not just for the bottle itself, but also for shipping that bottle. Bottles are heavy, they actually weigh more than the wine inside them, and because of their shape and fragility they are expensive to box and to ship. Tetra-Pak wines can be stored side by side in a box, bounced around and shipped for considerably less money and with considerably less potential for damage than bottles.Second, the Tetra Paks provide new opportunities for graphic designers and wine marketers who have more room than they do on traditional labels. The flat panels and the color combinations test the creativity of packagers and offer them a broader canvas to identify their brands. The Three Thieves packages use bright pastels to differentiate their wines. The French Rabbit, produced in the Languedoc Roussillon region of southern France by Boisset, adorns their Tetra Paks with, well, rabbits as they seek to create a global brand for their value wines.And then there is the carbon footprint of these packages. With so much emphasis on reducing greenhouse gas emissions, wine marketers see added benefit in putting their product in packages that can be produced from recycled content, that use far less energy in getting from the manufacturing plant to the consumer, and finally, that can be recycled again by consumers.The world of wine is rich in tradition, but research shows that new generations of wine consumers are not as bound by the restrictions of the past. Innovations such as Tetra Paks, screw caps and glass stoppers are meeting considerably less resistance from younger consumers and, actually, the new packages have been a boon to sales and brand recognition of several wines.Last year the Red Truck Brand introduced a new package they call a mini-barrel. This product, which retails for just around $30, is a polypropylene imitation wine barrel with a multilayer polyethylene bag inside that holds 3 liters or the equivalent of four bottles of wine.There is a spout on the front of the barrel for pouring the wine. This is the same wine that Red Truck sells in a bottle, but the 100 percent recyclable packaging is designed for easy toting to parties, dinners etc. The difference in the environmental impact is huge, and the winery sold around a half a million barrels in its first year. You do the math.I wouldn’t expect to see California cult cabs or first-growth Bordeaux in anything other than bottles anytime soon, but it is clear that, after 17 centuries or so, the packaging of wine is getting a face lift.
Kelly J. Hayes lives in the soon-to-be designated appellation of Old Snowmass with his wife, Linda, and a black Lab named Vino. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.