by Maxine Hendry
You’ve been drinking wine from a bottle for most of your life, but have you tried alternative packaging any time recently? If basic brands in big boxes have scared you off, or if wine-in-a-can sounds appalling, it’s time to take another look at what wineries are doing to be more competitive, eco-friendly, and innovative.
One reason innovation in packaging for wine has been improving is because environmental concerns are becoming more important for the average consumer. Packaging also impacts companies because they can save money by being more efficient with materials and transportation. There’s also been an acceleration in demand for portability of products, creating the need for lighter-weight, non-glass packaging. With popularity increasing among consumers, we’re seeing more options from better wineries and improved quality all around!
Now there are more alternatives than ever for drinkers to choose from: wine in can, Tetra Paks, boxes, plastic, and even kegs! If you care much about your carbon footprint, or the environmental impacts from the wine industry, you should check out these unconventional containers. Other benefits include better prices and more convenience. Do we have your attention yet??
There is nothing wrong with glass, aside from it being heavy and breakable. So here is a quick lesson in history: glass has been around for more than 3,000 years, but it wasn’t until the 17th century when newly invented coal burning furnaces enabled glass blowers to create thicker, darker glass which was suitable for storing wine. The bottles were brittle compared to a modern bottle, so transporting wine was usually done in large clay pots, called amphorae, or they would wrap the glass bottles in straw to protect them. Either way, not very a convenient vessel to bring poolside or camping.
If you love your glass bottles, don’t worry – bottles made from glass aren’t going anywhere! At least 70% of the market is dominated by glass 750’s. It’s still the only option you’ll have if you’re thinking about cellaring your wine, too! (Please don’t age your boxed wine.) There’s nothing wrong with glass, we just want to show you that there are other options, especially if you are going to be in the park, at the game, hiking, by the pool, camping, skiing, or anywhere on the go. So here’s a few alternatives to your typical glass bottle.
It wasn’t until 1965 that an Australian winemaker pioneered the concept of boxed wine. The idea, which incorporated a 1-gallon polyethylene bladder fit into a corrugated cardboard box, was being used at the time by mechanics to hold and transport battery acid (Yum!). The original design required the consumer to cut the corner on the bag, pour the wine, and reseal it with a special peg. Then in 1967, an Australian inventor along with Penfolds Wines, patented the plastic, air-tight tap that is still in use today. This type of box wine is known as B.I.B. (bag in box) and generally comes in a size of 3 liters, or 4 regular bottles of wine.
Think what you will, but box wine has come a long way! It was once relegated to the lowest tier on the quality pyramid, often just labeled “red” or “white”. But right now, box wine in the US is booming, and ironically, the “value” boxed wine category (cheapo box wine) is stagnant, the growth spurt is driven primarily by “premium” options. In fact, the premium box wine category is the fastest growing wine package format since 2005. So, there’s plenty more decent options for you to choose from.
The 2018 US Wine Statistics shows a 15.2% increase in 3 liter bag-in-box and much of this was led by that fancier, premium style. You can find many options here at Mr. B’s such as Casina de Corina Sangiovese which is 100% organic and more complex than any box wine you’ve ever had! It’s a little more pricey, at $39.99, but if you think about it, that’s only $10 a bottle. We also have some excellent, dry pink wine in 3 liter B.i.B. from France, Spain, and the US. Try “From the Tank” Rosé by natural wine importing team Jenny & Francois for only $29.99, or Vrac Rosé, another great pink wine from France, only $36.99. We also love the red and pink selections from La Nevera, great Spanish blends for only $21.99. And don’t forget the Colorado-made boxed wines from Kingman Estates, we suggest the Marvelous Red Blend, which is Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc, only $27.99.
TETRA PAK WINE:
On to the Tetra Pak: a highly portable and eco-friendly container which was made famous by fruit juice and soy milk. Most people will associate it with children’s juice boxes, but you can find Tetra Paks filled with wine nowadays. It was invented around the early 1960’s in Sweden, and is made from a number of components that are layered together: paperboard (made from wood), polyethylene (a type of plastic), and aluminum. This creates a unique package which keep liquids in, microbes out, and is both lightweight and strong.
It’s an affordable way to package many food and drink items, plus the carbon footprint is about one-tenth of an equivalent glass bottle. In relation to cans, Tetra Paks take up 21% less space and weigh less. The product-to-packaging ratio is said to be 96% product and 4% packaging, compared to glass bottles, which are 71% product to 29% packaging.
The biggest criticism of the Tetra Pak is that it’s rather difficult to recycle. There are many layers of material used, which need to be separated, and not every recycling facility is able to do this. For that reason, the company estimates that only 25% of Tetra Paks are recycled globally. (But glass is way easier to recycle, and the US Environmental Protection Agency estimates that only 28% of glass Americans buy makes it into a recycle bin. Go figure.)
So check out a Tetra Pak! This container was intended for early consumption wine, so it wasn’t designed to sit in your cellar. Drink these within 6 months of purchase! They are generally available in 500 ml and 1000 ml (1 liter) sizes for wine. Check out Italian Fuori Strada, an organic 100% Sangiovese from Tuscany. An entire liter for under $15! We also offer Liberty Creek Merlot and Chardonnay in 500 ml for less than $5. Don’t forget, we also sell sake in Tetra Paks, like Tanuki, which comes in 900 ml and 3 liter for a great price. Just don’t forget to flatten the carton before recycling!
Also how can you forget about cans?? There’s a plethora of options for canned wine in all different styles and sizes. We’ve seen them in the market for the past couple of years now, with new innovations and styles popping up continually.
The success craft breweries have had putting their beer into cans has inspired winemakers to do the same. Many winemakers were drawn to the fact that cans are infinitely recyclable and leave a small environmental footprint. Not to mention the process has become more streamlined–canning equipment developed for breweries is small and portable enough to fit in wineries easily. Cans are a lot less breakable and also do a great job at keeping light and other impurities out. It’s the most sustainable of all materials: it can be recycled, turned into a new can, and returned to store shelves in less than 60 days. Consumers seem to agree: according to 2018 US Wine Statistics, the growth rate of wine in cans is up 49%.
One of the first pioneers of this trend has to be Francis Ford Coppola, who put Sofia bubbly in 187ml cans almost 15 years ago! The aim was to create a striking, hip package aimed at younger drinkers who would like to enjoy one glass of bubbles without opening an entire bottle. Another early adopter was Denver’s own Infinite Monkey Theorem, as they have been canning wine since 2011. They’ve seen lots of success, appearing on the shelves of Whole Foods and on airplanes. Lately, we’ve seen major success with Union Wine Co’s Underwood wines in a can.
As consumers have gotten on board with this style, several wineries were unable to even meet the demand for some of their best selling canned options, like Underwood’s super popular canned Sparkling Rose, which sold out before 4th of July even happened. So, it seems this trend is here to stay and we can look forward to many more new and exciting choices.
Don’t be shy about trying cans, boxes, tetra paks, and even keg wine. Chances are you’ll find a style you’ll like, save money, and enjoy the convenience of light-weight packaging for all your needs. As summer pool time is winding down, there’s still plenty of reasons to try alternative packaged wine like hiking, camping, skiing, boating, biking, gardening, and picnics. Enjoy!