The problem with wine bottles

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Glass bottles have always been the perfect containers for wine. They are inert and easily sealed, so wine can age and evolve for years without influence. They are easy to transport and store. A 750 milliliter bottle is the perfect size for two people.

Yet glass bottles have never been more of a problem than they are now, in a time of global trade disruptions and a climate crisis.

Over the past two years, many growers have reported difficulty obtaining bottles and complained about higher costs. Along with the usual pandemic supply chain issues, bottles from China, a major source for the United States, have faced 25% tariffs since 2018. Production in Ukraine, where the bottles are manufactured primarily for Europe, effectively stopped due to the war with Russia, diminishing supply.

These are cyclical problems. Winegrowers can adapt in the short term, however painful it may be. The most pressing long-term concern is the climate crisis and related environmental challenges. Many audits of the carbon footprint of wine production blamed glass bottles, from production to delivery, for the largest percentage of greenhouse gas emissions in the industry.

It turns out that perfect container is a huge problem for the planet.

Manufacturing glass bottles requires an enormous amount of heat and energy, and bottled wine, with all the packing materials needed to protect fragile containers, are heavy loads that require a lot of fuel to ship. The heavier the cylinders, the more fuel they consume and the more greenhouse gases they produce.

The world could perhaps accept that, except for one major additional problem: once these bottles are emptied of their wine, they are usually thrown away. The whole energy-intensive, greenhouse-gas-emitting process has to be repeated over and over again.

Theoretically, recycling glass bottles should alleviate the problem. But, as Jason Haas, the general manager of Tablas Creek Vineyard in Paso Robles, Calif., explained in a recent blog postthe state of glass recycling in the United States is disheartening.

The Environmental Protection Agency estimates only 31 percent glass in the United States is recycled, compared to 74% in Europe and more than 95% in Sweden, Belgium and Slovenia. That’s actually worse than 31%, Haas said, because much of that glass is crushed and used to build roads rather than to melt new glass.

Unlike many small countries, which can impose a unified set of rules nationwide, Haas wrote, the United States is a large and complicated country with many different jurisdictions, each with unique rules and requirements. different in terms of recycling. Few even apply these.

In America, recycling has largely been left to the government and consumers. Perhaps the system would work better, as some have argued, if glass manufacturers were responsible for recycling. Mr Haas suggests that the wine industry should try to increase its use of recycled glass.

A better and broader solution than recycling would be to return and reuse bottles, as people did for decades until the post-WWII era of convenience ushered in the disposable bottle. . Unfortunately, people seem so attached to the convenience of throwing things away that several promising recent trials of reusable wine bottles have failed miserably.

In, Project Gothama company specializing in the sale of wine on tap to bars and restaurants, launched a pilot program in early 2021 with a small group of retailers and restaurants in New York, Massachusetts and Colorado, selling wine in bottles intended to be returned and reused several times. time.

To do this, Gotham had to face many logistical difficulties. Where would retailers store empty bottles? Should consumers wash them before returning them? And what about labels? They had to be attached with older forms of water-soluble glue that dissolved on washing rather than the seemingly eternal bond of modern adhesives. These challenges have been overshadowed by a much bigger problem.

“We haven’t seen any of the bottles come back,” said Bruce Schneider, who with partner Charles Bieler founded Gotham in 2010. and the carbon footprint and consumers saying they wanted to do their part, we thought it was natural. We kept going for a year, but we saw hardly any feedback.

Another company, Good Goods, also scrapped a program for testing returnable wine bottles after finding consumers were simply not returning them. Good Goods and Gotham have tried various incentives for consumers returning bottles, such as small deposits, store credit, even donations to charity, but nothing worked long term.

“It’s a massive shift in consumer behavior that needs to take place, and we’re not there yet,” said Melissa Monti Saunders, chief executive of Communal marksan importer and distributor in New York, who worked with Good Goods on its program.

Ms Saunders, who also passed rigorous tests to obtain a master of wine accreditation, believes that the biggest problem is logistics. If bottle return and storage systems can be simplified for consumers and businesses, participation will increase, she said.

To that end, she said, Good Goods was reorganizing itself into a logistics company focused on promoting a circular economy in which materials like bottles are reused or repurposed rather than discarded or disposed of, reducing waste and saving energy.

“The logistics part of the circular economy game is at the heart of the matter,” she said. “It’s a huge hurdle.”

During a recent episode of the Four Topa wine podcast, Ms Saunders discussed recycling with Diana Snowden Seysses, who produces wine on her family estates, Snowden Vineyards in Napa Valley and Domaine Dujac in Bourgogne.

Ms. Snowden Seysses is also a strong supporter of reusable bottles. She said the bottle reuse infrastructure still exists in Europe, pointing out that Serge Cheveaua company specializing in washing bottles for reuse, was located not far from Dujac and did big business with bottles from Belgium in particular, where the government offers incentives for the reuse of bottles.

Both Dujac and Snowden make wines intended for aging and require glass containers, Ms. Snowden Seysses said, which will not affect the flavor or composition of the wine.

But most of the world’s wines are consumed within a year of purchase and don’t need a glass. Yet producers unnecessarily bottle modest wines because consumers perceive the glass as emblematic of superior quality and associate other types of containers, such as the bag-in-box, with low-quality wine.

Cans are no better than bottles, Ms Saunders said. They are easier to recycle, but still require a lot of energy to create.

“That’s a lot of packaging for a little wine,” she said.

While the two women said reusable bottles would ultimately be an essential step, they believe that alternative containers like the bag-in-box, even though they are partly disposable plastic, would be more environmentally friendly because they use much less energy to manufacture and ship.

Additionally, the standard three-liter bag-in-box, once opened, can keep wines fresh for four to six weeks, much longer than open bottles.

“It’s a myth that the bag-in-box has to be cheap,” Ms Saunders said on the podcast, adding that “to demystify that packaging, you have to put wine in there that has credibility.”

In other words, the better the wine sold in the bag-in-box format, the more consumers will be ready to adopt it. Mrs. Saunders, through Communal Brands, sells fine, unpretentious wines like Hedgehoga Bourgogne Passetoutgrain, and Schplinkan Austrian grüner veltliner, bag-in-box. Domain of Trienneswhich produces moderately priced wines in the south of France and where Ms Seysses is a consultant, now sells its wines in three-litre bag-in-box containers.

Other good wines are available in this format. Mr. Haas of Tablas Creek experimented with bag-in-box, packing the equivalent of 112 cases of 2021 Patelin de Tablas rosé, a modest wine that would typically be served by the glass in restaurants. It sold out almost immediately, Haas said. The reception was so enthusiastic that he renewed the experience with the white Patelin de Tablas and will soon do it again with the red.

“I was so happy to see that,” Ms Saunders said of the Tablas Creek box. “Breed and respectable producers are a very big thing, that legitimizes it.”

Other boxed wines that I highly recommend are From tankof Jenny & François Selections, importer of natural wines, and Wine boxesof Wineberry USA, another importer.

For her part, Ms. Snowden Seysses is trying another pilot program in reusable bottles, with a Merlot from the Santa Cruz Mountains made from fruit bought and sold under a second label, Snowden’s Cousins. It will be distributed by Communal Brands to restaurants rather than to consumers through retail.

“It’s a reasonable next step,” she said. “Where I’m at is getting restaurants involved, getting consumers involved.

“We’ll see how it goes in California first,” she continued. “I’m still working on Burgundy, but in Burgundy the problem is counterfeits,” she said, referring to fraudulent bottles with labels from prestigious producers like Dujac that are filled with inferior wine and sold at the strong price. Labeled and reusable bottles could facilitate counterfeiting.

Faced with the scale of the climate crisis and the small steps that seem so difficult to take today, it is easy to feel discouraged. Sometimes it’s hard to remember that every little effort counts. Reusable bottles will one day be an important tool to reduce the carbon footprint.

“It’s the perfect container,” Haas said. “If only we could find a way to reuse them.”

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