Tag Archives: wine bottles

New and easier to use motor oil containers, but same old wine bottles

wine bottles

Something’s wrong here — not a cork or punt in sight.

Even the conservative and old-fashioned motor oil business realizes packaging matters. So why doesn’t the wine business?

Does this quote sound familiar?

“We are far more conservative in the marketing of our products. We are almost apologetic. While other industries focus on creating products that are distinctly different and stand out from the crowd, we do the exact opposite.”

No, it’s not the wine business, which considers screwcaps the spawn of the devil and still thinks chateau wine labels are a big deal. It’s the motor oil business, as described by a long-time senior official at Valvoline.

So when Valvoline comes out with a truly innovative product – a five-quart, easy-open, easy pour, ergonomic motor oil bottle, what does that say about the wine business and its outdated and ridiculously stubborn reliance on the 750-ml bottle and its cork closure?

Not much. Is it any wonder I worry about the future of the wine business?

The genesis for this post came after talking to a friend about wine packaging. He described a trade show seminar where a packaging consultant told the audience that the dizzying array of wine bottles – their shapes, sizes, and closures – were expensive, inefficient, and hurt sales and profits. He couldn’t help them until they decided to get serious about wine packaging.

And then I saw a TV ad for the new Valvoline bottle, and I literally shook my head in despair. Valvoline wanted a new container that would make changing oil easier and less messy, but that fit on store shelves the way the current container does. In other words, it saw a problem and wanted to fix it to sell more product.

By contrast, how many times has anyone in the wine business said opening a wine bottle should be easier? Hardly ever. And how many times has anyone said the wine business should spend money to solve that problem? Even less than hardly ever.

The solution to this exists, by the way. There is a wine equivalent of the new Valvoline bottle – plastic, or PET, bottles. They have a smaller carbon footprint and weigh up to eight times less than glass, are almost unbreakable, use screwcaps, and fit on a shelf like a glass bottle. There was a push to use PET for wine about a decade ago, and you’ll see PET beer bottles, but the wine initiative never got anywhere. Is anyone surprised?

More about wine packaging:
It’s not the quality of the wine — it’s the sound of the cork popping
Will canned wine solve all of the wine business’ problems?
Four wine myths that confuse consumers

The future of wine packaging

wine packagingCan the idea that canned wine is the next big thing in wine packaging

People who are supposed to know these things insist that wine packaging is about to undergo a revolution – specifically, that canned wine is the next big thing and will sooner rather than later compete with bottles as the package of choice.

In this, they are wrong. Wine packaging has remained the same for centuries – a bottle with a cork – and there is absolutely no reason to believe that canned wine’s future is any different than screwcaps or boxes. It will occupy a niche, and lots of people will like it. But most of us won’t even notice it. The wine business in the U.S. has spent almost 100 years teaching us that we have to buy wine in a 750 ml bottle with a cork, and you don’t undo that overnight.

Or, as one of the more clear-sighted analysts wrote: “In most countries, that packaging (whether it’s a $5 or $5,000 wine) is going to be a glass bottle, even though any number of containers can be used.”

So why the enthusiasm for canned wine? First, because it has grown exponentially over the past couple of years, up 125 percent in the year through the middle of 2016. Second, it’s something that should appeal to the two generations of wine drinkers younger than the Baby Boomers, who grew up on canned soft drinks and juice boxes and who aren’t supposed to be as fussy about bottles as the rest of us. Third, because the people who do trend analysis wouldn’t have anything to write about if they didn’t find a trend, and it isn’t easy to find trends in an industry as old-fashioned as wine.

In fact, here’s what the prognosticators don’t tell you about canned wine:

• “After years of packaging innovations, the traditional 750 ml wine bottle is more important to the domestic wine industry than ever.” The number of 750ml bottles sold increased 41 percent from 2010 to 2014, which is the same period that overall wine sales in the U.S., as measured by bottles sold, was up just 11 percent. This is premiumization’s work; who is going to pay $25 for a bottle of wine in can or box? Meanwhile, sales have fallen dramatically for the very cheapest wines, which lend themselves best to cans.

• That 125 percent growth was from a very tiny base. All told, canned wine accounted for $6.4 million in a $55 billion business, or about one-tenth of one percent.

• Retailers don’t like canned wine. Store shelves are designed to sell 750 ml bottles, and canned wine doesn’t fit on the shelves. That’s what happened to boxed wine, which was supposed to be the next big thing a decade ago. Retailers could never figure out how to display it, and so they shoved it to the back of the store.

Canned wine hasn’t solved the value/price problem. Much of it is more expensive than bottled wine, since we’re paying for convenience. But the quality of the wine usually isn’t worth the added cost. Much of the canned wine I’ve tasted was junk that would cost $4 or $5 for a 25-ounce bottle, not $5 for a 12-ounce can. Compare this to boxed wine, which has improved in quality and does offer value – and still remains a small part of the market, about three percent.

In the end, know that screw caps, which offer as much convenience as a can without any added cost to the consumer, have been around for decades. And they still account for just 20 percent of the market. How are cans going to do better than that?

Image courtesy of Whitney Anderson, using a Creative Commons license

Ask the WC 9: Premiumization, wine bottles, Chicago Cubs

Ask the Wine Curmudgeon

“Damn, that’s a heavy bottle for a cheap wine.”

Because the customers always have wine questions, and the Wine Curmudgeon has answers in this irregular wine advice feature. Ask the Wine Curmudgeon wine-related question .

Dear WC:
I’m confused about all this talk about premiumization. I’m not buying more expensive wine, and none of my friends are. We’re buying the same price wine we’ve always bought. So where do they get the numbers that say we’re buying more expensive wine?
Cheap and confused

Dear Confused:
There is data that shows that the dollar value of U.S. wine sales is increasing and that Americans are buying less wine that costs $7 a bottle or less. Hence, premiumization. What is less clear is why this this is happening. Are we consciously buying more expensive wine? What’s the role of price increases? And what does it mean that the demographic that bought all that $7 wine is getting older and drinking less? No one has really answered those questions. To my mind, it’s not so much that the average price of a bottle of wine is increasing; it’s that the same numbers show wine sales are flat. So, in the end, it’s a tradeoff, and one that’s not good for wine.

Wine Curmudgeon:
Why is so much inexpensive wine still sold in heavy, expensive bottles? You’d think that would add to the cost of the wine, and I don’t want to pay for it. I want to pay for the wine.
The glass is not half full

Dear Glass:
Because wine has to come in a heavy glass bottle with a punt and a cork, or consumers will think it’s crappy wine. Still. The good news is that, as glass and shipping prices have increased, more and more producers are switching to lighter bottles to keep their profit margins. So we’re seeing some change, albeit slowly.

Hey Curmudgeonly One:
Now that your Chicago Cubs are in first place by a lot, are you still going to buy that $300 bottle of wine if they win the World Series? Won’t that destroy your reputation as a cheapo?
Not a Cubs fan

Dear Not:
Do I detect a little St. Louis Cardinals jealousy here? It’s a long baseball season, and the Cubs aren’t playing well after that incredible start. I’d love the opportunity to buy an expensive bottle to celebrate, but I’ve been a Cubs fan for too long to count on anything. Remember 1969?

More Ask the Wine Curmudgeon:
Ask the WC 8: Restaurant wine, storing wine, sparkling wine
Ask the WC 7: Winespeak, availability, Bordeaux
Ask the WC 6: Box wine, wine closeouts, open wine

Winebits 438: Regional wine, wine bottles, Total Wine

regional wine• Even in Nova Scotia: The government in the Canadian province will spend C$3.5 (about US$2.7) to help vineyards and wineries, an almost unprecedented investment in a part of the world where one doesn’t think of wine. But the provincial government sees wine as a way to create create jobs and boost economic development, which is something progressive and far-sighted governments do (right, Texas?). In fact, there are 11 wineries in the province, and the modern Nova Scotia wine industry is 25 years old.

• More than just a bottle: Will wine drinkers ever accept anything other than wine in a 750-ml bottle? Can the wine industry meet that demand? This is a chicken and egg question, and particularly since experts and consultants insist wine drinkers want something else and consumers keep buying wine in the traditional bottle. The Wine Intelligence consultancy parses the issue, and realizes that “part of the issue remains one of cost. One [750-ml] bottle incurs less dry goods cost than four mini [187.5-ml] bottles, and price sensitive consumers have historically been reluctant to pay more (relatively) for less.” In other words, wine drinkers don’t want to pay more for convenience, and this doesn’t take into account that smaller sized bottles (as well as cans, boxes, and what have you) have usually been used for inferior wine.

• Total Wine changes: The man who runs the country’s biggest liquor chain is stepping down to go into politics. David Trone, who started Total Wine with his brother Robert and led it to almost $2 billion in sales and some 120 stores, is leaving to go into politics. He was an unsuccessful congressional candidate in Maryland this spring, and says he wants pursue a career in public service, which may include another congressional run or a presidential appointment. This is intriguing news, and not just because of politics. Trone, whom I have interviewed, is one of the smartest retailers I have met, and Total’s success owes much to he and his brother’s vision. If he isn’t there, can Total continue to grow?

Winebits 357: Special Halloween edition

halloween wineBecause the Wine Curmudgeon always gets a giggle when others try to turn Halloween into a wine holiday.

? 31 Halloween wines: Seriously? Indeed, says GreatWineNews. All of the usual wines are there, like Phantom and Ghost Pines, plus some I’ve never heard of and some that seem like a stretch, including a rose. And the writing, much of which seems to be a cut and paste job from winery sites, manages to find almost every cliche, Halloween and otherwise: “With a name like River of Skulls, you know it has to be good ?”

? Seriously, though: Food & Wine’s Ray Isle does one of the best jobs among the Winestream Media in making wine accessible and interesting, and makes the same attempt with this slideshow (let’s juice up those page views) for Halloween wine. It’s not a recent list, though difficult to tell how old it is, but the wines included are still adequate for drinking. Maybe it’s the way my mind works, but I’ve written about d ?Arenberg’s The Dead Arm Shiraz several times over the past couple of years, and have never once thought of it in conjunction with Halloween.

? Do it yourself: I am about the least handy person in the world; my greatest accomplishments in that regard are using a corkscrew and tightening door knobs. So anytime anyone can do something crafty, no matter how silly, I’m impressed. Karen Kravett, an Internet crafting type, shows how to turn wine bottles into Halloween decorations. Again, something else that never crossed my mind.

Why don’t these wines have screwcaps?

scewcapsThe Wine Curmudgeon has been tasting mostly red wine this month, and especially cabernet sauvignon, in an effort to get more wines that I don’t normally drink on the blog. Quality, even around $10, has been surprisingly good, but there has been one major disappointment. Not only do most of the wines have corks instead of screwcaps, but they come in heavy, old-fashioned bottles.

Which raises the question, which I’ve raised before and which is worth raising again: Why don’t these popularly-priced wines use screwcaps and come in lighter bottles? That would make the wines less expensive to produce, lower their carbon footprint, increase profit, and even possibly lower cost. And neither would affect quality.

Consider: The bottle for a 2003 white Burgundy — about as high end as wine gets — weighs 22 ounces and is closed with a cork. The bottle for the $5 Rene Barbier wines, closed with a screwcap, weighs 14 ounces. Yet most of the producers whose wines I’ve tasted use some kind of cork and unnecessarily heavy bottles, often closer to the white Burgundy than the Barbier. Some examples:

? The $11 Pigmentum malbec from France, 19 ounces, artificial cork.

? The $12 Errazauriz cabernet sauvignon from Chile, 15 ounces, screwcap. Ironically, the producer recently changed bottles, cutting the weight by 12 1/2 percent. Otherwise, it would be 17 ounces.

? The $12 Josh Cellars cabernet sauvignon from California, 22 ounces, natural cork.

? The $16 Bonterra zinfandel from California, 23 ounces, artificial cork. The irony? That Bonterra is one of the best selling green wine brands in the country.

? The $17 Downton Abbey claret from France, 19 ounces, natural cork.

In these cases, sadly, appearance is all. The Downton Abbey is the most obvious example, but even the others work from the assumption that consumers expect quality wine to come in heavy bottles with some kind of cork. We can argue forever about screwcaps vs. corks, but the one thing that isn’t in debate is that screwcaps are perfectly acceptable for most of the wine we drink. And there is absolutely no debate about the bottle. This isn’t 1890, when bottle weight mattered, protecting the wine from the perils of 19th century shipping. Lighter weight, given today’s bottle technology, is just as effective. Fifty million cases of Two-buck Chuck are proof of that.

Obviously, what’s in the bottle matters most. At some point, though, the bottle and closure itself is going to matter, whether producers believe it or not.

Winebits 284: Wine prices, wine bottles, soft drinks

? Too many grapes? During the wine price panic a couple of years ago, the wise guys kept mumbling that there weren ?t enough wine grapes planted in California, and that, psst, I ?ve got a deal for you if you want to buy some vineyard land. That wasn ?t necessarily the case then, and it ?s probably not today, either. The president of one of the biggest grape grower trade groups says the number of acres in production could be 25 percent higher than the official figures. If true, this would explain why prices never took off, even after the so-called short harvests in 2010 and 2011. And it would also explain why production rebounded so quickly to a record in 2012. And, for those of us who care about wine prices, it also means they aren ?t going up any time soon.

? Do we really need glass? No less than the pre-eminent British wine writer Jancis Robinson asks this question, wondering ?why we need a material as heavy, fragile and resources-hungry as glass for everyday wine, wine that is consumed within months of being bottled. ? Why not juice boxes and pouches? Good questions all, but ones that overlook the role of tradition in the wine business. Screwcaps are not new, and are cheaper and more efficient than corks. But most wine is still closed with corks, and for no other reason than that ?s the way it has always been done.

? Rot those teeth: The Wine Curmudgeon does not drink soft drinks, dating from my days as a young reporter who wrote a story and learned that Coke, Pepsi, and the rest are among the most nutritionally bankrupt foods on the planet. So I was not surprised to see this study, which claims that diet soft drinks rot teeth like cocaine and meth. The story that describes the study doesn ?t go into much detail about how it was conducted, and I ?m curious why only a handful of women were studied, but it does make great reading and something to point out to those who tell me I drink too much wine. And why my teeth are in such good shape.