Tag Archives: wine bottles

Winebits 656: Paper bottles, Argentine wine, “athletic beer”

paper bottlesThis week’s wine news: Johnnie Walker scotch will use paper bottles, plus political tensions in Mendoza threaten Argentine wine, and get ready for “athletic beer”

Paper bottles: Johnnie Walker scotch and its multi-national owner Diageo are doing something wine claims isn’t economical – paper bottles. Reuters reports that, starting early next year, the whisky will be available in containers made from wood pulp that meets food grade standards and is fully recyclable. In other words, we’re stuck with $7 wine in glass bottles with some kind of cork, but a $23 bottle of Johnnie Walker Red can come in a milk carton? In addition, paper bottles for Lipton tea and Pepsi are also expected to launch next year. Is it any wonder I worry about the future of the wine business?

Argentine wine woes? Argentina, which always seem to be on the brink of political turmoil, is facing threats of secession from Mendoza, its world famous wine region. The Financial Times reports that “Mendoexit” became a possibility after Argentina defaulted on its international debt for the ninth time and the central government blocked the $1.2bn Portezuelo del Viento dam, billed by local media as the “development project of the century.” So far, secession doesn’t seem likely – it’s technically illegal – but the political upset can’t make it easier for Argentine producers to do business.

Is that like low-carb pizza? The Wine Curmudgeon offers the following, the beginning of a news release for Athletic Brewing, with a minimum of comment: “Lululemon, Spartan, Peloton, Kashi, Beyond Meat …brands not on the radar of American consumers 15 to 20 years ago. Fueling their rise to prominence — Americans’ increasing interest in living healthy, being mindful, getting active, and seeking balance. One of the last industries to understand and truly attack the trend is the beer industry, and one American craft brewer, Athletic Brewing, has changed that and unlocked an entirely new market in the $116 billion beer industry — the ‘athletic beer’ category.”  Who knew non-alcoholic beer would help me achieve balance in my life?

Winebits 644: Flat wine bottle, wine lawsuits, artisan wine

flat wine bottleThis week’s wine news: Meet the flat wine bottle, plus one more yummy wine lawsuit and trying to define artisan wine

Bottle of the future? How about a 750 ml plastic wine bottle, made from 100 percent recycled material and is flat enough to slide through a mail slot? The Wine Curmudgeon is beside himself with excitement. “I was surprised by how little the wine bottle had changed in the last 200 years,” Santiago Navarro told Wine Business International magazine. His goal: Find a bottle better suited to home delivery and that would interest younger wine consumers. The article reports that the bottle is lightweight and environmentally friendly — and it didn’t break when dropped more than four feet onto a tiled floor.

Bring on the attorneys! Regular visitors here know how much fun the WC gets from wine lawsuits, and this one is even better than most. JaM Cellars, which makes Butter Chardonnay, has filed a series of lawsuits against The Wine Group, which makes Franzia Bold & Jammy cabernet sauvignon and Rich & Buttery chardonnay. JaM alleges that the Franzia products infringe on its trademarks and “is likely to cause consumer confusion, deception or mistake.” Where’s Shakespeare when you need him? The story in the link does a decent job of explaining a difficult subject, complete with sidebar discussing legal precdents. To me, though the best thing is that JaM has been suing other producers since 2013 to defend its trademarks. One would think that the money would be better spent improving the wine, but I’m just a cranky wine writer and not a marketing guru.

So what is artisan? Artisan wine is one of those terms difficult to define. There is no legal standard, and Big Wine mostly uses the same production techniques as the smallest producer. And this news release, with its 40-word first sentence that is full of gibberish and jargon, doesn’t help matters much. It mostly does a mediocre job of promoting the company that says it’s going to help artisan wineries and doesn’t really say what it’s going to do to help them or what an artisan winery is. It almost makes me want to bring back the Curmudgies.

Winebits 637: Plastic wine bottles, Coronavirus wine humor, Utah liquor laws

plastic wine bottles

Yes, plastic wine bottles exist.

This week’s wine news: Is the plastic PET bottle the future of wine? Plus, Coronavirus wine humor and Utah may let residents bring wine into the state legally

Is plastic the future? One analyst, noting that most wine produced today is made in bulk and to drink immediately, says recycled PET is “a realistic alternative” to glass bottles. Emilie Steckenborn, writing for the Beverage Daily website, says the plastic bottles are much better than the traditional glass bottle – lighter, more cost effective to ship and store, and infinitely more environmentally friendly. In this, the piece is surprisingly frank about the inefficiencies of the traditional bottle, and she sounds more like a certain curmudgeon than a member of the Winestream Media.

Coronavirus wine? Let me apologize for this item first, but I couldn’t resist: A Dallas wine shop says it has “Coronavirus vaccine sold here: bubbly, white, red available.” As the article notes, it’s a refreshing change from the toilet paper hording stories that are dominating the news and even – dare we say – a reason to smile? Also, please note the difference between this and the hucksters and scam artists flooding the market with fake cures and testing kits.

Finally, Utah? Regular visitors here know the WC enjoys poking fun at Utah, whose liquor laws are some of the most restrictive – and silliest – in the country. Well, there may be one less reason to poke fun: the state is about to let the state’s residents join wine clubs and bring wine in from another state without committing a crime. The Salt Lake Tribune reports that the bill just needs the governor’s signature. Fortunately, the new law is very Utah – no home delivery for wine club members, who would have to pick the wine up at a liquor store and pay the state’s 88 percent markup in addition to the cost of the wine.

Will wine ever move past the 750 ml bottle and cork?

750 ml bottle and cork

Why change? We’re talking 17th century cutting technology here, aren’t we?

The 750 ml bottle and cork – why is it still with us, and will we ever move past it?

Those are the two questions I look at in a free-lance article for the Spirited trade magazine. The answer to the first question is rooted in wine history, tradition, and even innovation. As wine marketer Paul Tincknell points out, the cork and bottle was cutting edge technology in the 17th century.

The answer to the second question, refreshingly, is yes — and perhaps sooner than we think.

Daniel Tripolitano, director strategy, innovation and insights, global marketing for Treasury Wine Estates, says a change is going to come. He isn’t quite sure when or what the change will be. But in an era when consumers are less enamored of romance and tradition and more concerned about convenience and sustainability, something different is almost inevitable.

Also worth noting: As baby boomers give way to younger wine drinkers, dinner becomes less important as an occasion. The bottle-and-cork isn’t as well suited to a picnic, boating, or day at the beach as is a can, box, or PET bottle. And what happens if you forget the corkscrew?

“That’s where the disruption is going to come,” says Tripolitano. “That’s the compelling proposition that’s going to drive [a change in packaging].”

And a tip o’ the Curmudgeon’s fedora to Spirited editor Alexandra Russell, who bought the story. She understands that trade magazine journalism doesn’t have to be dull and boring.

Photo: “_6271259” by pianowow is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 

Winebits 605: Wine bottles, wine theft, Swedish wine

wine bottlesThis week’s wine news: Tablas Creek embraces lighter wine bottles, plus wine thief gets 18 months and Sweden’s wine industry

Lighter bottles: Jason Haas of the Tablas Creek winery in Paso Robles asks a question that has always puzzled me: “So, given that lighter bottles cost less and people seem to like them more, why are there still wineries using the heavy bottles?” The post, discussing the winery’s almost decade long switch to lighter wine bottles, is well worth reading. It offers insight into how wineries make marketing decisions – or don’t, as the case may be. Haas says the lighter bottles, besides the positive environmental impact, have saved the winery untold amounts of money. So what’s the answer to his question? Apparently, heavy bottles still denote quality to retailers and producers, if not to all consumers.

Wine scam: William Holder, whose wine storage scam bilked wine collectors out of their wine and as much as $1.5 million, will spend 18 months in federal prison. He has also been ordered to make restitution. Holder charged collectors for storing their high-end wine, but then sold some of it to retailers and brokers around the country. Hence, when the customers came to collect their wine, it wasn’t there.

Even in Sweden: David Morrison at The Wine Gourd writes about Swedish wine: The “main limitation of Swedish wines at the moment is that they are not good value for money” because of “high production costs associated with the small volumes.” We’ve heard that before, haven’t we? Morrison says quality seems to be good among the three dozen or so Swedish producers, despite the price/value problems. This is especially impressive since the Swedes have to grow hybrids that can handle the colder climate, and hybrids are notoriously difficult to turn into quality wine.

Photo: “Don’t forget the wine” by Sergio Maistrello is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 

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