Jul 31, 2008

Lifestyle - Losing their bottle

Wine makers experiment with snob-defying packaging

“THERE is a devil in every berry of the grape,” says the Koran. To the environmentally conscious, the wine bottle is not much better. At about 400 grams, a typical glass bottle is around eight times heavier than a plastic one. It therefore takes more energy to transport, and so entails greater emissions of greenhouse gases, which could be reduced by switching to lighter packaging.
Connoisseurs tend to flinch at the notion of drinking wine that comes in a plastic bottle or—heaven forbid—a box. But mass producers have succeeded in trading corks for screw caps, even for some more expensive bottles, without ruffling too many feathers.

New receptacles are now testing the limits of such open-mindedness. Boisset Family Estates, an American importer of French wines, has begun offering French Rabbit—wines which come in a rounded, octagonal one-litre Tetra Pak with a metallic finish. According to Boisset, French Rabbit’s carbon footprint is little more than a tenth of that of conventional bottled wines. Over 6m units have been purchased worldwide in the past 18 months, which bodes well for the future of alternative wine packaging.
Arniston Bay, a South African producer, has also begun to eschew the glass bottle, in favour of pouches, which have around one-twentieth of the weight and produce one-fifth of the emissions. Such packaging does not tend to be well received in South Africa, where downmarket papsaks (foil bags of wine) were banned because of their purported contribution to alcoholism and associated social ills. But Arniston Bay’s pouch is the subject of a marketing blitz in Britain.
Francis Ford Coppola, a film director turned winemaker, is also a packaging pioneer, although for marketing rather than environmental purposes. His Sofia Mini Blanc de Blancs, a sparkling wine which “bursts with rich pear, honeysuckle and exotic passion-fruit aromas”, comes in a shiny red aluminium can that will have purists running for the hills.
Not surprisingly, there is no sign of change at the high end of the market. David Berry Green, whose family has helped to run Berry Bros & Rudd, a grand wine merchant, for eight generations, admits that many of his customers are unlikely to accept anything other than a traditional bottle sealed with a cork. It may take a generation or two more before the family that served the exiled Napoleon III sells its grandest vintages in aluminium cans with straws included, like the Sofia Mini.

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