While we associate a good bottle of wine, with a glass bottle, that hasn’t always been the case. Throughout history, wine has been packaged with what the prevailing technology allowed people to manufacture and produce. Evidence shows that wine was being made in Greece well over 6,000 years ago, and glass bottles for wine weren’t available until the early 1800’s. So, while we are accustomed to glass bottles, the majority of wine throughout history was aged and transported in barrels, jugs and wineskins. Wine shelves these days offer up a wide selection of different types of wine packaging vessels - PET plastic bottles, boxed wine, Tetra Paks and even cans. These innovative packages offer consumers wines that have positive environmental impacts as well as affordable wines in safe non-breakable packaging. Much of the elegance of drinking wine revolves around the ritual we have about opening the traditional glass bottle and pulling out the cork. But can we keep the same perceptions about what we are drinking when we pull the tab on a can of wine or twist the spigot on boxed wine? Let’s look at the pros and cons of modern wine packaging.
Wine in Glass Bottles
Once winemakers started using glass bottles to package wine, they quickly became an obvious choice as an exceptional vessel for wine. Glass didn’t interact or add any flavor to the wine, and glass protected the wine from oxygen, allowing the wine to age in the bottle and avoid oxidation. It was also easy to look at the bottle and see the type of wine inside, which was hard to do with clay jugs and wineskins. Once the benefits of glass became known, it wasn’t long before glass manufacturing and split molded technology allowed wine bottles to be mass produced.
Glass is expensive to recycle, and most wine bottles are not made of recycled materials, and as more vineyards and wine drinkers have become environmentally conscious, there are more styles of wine bottles available. The typical wine bottle weighs about 1 lb, and while some trends in wine bottle manufacturing see the wine bottle becoming lighter and smaller, there is a conflict - almost everyone associates a large, heavy bottle with a higher quality wine. There are many benefits to using lighter weighted bottles: they cost less to make, they are lighter to ship and transport and you can store more wine in a smaller place. However, these benefits aren’t benefits if consumers perceive these wines as inferior or of less quality than wine that is simply packaged in a larger heavier bottle.
PET Bottles for Wine
PET bottles are recyclable, smaller and weigh less than glass bottles. This makes them easier to ship and transport while making everyone feel good, because they have less environmental impact. They make everyone feel good, except for the wine; PET bottles don’t keep all of the oxygen out. Wine packaged in PET bottles begins to oxidize after several months in the bottle. While this isn’t a problem for wines that are consumed quickly, you couldn’t buy and age a bottle of PET wine like you could a glass bottle of wine. Concerns have been raised that compounds in the bottle can leach into the wine, however, PET bottles have been approved for use with wine by the FDA.
The Infamous Boxed Wine
Boxed wine has been the butt of jokes since they were first introduced in the 1960’s and were a way to package cheap wine to the masses. While this perception of boxed wine is slowly fading, the practical packaging behind boxed wine remains steadfast. Boxed wines come in different sizes and offer a lighter, easier way to package larger quantities of wine than the traditional 750 ml bottle. While boxed wine won’t oxidize as quickly as wine in PET bottles, it won’t last much longer than 9 months to year without significant changes due to oxygen exposure both through the valve and through the bladder, unless the bladder has been hermetically sealed.
The Modern Wine Package: Tetra Paks
Tetra Aseptic Packages have seen a huge surge in popularity internationally as being both environmental and being able to preserve wine for as long as glass bottles can. Not only are Tetra Paks available in a large variety of sixes; from 100ml to 500ml, they are easily recyclable and easier to transport due to being lighter vessels than glass. Tetra Paks are becoming more popular in the US, with more modernized spirit producers using them to package their goods; you may have seen them on a shelf in your local spirit shop's craft aisle; they look similar to a Muscle Milk carton, or an eight sided juice box.
Wine in cans is a concept that's gaining popularity as a no nonsense, non-pretentious way to enjoy wine, anywhere, without any fear of the bottle breaking or the wine leaking. Cans are easily recyclable and offer the same environmental and shipping benefits as boxed wine, PET Bottles and Tetra Paks. While vineyards are embracing cans for wine packaging, they are not being promoted as a vessel to age wine long-term at this time. Canning technology for beverages has evolved for smaller productions thanks to the micro-brew beer movement, meaning that smaller vineyards can set-up and manage in-house canning facilities.
Using a glass bottle to package wine offers many benefits for the wine, but as vineyards and consumers become more environmentally conscious, and as new technology has developed innovative packaging, we’re seeing more options on the shelves. Vineyards and vintners can out more resources into their grapes and the wine they make when they spend less on packaging and shipping, which creates a real benefit for consumers. When it comes to judging a wine by its vessel, we can’t judge it solely by our perception it’s container, but by the taste of the wine inside and how the packaging affects the wine for our purposes.