Wine Lightens Up as Heavy Bottles Fall Out of Favor

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Does anyone still believe that for a wine to be good it has to come in a heavy bottle? Or that all heavy bottles contain great wine? Jancis Robinson, MW, has drawn a line and declared that it doesn’t matter if the wine is good or not, the heavy bottle has to go.

As someone whose arms are often tested by weightlifter wines, I agree it’s time to rethink this kind of packaging. My biceps will recover, but the planet may not.

In February, Robinson announced that she and her team at JancisRobinson.com would start weighing bottles when they taste and record the weights of particularly heavy or light bottles “in order respectively to condemn or praise those producers who had chosen them…in recognition of the fact that making and transporting glass bottles is by far the greatest contribution to wine’s carbon footprint.”

She received immediate reaction in favor of this policy, including from Napa Valley wineries like Spottswoode. In response to the announcement, Owner Beth Novak Milliken commented, “this takes great courage, and I believe it will lead to needed change.”

Spottswoode is among the wineries that come to mind when I think of outstanding, collector-level wine in a lighter weight bottle. Heitz, Corison and Ridge are others. There are many additional examples from around the world. But the pushback to such heft has been a simmering, slow burn.

“This takes great courage, and I believe it will lead to change.” -Beth Novak Milliken, Owner, Spottswoode Winery

Dr. Richard Smart, an Australian viticulturist and global viticulture consultant, has authored or coauthored more than 380 publications. In 2019, he wrote on JancisRobinson.com about the ways in which wine producers and consumers could help to reduce wine’s carbon footprint. His biggest point was this very topic.

“The really big reductions in carbon footprint are to be made in reducing the carbon costs of glass bottles and transport,” he wrote. “Wine bottles require much fossil fuel-based energy to manufacture, and then to transport, and maybe recycle…it is about time the global wine sector reconsidered packaging, at least for the great majority of less expensive wine that is made for immediate consumption rather than ageing in bottle.”

Aluminum cans, cardboard cartons, pouches and reusable bottles are making significant inroads with consumers as a result. So is drinking more local. Might that sentiment be increasing?

“The epidemic has exacerbated trends that we saw slowly emerging before,” said Véronique Pardo, food anthropologist and director of France’s Eating Habits Observatory, to Areni Global.

“A turn towards the local; traceability, with the need to know the origin of the product; the search for the natural and healthy, which we now see for the majority of social classes, which only concerned a minority of eaters before Covid.”

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Wineries have a pressing opportunity now to show and tell more about who they are and what they support. Farming practices, labor practices, community engagement and global collaboration are several areas that matter both internally and externally. Might bottles size be yet another signifier of paying attention, one that is not that complex to achieve?

“It’s becoming more and more important for companies to actually stand for something, and to tell their customers what they stand for,” said Rose Marcario, Patagonia‘s recently retired chief executive in an interview with The New York Times. “Customers are voting with their dollars now, and many of them are voting for a better world. I feel like you should let your views be known and let the customer make the choice.”

That choice might include lighter bottles that don’t have to double as trophies, but instead as an acceptance of the truth.

Published on June 9, 2021
Topics: Viewpoint