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james laube's wine flights

The Carbon Footprint Police May Have Your Bottle's Number

Photo by: Greg Gorman

Posted: Nov 5, 2007 3:48pm ET

I’ve noticed in recent weeks that more people in the industry are talking about "high-end" bottles and how much they weigh and how awkward they are to pour.

There’s also the issue of drinking from a heavy bottle … you always think there’s more wine in it even when it’s empty.

I suppose we’ve all been impressed at one time or another by barbell bottles, and certainly when they were first used years ago they made a statement. I know that when I pour wine from barbell bottles at dinner parties many people are awed and there’s an impression that larger, heavier bottles contain better wine.

But for me the novelty has long since passed.

Of course, heavy bottles have nothing to do with wine quality, or, as a far as I know, anything to do with a wine’s aging ability. Big bottles are also harder to store in wine racks, or bins. But bottle size and shape is a distinguishing marketing feature and a way for a winery to have its product stand out in a crowd.

And then there is the carbon footprint issue that relates to the extra glass needed for these large,  heavy bottles, the weight and fuel needed for shipping them and, ultimately, whether or not these bottles are even merited.

For fun, we did some ad hoc research. We weighed a few empty bottles. The lightest we found was 1.19 pounds and the heaviest tipped the scale at 2.65 pounds, and we think we’ve had bottles that were close to 4 pounds.

Should winemakers abandon the barbell bottles in the spirit of eco-responsibility (and leadership) and orthopedic health?

Neil Koffler
New York, NY —  November 5, 2007 5:23pm ET


James-

I think they should abandon the barbell bottles using whatever excuse they find necessary. Since many wineries are emphasizing their connection to the land, the eco-responsibility element cannot be ignored. All of the other drawbacks are meaningful and, with more wine bought through e-commerce including mailing lists, standing out on the shelf is of decreasing importance.

I would point out that thinking about the carbon footprint of our wine avocation is daunting. Within reason, I'd be willing to do a lot more to reduce it. Normal bottles seems a very easy step.

Neil
Mary Constant
Calistoga —  November 5, 2007 7:14pm ET
One major drawback to "barbell" bottles is the price of shipping...there was a string of angry bloggers complaining about the surprise of getting the bill for Schrader about a week ago...they were furious at the lack of knowledge that the winery had about shipping their wine from the storage facility to its destination.
Mark Nickerson
Vallejo, CA —  November 5, 2007 8:33pm ET
Based on everything here, what possible argument could there be for NOT jettisoning heavy bottles? Being a pinot dude, I go crazy trying to stack these wildly variant behemoths in my Dometic cooler and have come close to catastrophe on several occasions. And the cooler that is supposed to handle 120 bottles -- I'm lucky if I get eighty in there. Talk about a hidden cost! Oh, and speaking of shipping charges, I managed to get one bottle of Kosta Browne's single vineyard release and it is costing $18 to ship it from Santa Rosa to Vallejo - a distance of fifty miles. I guess it's one of those four pounders James was referring to...
Mark Nickerson
Vallejo, CA —  November 5, 2007 8:33pm ET
Based on everything here, what possible argument could there be for NOT jettisoning heavy bottles? Being a pinot dude, I go crazy trying to stack these wildly variant behemoths in my Dometic cooler and have come close to catastrophe on several occasions. And the cooler that is supposed to handle 120 bottles -- I'm lucky if I get eighty in there. Talk about a hidden cost! Oh, and speaking of shipping charges, I managed to get one bottle of Kosta Browne's single vineyard release and it is costing $18 to ship it from Santa Rosa to Vallejo - a distance of fifty miles. I guess it's one of those four pounders James was referring to...
James Rego
Redding, Ca., Shasta County —  November 5, 2007 10:16pm ET
I vote to eliminate these "monster" bottles. They have nothing to do with the wine inside the bottle except to reflect the maker's statement that this is the best (which may or may not be true), that they have to offer. I agree with Mark that they donot fit well in the wine cooler. We need to find ways to decrease the cost of shipping which I think is becoming prohibitive. A cost of $18 to ship one bottle of wine is ridiculous.
Don R Wagner
Illinois —  November 6, 2007 12:56am ET
Hi...I agree with all on this one...shipping cost, pouring weight, cellar management & environment all point to no "monsters"...just received my Araujo and I had to check that it was a 750MM...so small...the good news is that 8 Araujo bots fit in a 1/2 cube in my cellar -- only 5 for some unnamed "monsters"...put the $ in the vineyard and the people who tend it - please! DRW
Adam Lee
Santa Rosa, CA —  November 6, 2007 9:52am ET
Jim,We had much larger bottles during our first 3 years of production but, after enough customers complaining that the bottles wouldn't fit in their wine racks, we changed to smaller bottles (actually sent various samples out to customers to see what would fit). I think downsizing makes a lot of sense. -- On the eco-friendly front, any chance the Spectator will ever offer a complete on-line only subscription? I'd be happy to sign up! --- Adam Lee, Siduri Wines & Novy Family Winery
Kirk R Grant
Ellsworth, ME —  November 6, 2007 12:59pm ET
I agree that the cost of shipping is cumbersom...but I'd like to ask how many people have actually dropped one of those monsters? I did...and the bottle chipped and broke at the base...you know what the good news was...the wine was still inside glass...and there was no loss of wine. There are pluses & minuses to all things. I love the fact that I can fit all my Girardin wines in my cooler in almost any spot (36 of 38 available spots to fit) however my Bergstrom will only go in one of 8 of 38 spots...which limits my ability to store it properly...and thus is a headache. While people are complaining about storage...is there a storage company that has made it easy to store these bottles yet? If not...why not?
Bob Smith
Colorado Springs, CO —  November 6, 2007 2:07pm ET
Barbell and odd shaped bottles have been one of my big gripes for years. This really hits home right now because I¿m in the middle of trying to fit all the fall shipments into the Cellar. I¿ve suffered from everything that¿s been discussed above: The extra cost for shipping (don¿t get me started on the variation in shipping costs from between wineries shipping from areas!). Just trying to carry a case of wine downstairs, and some wineries now have cases that ship 15 bottles ¿ talk about aching back¿ Trying to fit these mammoths into the bins ¿ I have discovered that some ¿columns¿ are just a bit wider then others and can take a slightly larger bottle, if you want to move things around all of the time. You can stack them up in the diamonds but you get fewer bottles in the space and if they¿re Burgundy shaped bottles they can be unstable and fall ¿ the voice of experience. And all that extra glass does nothing for you but provide frustration. Taking an environmental approach may just convince a few more wineries to cut back on the glass. Who knows, if we start winning this one we may be able to tackle those hard wax capsules next¿
Larry Schaffer
Central Coast —  November 6, 2007 2:43pm ET
I guess my question in this whole debate is whether or not people are actually 'taking action' against wineries that continue to use these bottles? I know that they are more difficult to fit into cellars and shipping is more, but it seems that wineries that offer these bottles are continuing to grow . . . and therefore sell more of these bottles! Curious to hear what consumers and retailers have done . . .
Robert Caruana Jr
East Islip, NY —  November 6, 2007 5:05pm ET
James - Thanks for bringing this topic up as I feel it's an important one. All the benefits of eliminating the use of these "barbell" bottles are obvious and have already been stated by others in this blog. However, unfortunately, I think this trend is only going to worsen in the near term.

I agree with Neil Koffler's statement that more wine is being purchased through e-commerce & mailing lists, and therefore standing out on the shelf is of decreasing importance. However, I think the primary reason behind a wineries choice to use these bottles is consumer perception - not just when sitting on a shelf, but when seeing the wine in magazines, print ads, on tv, being consumed at a friends house or in a restaurant, etc. Since many of the existing so-called "high-end" wines are enclosed in these heavy duty bottles, the newer "high-end" wineries that seem to popping up almost daily and charging $100+ for bottles of their wine want the consumer perception to be that their wine is in the same "league" as the others and is deserving of the price tag.

I don't think it's reasonable to expect consumers to boycott these wines; however I would recommend that concerned individuals call, email or write the wineries expressing your feelings about these types of bottles.
Mark Owens
Cincinnati, Oh. —  November 7, 2007 12:35pm ET
If you can't lift a 4lb bottle, you probably shouldn't be drinking. Additionally, wine is often used along with a celebration. I believe these bottles have their place in making an event special and memorable. I also believe that some people pretend to be concerned over inconsequential matters only to appear to be interested, there are far more things to be concerned about than the size of a wine bottle. Focus your energy on something worthy of concern.Cheers,Mark

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