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Lightening Up on the Packaging

Photo by: David Yellen

Posted: Oct 31, 2008 12:56pm ET

One minor frustration of cellaring wine is what to do about oversized bottles. I don't mean magnums--I mean single bottles that hold the standard 750 milliliters, but are either so wide or so tall that they don't fit into standard storage.

Yes, I understand why wineries do it. It makes it seem like the wine inside is classier, more formidable. But today, with concerns about carbon footprints and what's best for the earth, big bottles just don't make sense. They use more fuel to make, handle and ship, both before they are filled with wine and after.

I read today that Fetzer, a big California winery, has reduced the weight of its bottles. That's a step every winery should consider, if for no other reason than it's better for our environment.

But it would also make it more practical for me to fit it into my cellar. I can't tell you how many times I've tried to push a big, fat slope-shouldered bottle into the rack only to have it clank against the edges. And those extra-tall bottles? My racks are two-deep, except for those bottles. If I put two of those big boys back-to-back, the neck sticks out so far I can't close the door. The only solution is to stack them outside the rack.

I mutter a curse every time I have to deal with this. And I bet most of you feel the same way.

Lighter bottles are a good answer, but I wonder what the future holds. Recently I had lunch with an old friend, Hugh Cuthbertson, who has the Cheviot Bridge winery in Australia. He is putting decent, drinkable wine into paper TetraPaks, packaging similar to milk cartons with plastic pouring spouts. He saves so much on the package that he can sell a liter for the same price as 750-milliliters of the same wine in bottles with twist-offs. In blind tastings, the wine in the carton actually tasted better than the same in the bottle.

I wonder if someday we will feel the same way about those alternate forms of packaging as we do about corks and twist-off caps. In the meantime, does anyone object to lightening up on the size and weight of glass bottles?

Keir Mccartney
League City,TX —  October 31, 2008 2:35pm ET
A very interesting subject Harvey. More people are becoming concerned about the environmental impact of packaging in all sorts of industries. The Europeans are way ahead of us already. I realize people might be a little cautious about opening a link but there is a UK government site dedicated to this subject. It is known as the WRAP project. (Waste & Resource Action Program)You might find it interesting.http://www.wrap.org.uk/downloads/Wine_Brochure_sept_2006.2cd658e9.3258.pdfGood subject for us to consider. Lets save the environment while we enjoy our favorite (and Healthy) beverage!
Mr Tom A Hughes
Keller, Tx —  October 31, 2008 3:04pm ET
Harvey, you must have been hiding around the corner when I have expressed the same sentiments to wine makers about the big bottles. I have sent emails to producers of great wines that use small bottles thanking them for keeping their ego in check. I also am bothered by producers that like to dip the necks of bottles in wax. What a pain to open, I usually have little chunks of wax all over the place. Is there a secret to opening bottles with wax seals?
Sandy Fitzgerald
Centennial, CO —  October 31, 2008 6:57pm ET
Who knows what the future will hold? Somehow a great champagne, say a Dom P, out of your TetraPak just doesn't grab me. But the greenies will probably get their way over time. I can see them now in the wineries riddling the champagne, I guess determining what a quarter turn on a TetrPak will look like will be easy! How will they fit in your wine racks?
Harvey Steiman
San Francisco, CA —  October 31, 2008 7:07pm ET
With wax capsules, I soften the wax with heat before cutting it with a knife. Then it comes off in one piece instead of flaking. You won't heat the wine if you hold a candle to the area around the top of the neck.
Harvey Steiman
San Francisco, CA —  November 1, 2008 2:55am ET
The TetraPaks are about the same size and shape as a regular bottle, only they don't taper at the neck. They would fit in normal a wine rack, but they don't have to be kept on their sides so they don't need to go on racks.

I don't think they are appropriate for Champagne/sparkling wines, and soda bottles do not provide a good enough seal against the carbonation pressure. I haven't seen a reasonable alternative to a bottle for sparkling wines.
Michael Neeley
Everett, WA/ USA —  November 3, 2008 3:33pm ET
I'm all for twistcaps, and I absolutely love glass corks. I even have a favorite box wine. But I think I have to draw the line, aesthetically, with tetra packs. Milk cartons? Not in my cellar, thank you. I'd be too embarassed to pull one out in front of friends, not to mention lugging one into a byob-friendly restaurant.And larger bottles can be easily accomodated with home made custom racking. I have made room for several; it isn't that hard to do.

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