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Dear Dr. Vinny,

Why doesn't wine come in square bottles?

—Heather, Nooksack, Wash.

Dear Heather,

Wine bottles—and glass bottles in general—were initially round because they were made by glassblowers, and that was the easiest shape to make and replicate. That’s also how the "punt," or indentation, at the bottom was created: Glassblowers pushed the seam up into the bottle to avoid sharp edges and to make sure it would stand up better. Before glassmaking techniques improved, the punt and the round shape improved the structural integrity of the bottle, which was particularly important for sparkling wines, which in centuries past were known to occasionally explode due to the pressure inside the bottle.

Nowadays, bottlers can theoretically put wine in any shape bottle they like, but there's a reason most wines still adhere to the traditional shapes. The production of glass bottles didn’t become fully automated in the current, molded way until the early 1900s, by which time round bottles had become standard for wine. Glass historians report that the function of a bottle usually dictated its shape. Think of it as an early form of branding: Liquor, wine, medicine and soda bottles all had their own distinctive shape. When the Coca-Cola bottle debuted in the 1920s, its unique shape was an important part of the branding.

In the 1920s there were some attempts at transforming round milk bottles into squarer shapes, thinking they’d be easier for transport, but that never took off. In the 1960s, Alfred Heineken wanted to create a square version of his beer bottle so that the empties could be used as bricks, but the prototypes were thick and heavy; they never made it to the consumer market.

As far as wine, there are a few square bottles out there. Provence producer Château de Berne has been selling square bottles for more than a decade, same with Matuba in South Africa. There have been a few others, most recently Truett Hurst created the California Square line, which was released in 2013.

Square bottles are touted as eco-friendly: They fit closer together so take up less space in shipping and storing and the cases require less packing material. And because the bottles don’t roll away, they can be placed on their sides. It remains to be seen if the idea will take off, or just remain an oddity.

—Dr. Vinny

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