Between supply chain issues, sustainability initiatives, and an increase in the DtC market space, producers are investing in the light-weight alternative wine bottle.
The bottle from Oregon’s Distaff Wine Co. looks like a wine bottle, complete with an Amcor STELVIN® closure. The catch? It weighs just 2.3 ounces—as much as one-tenth the weight of a typical glass bottle—and is made with PET recyclable plastic.
In other words, something that wine producers have never really embraced, despite a couple of high-profile attempts over the past decade or so. So, what’s different this time?
“It has been bugging us for a while, how much waste there is with glass bottles,” says Distaff’s Moira O’Reilly. “So, we decided to jump on the train with our first four wines and use PET.”
In this, Distaff may be a sign that the PET bottle has finally come of age. Conditions today, say producers and manufacturers, are more favorable for the PET bottle than any time in the past 20 years. That includes a Beaujolais Nouveau from Boissett in 2008 that garnered media acclaim and not much else.
“The glass bottle is still 17th century technology,” says Santiago Navarro, the CEO and co-founder of Garcon Wines, which makes a flat PET bottle from 100 percent recycled material. “The PET bottle is the start of the future. It really is.”
So why is this time different?
- Pandemic-related supply chain issues, which have made it more difficult and expensive for wineries to get glass bottles, closures, foil and other accessories: PET needs none of those, and much of the interest that PET producer Amcor has seen over the last year or so has been related to that, says Jonathan Jarman, the company’s marketing manager, spirits and wine. In addition, he says, a truck can only carry fourth-fifth the number of glass bottles as PET bottles because of the added weight.
- Climate change: Much has been written about the glass bottle’s contribution to wine’s carbon footprint, especially the low recycling rates for glass bottles and its weight and inefficiency in the supply chain. One more telling point: O’Reilly says a case of Distaff’s wine fits into a carton that looks more like a shoe box than a wine box. It’s so much smaller and lighter, in fact, that it wouldn’t fit into a traditional pallet without some adjustment.
- DtC: As DtC becomes more important, producers will be looking for ways to cut shipping costs, and PET can do that for them.
- Improved technology: Amcor’s Jarman says one drawback has been consistency in PET quality, given the varying amount of recycled material that can be used, and how those variances affect the quality of the wine in the bottle. He says recent developments have solved that problem, and Amcor can deliver a consistent PET product that will protect the wine regardless of the percentage of recycled material used to make the bottle.
- Better marketing: PET is much more common in spirits, where producers use the bottle’s shape and size to differentiate their product. Garcon’s Navarro, in fact, is convinced that the PET shape must be different from the conventional 750 ml bottle for PET to be successful.
But not everyone is convinced. For one thing, PET remains a tiny, tiny part of the wine market, save for 187 ml (where it’s the dominant packaging). This is despite its supposed advantages. And it’s worth noting that Ball, perhaps the world’s biggest wine bottle manufacturer, sold its PET business more than a decade ago. Garcon, meanwhile, won’t release its first bottle in the U.S. until next year, in conjunction with California’s Ron Rubin Wines.
Second, PET still has tremendous resistance to overcome, says long-time wine marketer Tim McDonald of Napa’s Wine Spoken Here. “I realize it still may take a long time for the change to come, even if the timing is right like it is now,” he says. “There will be resistance, and it may take a large brand to change the way most of the U.S. wine business sees PET bottles.”
But, possibly, 2022 could turn out to be the year of the PET bottle. Says Jarman: “Amcor is in the process of investing further into the 750 ml wine business with tooling to accommodate growth. So, we see this as an opportunity that’s worth investing additional funds.”
Jeff Siegel is an award-winning wine writer, as well as the co-founder and former president of Drink Local Wine, the first locavore wine movement. He has taught wine, beer, spirits, and beverage management at El Centro College and the Cordon Bleu in Dallas. He has written seven books, including “The Wine Curmudgeon’s Guide to Cheap Wine.”