Home Packaging Under Pressure: Behind the Battle to Lighten Champagne’s Bottle Weights

Under Pressure: Behind the Battle to Lighten Champagne’s Bottle Weights

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The standard Champagne bottle — 1,250 grams at the beginning of the 20th century, has lightened considerably. The industry as a whole is continuing to experiment with climate friendly solutions.

By Kathleen Willcox 

The current effects — and future dangers — of climate change have never been clearer. In the past few weeks alone, fatal flood-like monsoons in Pakistan, wildfires and droughts in Europe, and a water crisis in Mississippi have all been linked to climate change. 

Meanwhile, it’s also becoming increasingly clear that even small changes can either quickly alleviate or exacerbate the effects of climate change. And, as it turns out, the humble wine bottle has an oversized impact on a winery’s carbon footprint. A wine bottle alone is worth about 29% of a winery’s carbon footprint, according to a study from the California Wine Institute. But add the other packaging associated with the glass bottle and its transportation, and the bottle alone is responsible for 51% of a winery’s carbon output.

To put that in perspective, one bottle of wine produces around 1.28kg of carbon dioxide, the equivalent of driving three miles in a Honda Accord, Know the Flow reports. In 2020, 1 billion gallons of wine — about 5 billion bottles — were consumed in the United States alone; that’s the equivalent of driving 15 billion miles in the same car. 

The Challenge 

Alternative formats — cans, boxes and even paper and plastic bottles — have been explored by many. Still wine bottles have lightened up considerably in recent years, with the lightest coming in at around 300 grams. But it’s not as simple to lighten bottles tasked with containing sparkling wine’s incredible internal ebullience.

Palmes d'Or Champagne [Photo courtesy Saverglass]
Palmes d’Or Champagne [Photo courtesy Saverglass]

Champagne and sparkling wine made in the méthode champenoise style undergoes two fermentations, the second of which takes place in the bottle. This process produces a great deal of carbon dioxide, which roughly translates to an internal pressure of 5 to 6 atmospheres or up to 88 pounds per square inch. That gas is essentially trapped within the bottle, and the pressure — which ultimately yields an estimated 1 million bubbles per flute — is intense enough to require very thick, strong glass.

The standard Champagne bottle — 1,250 grams at the beginning of the 20th century, has lightened considerably. By 2010, the Comité Interprofessional des Vins de Champagne adopted a standard light weight of 835 grams, down from 900 grams. 

“There is a growing demand to optimize the weight of Champagne bottles, where the top of the range can exceed 1 kilograms of glass weight,” says Régis Maillet, director of marketing and communications for Saverglass, a specialist in the manufacturing of glass bottles, with six glass production sites and four decoration factories on three continents. “But Champagne bottles must have specific physical properties to withstand the natural pressures of sparkling wines. The bottle must be robust, and is designed to resist a minimum pressure of 20 atmospheres. The slightest imperfection on a bottle can affect its resistance.”

In other words, he explains, reducing the weight is not “simply a matter of removing 10% of the weight overnight, for example. It is necessary to study the impact on the variation of the thickness of the sides of the bottle, and how they could impact the manufacturing process.”

The Audacious Experiments

One Champagne house is determined to find a way to safely reduce the weight of its bottles. Champagne Telmont is partnering with the French glassmaker Verallia, which has 32 glass production facilities in 11 countries, to reduce the weight of its bottles from 835 grams to 800 grams. 

Champagne Telmont is partnering with the French glassmaker Verallia to safely reduce bottle weight. [Photo courtesy Verallia]
Champagne Telmont is partnering with the French glassmaker Verallia to safely reduce bottle weight. [Photo courtesy Verallia]

“We are committed to creating the most sustainable, organic Champagne possible, and we are heavily focused on preservation and biodiversity,” says Ludovic du Plessis, Telmont’s president. “The cornerstone of our strategy is our project ‘In the Name of Mother Nature,’ which encompasses a range of diverse actions through which we aim to reduce our impact on the environment.”

Telmont, in which the Remy Cointreau group, fourth generation winemaker Bertrand Lhopital, Leonardo DiCaprio (yes, that Leonardo DiCaprio) and du Plessis are shareholders, produces around 400,000 bottles per year and aims to “progressively expand production,” while reducing its carbon footprint, du Plessis says. 

“The 800-gram bottle would be the lightest Champagne bottle,” du Plessis explains. “What guides us here is the constant will to reduce our carbon emissions. Glass making is one of the main sources, and reducing the weight of the bottle is essential to reducing our carbon footprint.”

Currently, the project is in the experimental phase. They are in the midst of testing an initial batch of 3,000 bottles, through real-life production, manufacturing and transportation conditions. 

“We are confident in the outcome,” he says. “Our hope is that the whole Champagne region joins us in this approach and adopts this lightest bottle of Champagne to reduce its carbon footprint.”

The Ongoing Work

Meanwhile, as the industry watches and waits to see what Telmont’s experiment will yield, Saverglass and several other Champagne houses are also racing to reduce their eco-impact. 

Gloria Ferrer Carneros Cuvee [Photo courtesy Saverglass]
Gloria Ferrer Carneros Cuvee [Photo courtesy Saverglass]

Saverglass is working to slash its carbon footprint by -45% by 2035, and become carbon neutral by 2050. Saverglass is now using 67.6% recycled glass in its manufacturing process. The company has installed low nitrogen oxide burners in its facilities, reducing NOx emissions by 50%, and electrostatic precipitators in furnaces, reducing SOx output by 75%. In 2020, it signed onto The Vercane Project, a collaboration with fellow manufacturers Verescence and Fives that aims to decarbonize glass production by establishing carbon-neutral energy sources from hydrogen, bioresources and process electrification.  

EPI Group’s Piper-Heidsieck, Charles Heidsieck and Rare Champagne collectively aim to reduce their carbon footprint by 61% by 2030, and by 46% in intensity per bottle, with the goal of achieving complete carbon neutrality before 2050. 

The group recently achieved B Corp Certification, it works on 100% renewable energy and will move to a localized supply chain by 2030, says Damien Lafaurie, president and CEO of the Houses. The Houses refrains from using herbicides, pesticides and chemicals in the vineyard, and supports complete conversion to sustainability for all winegrowing partners by 2025.

Piper’s current bottle weight is 835 grams; Heidsieck’s is 870 grams, which it will continue to reduce; Rare is coming in at 900 grams but it plans further reduction, according to Lafaurie. 

Telmont is also going green on the energy side: the Champagne house’s bottles are made with 87% recycled glass, it’s transitioning to 100% renewable electricity and overhauling the logistics chain, shipping via boat instead of air to minimize its carbon output in that arena. 

The Champagne industry can’t save the world from climate change. But every step it takes will get us all closer to having another excuse to pop a bottle and celebrate. 

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Kathleen Willcox
Kathleen Willcox

Kathleen WIllcox

Kathleen Willcox writes about wine, food and culture from her home in Saratoga Springs, N.Y. She is keenly interested in sustainability issues, and the business of making ethical drinks and food. Her work appears regularly in Wine Searcher, Wine Enthusiast, Liquor.com and many other publications. Kathleen also co-authored a book called Hudson Valley Wine: A History of Taste & Terroir, which was published in 2017. Follow her wine explorations on Instagram at @kathleenwillcox

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