Monday, February 23, 2009
A lot is being made of boxed wines lately. This is largely because wine lovers are seeking value in their every-day quaffs. Fortunately for the value-minded drinker, more drinkable wines are finding themselves inside boxes than just a few years ago.
Now I know that serving wine from a plastic spigot isn't glamorous. And no, I don't have a box of wine sitting in my refrigerator - call me a hypocrite if you must. But I'm neither offended by nor opposed to the idea as long as the wine is good. I'm not opposed to inexpensive wine, but life is too short to drink BAD wine, no matter what the price.
But I predict this will be the year the wine-buying public will embrace boxes for wines under $15/botle. We may not see the rush to value that was the $2 Chuck of 2002, but I think alternative packaging will be the fastest growing area in the wine business. I know I'll have those who challenge my contention - after all, boxed wines have been waiting their time in the spotlight since the 1980's. But I think now is the time to throw one's predictive hat into the ring for Boxed Wine acceptance. Here's why.
Why Boxed Wines Will Take Off
- Not all boxed wine is Franzia. Thank God. Decent wines are beginning to find themselves inside boxes these days. As a rough guide to quality, plan to spend more than $20 for 3 Liters in order to get wines you can enjoy for the life of the package. Check out Black Box Wines, if curious.
- Boxed wines are already commonplace in Europe (see photo above, taken in a Loire Valley grocery store). Just as they are in South America. And Australia. And Canada. And virtually every wine-loving country except ours. So much for the American pioneer spirit, eh? Whoulda thunk WE'D be the traditionalists when it came to new wine ideas?
- Wine in a box is easier to carry to a picnic, and to smuggle into rock concerts.
- Wine stored inside a Mylar bag remains undamaged by oxidation for 3+ weeks after first opening. (Click here to see the results of trials indicating a six week life for bag-in-a-box wines). After opening a glass bottle, even when well preserved, wine lasts no more than a day or so before noticeable oxidation sets in.
Though the bag-in-a-box is not a good option for wines intended for cellaring, 95%+ of wines are intended to be consumed within 12-18 months. And since 90%+ of American wines are from the West Coast, and many wine drinkers are East Coasters, a large part of our industry's carbon footprint comes from schlepping. It seems increasingly clear that transporting heavy glass is a luxury we can no longer afford with inexpensive wines. Imagine the added burden on imported wines.
A standard wine bottle holds 750 milliliters and weighs just over 3 pounds when full. Trucking three pounds of anything from the West Coast to NYC creates over 5 pounds of carbon-dioxide emissions. Because a 3-liter box of wine replaces four glass bottles with less than a half pound of cardboard and Mylar, it generates about 80% less CO2 during its cross-country trek (www.aboutboxedwine.com).
Now, since 97% of wine on the market today is intended for consumption within 12 - 18 months, our nation could eliminate the emissions-equivalent of 400,000 vehicles (about two million tons of CO2) by packaging such wines in a box instead of glass bottles.
To help overcome consumer resistance to alternative packages, producers have adopted solutions that are less utilitarian than the Mylar bag inside a cardboard box, but which are more acceptable or attractive (see photo). Such packaging comes in a wide variety of sizes, offers an impressive canvas for graphic options and is far lighter than glass. But it still allows oxygen to contact the wine upon opening, and in that sense offers no benefits over its glass brethren.
The Glass Industry Strikes Back
I've run out of space and research time today, but I'm very interested in recent news headlines about lighter-weight glass bottles. This new package might give alternatives a run for their money while offering a solution for wines to be cellared as well. A topic for a different day.
Dave the Wine Merchant
Quote of the Day:
"What a decent boxed wine lacks in daily variety and prestige, it offsets with affordability and eco-friendliness. Over the coming decade I think it will become the standard package for wines under $15."
~ Dave the Wine Merchant
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