7 April 2021 See this report by Alder on Nomen, a new American wine brand deliberately packaged in high quality plastic bottles.
22 February 2021 See Tim James's discoveries when weighing bottles of South African wine. Worst offenders are the proudly 'masculine' special bottles for Stellenbosch Cabernets.
15 February 2021 Readers' reactions to our new bottle-weighing policy. (Note that, for practical reasons, we weigh bottles when they are full and that most bottles contain 750 g worth of wine. So any full bottle weighing more than 1,250 g is probably heavier than it need be.)
Every Friday I send out an email with some news and views and highlighting what we published in the previous week. (If you don’t receive it and would like to, you can sign up without any obligation – it’s very easy to unsubscribe – at the top of the home page.)
Last Friday’s email began with the news that, at the suggestion of Purple Pagers in this thread on our Members' forum, we are starting to weigh the bottles when we taste wines at home and to record the weights of particularly heavy, or particularly light, bottles in order respectively to condemn or praise those producers who had chosen them. All this in recognition of the fact that making and transporting glass bottles is far the greatest contribution to wine's carbon footprint. (See Glass dismissed and Carbon footprints, wine and the consumer and all our articles about bottle weight.)
We have never had such an immediate and unanimous reaction to one of these weekly emails. Here are some of the comments we received.
Will Davenport, Davenport Vineyards Thank you for highlighting the impact of heavy bottles. I read your article on burgundy with great interest and had to immediately go and weigh a bottle of our dry white wine to compare. We have been trying to reduce packaging, including glass weight for a few years.
It seems a shame that most of the burgundy producers are weighing-in at 200 g heavier per bottle than our wines (1,135 g). When you multiply that up by the annual production of the region it adds up to around 4,000 tonnes of glass that didn’t need to be used. I’m sure that other regions (including UK wines) are probably not much better.
It is interesting that you mention sparkling wines as requiring heavier bottles. The standard champagne bottle used to weigh 900 g, but recently some producers have reduced this to 835 g. We have been using 785 g bottles for some years and have had no problems with bottle breakages. As you say, many producers are reducing the pressure in the bottle, so a heavy glass champagne bottle is somewhat over-engineered for the task. [See our article about a new lighter bottle for sparkling wines back in 2008 – JR.]
Beth Novak Milliken, Spottswoode, Napa Valley I am so glad you are highlighting this issue of heavy bottles, Jancis – this takes great courage and I believe that it will lead to needed change. I have shared this with Julien Gervreau at IWCA. I would like to see this organisation consider adopting bottles for its members’ wines. It would make this group a leader in moving toward lighter glass, especially for wines at the upper level.
Thank you for taking this on! Together, we will bring change. This is such a big issue, and shining light on it will be helpful. Our glass weights are moderate – not the lightest, but definitely not the heaviest. I think we can all do better.
Mark Prior, Sydney, Australia I am prompted to write in response to your e-mail entitled 'Down with bodybuilder bottles'. This is an important issue for the wine industry. Producers in Australia have certainly promoted the fiction that a bodybuilder bottle means a better wine inside. However, change is in the air here in Australia. As long as five years ago, perhaps more, Pierro Wines, a producer of premium wines in Margaret River, recognised the impact of glass bottles on the carbon footprint of wine and announced they would, henceforth, only use lightweight glass. Here is the their undated announcement.
I do rather wish other producers had picked up on Pierro's initiative and followed suit.
Hugh McNeal I am so pleased to see you talking about bottle weight.
The point on bottles I see less is the production process for the glass and how collective buying could be used to help change it to be less carbon-intensive in terms of fuel used etc. I’m not a manufacturer and my work has been on the generation of renewable power rather than industrial processes but I bet someone in your membership knows how it might be done?
Alex Williamson I think it’s a brilliant idea you’re focused on this egregiously wasteful part of the wine business.
Noemia and Yerra Yering have especially light bottles.
Two Hands, Catena and Trapiche are amongst the most egregious culprits for excess bottle [weights]. Clarendon Hills post-2004 vintage also pretty bad.
Catherine Monahan I'm thinking about the bottle weight issue – only because a buyer at one of the big UK supermarkets, when I asked if we should go a lighter bottle on our Cab Franc, said ‘no, don't bother. The only people who really affect any kind of [carbon] footprint etc are people like Gallo, Blossom Hill and some BIG brands.’
It would be quite good to have a discussion about this as the consumer, from what we research, is hugely impacted by the bottle shape – or so it seems.
Another thing is customer perception. Consumers would probably think that a £16.99 to £100 bottle of Malbec or yummy burgundy in a very lightweight bottle [would be] a terrifying thing in terms of perception of quality …
I think a big issue also is the packaging for samples. I'm really horrified with the amount of cardboard inside the cardboard box that comes with it. My boyfriend and I are always dismayed at the amount of packaging we have to recycle/throw away every week. Such a shame we can't create everything in something that would break down easily that is super cheap to produce!
Simon Dyson Bravo! We had a similar thought the other evening when lifting up a very heavy bottle from Oregon! Mind you the wine was delicious … Those folk at Tollot-Beaut have work to do too!!
David Cobbold, Paris I totally agree with your long-standing campaign against those sumo-like bottles for wines and I try, more modestly, to say the same things to students and those who may follow other stuff that I write or say.
However (there has to be this caveat in this kind of missive!) I feel that actually weighing the bottles is going too far. One only has to pick the things up to be able to say that so-and-so has fallen into the body-building trap.
Also, I do not agree with your comment that denigrates the use of dark glass. This plays a useful role on protecting the wine it contains, and saying that it prevents one from estimating the level in the bottle seems a little flippant when compared with this advantage.
Jancis Isn’t there a happy medium whereby the wine is protected from light strike but you can still see the level inside?
David Cobbold I suggest using a good LED lamp to check wine level in the bottle. Some used to talk about candles for decanting such bottles but electricity has come our way since then.
Alexander Messina Felton Road has been at the forefront of the lightest possible bottle for some years now. They’ve led the way for years.
I strongly suggest you have a chat to the winemaker Blair Walter. The team there worked out the lightest possible bottle weight with the required strength five-odd years ago now, as part of their philosophy of environmental sustainability. When I discussed this with Blair a few years ago he quoted bottle shape and glass types and weights down to the gram. Fascinating.
A female wine lover in London on Friday Primitivo producers seem to be some of the worst for heavy bottles. I have recently started to think about this too and am considering boycotting them.
That same wine lover on Saturday I have just decided not to buy a Primitivo on offer with Vivino due to the bottle. I will stick to California Zinfandels from now on.
Image courtesy of Dan-Cristian Paduret via Unsplash.com