Perhaps more than any other alcoholic beverage, the packaging used for wine was often viewed as an indicator of quality. Heavy, glass bottles were the norm and served the wine industry for hundreds of years.
However, environmental and economic concerns have encouraged some in the industry to shed some packaging weight.
The Liquor Control Board of Ontario (LCBO) is one of the largest buyers of wine in the world. Last year, the group announced bottles of wine that sell for less than $15 must weigh less than 420g, which is about 20% lighter than a standard bottle of wine, starting January 1, 2013.
"Environmentally-conscious manufacturers and retailers around the world are reducing their carbon footprints and using packaging reduction as a key element of their strategies," an LCBO spokesperson told PlasticsToday. "By switching to lighter-weight bottles, the savings, both environmental and economic, are significant."
In planning this initiative, LCBO held discussions with three of the major wine trade associations in Ontario, and all indicated their support for this initiative, the spokesperson said.
"More and more suppliers are seeing the benefits of switching to lighter-weight glass, and have applauded the change as timely and a step in the right environmental direction," the spokesperson said. "We have not noticed any consumer resistance to purchasing these products because of their light weight."
As many in the wine industry look to reduce packaging weight, some wine producers are thinking outside the bottle.
While wine glass bottles are still the majority, the opportunity for alternative packaging is increasing, said David Schuemann, owner and creative director of CF Napa Brand Design, a firm specializing in branding, which includes packaging and structural designs, for the wine, spirits, and beer industries.
"There is a big change happening in the business, and the younger generation, who are green conscious, are the ones leading it into the future," he said. "Alternative packaging definitely has legs and it's here to stay. I don't see it as a fast fad in any way."
Wines bottled, served in plastic
A few years ago, PET packaging suppliers jumped at the opportunity to produce plastic bottles for the wine industry. Many wine producers from New Zealand, the U.S., and France switched from glass bottles to plastic bottles.
Weight savings, prevention of breakage, and recyclability are part of the popularity of PET bottles.
When PET wine bottles first hit the market, it was "the talk of the town" and the industry viewed it as a green alternative to heavy bottles, Schuemann said.
However, PET wine bottles still face a unique set of challenges, he said.
"The PET bottles look quite small, and the consumer may not understand that it is the standard size of wine," he said. "Also, the PET bottles preserve the look of the original glass containers, and it can be difficult to communicate to the consumer that it is actually an alternative, environmentally-friendly package."
UK-based Wine Innovations is a fan of using plastic for wine; in fact, the company states its PET glasses are the "best wine innovation since the bag-in-box."
The company created the Tulip, a 187-ml PET, single-serve prefilled wine glass with a peal-off foil lid. The wine is sealed using patented technology to maintain wine quality and to give a shelf life of up to one-year.
"I came up with the idea when I was supplying security personnel to an outdoor event, and wine was being served from a glass bottle into a small plastic cup," said James Nash, creator of the Tulip. "After seeing this I thought, 'there must be a better way'. People are always looking at ways to innovate with wine."
The Tulip is designed for outdoor events, sporting events and festivals, picnics and barbecues. With London hosting the 2012 Summer Olympics, Nash said the company is hopeful the single-serve wine glass will have its best year to date.
Pouches, cartons aim to make wine 'greener'
Schuemann said one of the latest packaging trends is wine served in pouches, such as the Astrapouch, a wine package that stands up straight and flat, and can hold the equivalent of two 750-ml bottles. Its resealable, one-way plastic spout keeps opened wine fresh for up to a month in the fridge.
Napa Valley Design worked with Clif Family Winery on launching the Astrapouch. The company had used bottles for its wine packaging, but wanted a more eco-friendly packaging.
Schuemann said recent sales figures show the Astrapouch sales have outpaced the company's glass bottle sales.
"It's a really good fit for their core demographic; outdoor enthusiasts of all types who are environmentally aware," he said. "I think they love the whole alternative feel."
Wine lovers shouldn't have to choose between quality wine and a healthy planet, said Matthew Cain, owner of Yellow+Blue wines.
Cain has been in the wine business for years, and said the industry has been somewhat behind on producing innovative packaging. He wanted his company to find a way to lower costs for quality-conscious wine drinkers, along with offering a greener package. As a result, all of the Yellow+Blue wines are housed in Tetra Pak wine cartons.
The company states that a case of wine in glass can weigh 40-lb and hold 9 liters of wine - close to 50% wine and 50% packaging. A case of Yellow+Blue weighs 26-lb and holds 12 liters of certified organic wine, which is about 93% wine and 7% packaging.
"Packaging doesn't make a wine good or bad; there is plenty of bad wine out there in glass," he said. "We look at packaging to help achieve our business goal of delivering high-quality wine to the market without an environmental cost, we look at it as a solution rather than a gimmick."