Just a few years ago, wineries were looking for economical choices for ever-heavier bottles to add heft to a brand image.
But now, environmental as well as economic concerns are weighing on winemakers to literally lighten the load of glass coming to wineries and going to consumers.
The rapid rise in freight and shipping fuel surcharges in the first half of last year resulted in wineries of all sizes looking for ways to cut costs, and bottles often are the top packaging outlay.
At the same time, consumer and retailer climate consciousness, as well as looming regulation of business activities blamed for climate change, have vintners looking for lightened bottle alternatives.
“There is a very strong trend toward light-weight bottles and lower packaging costs,” David Schwandt, director of sales and marketing for Demptos Glass of Fairfield, Calif., told the North Bay Business Journal. “In the general market, restaurant sales are down, and many wineries are reducing their bottling plans for 2009.”
Less glass weight can have a smaller “carbon footprint” across the whole supply chain, from energy needed for melting sand to fuel needed for shipping empties to the winery and filled ones through distribution or directly to consumers. Some wineries have swapped glass for plastic or boxes for mass-market brands.
Hopland-based Fetzer Vineyards has committed to reducing its average annual glass usage by 16 percent, or 2,173 tons. As part of an extensive decade-long effort to reduce water and energy use, the vintner wants to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases connected to bottles by 16 percent, the equivalent of 2,985 tons of carbon dioxide.
The company plans to reach that goal by lightening its 1.5-liter bottles by 9 percent to 723 grams and its standard 750-milliliter Burgundy- and claret-style bottles by 11 percent and 22 percent, respectively, to 439 grams each. The bottling change, starting this year, will affect 23 million containers. Design changes included making bottles as strong with thinner glass and eliminating the traditional punt.
“Light-weighting our bottle is a double bottom-line innovation — good for the environment and for efficient operations — that supports our goal of being a sustainable business,” said Ann Thrupp, Fetzer’s sustainability manager.
For Benziger Family Winery of Glen Ellen, its decision to buy bottles for this year that are 10 percent to 20 percent lighter than previous versions included analysis of recycled content, distance from supplier to winery and the mode of transportation, according to Chief Marketing Officer Skye Hallberg. The changes are expected to reduce the winery’s footprint by more than 136 metric tons.
“Quality of the wine is our first concern and protecting wine in a proper fashion,” she said. “But at the same time, we want to make sure we are not overprotecting the package.”