Everyone talks about sustainability in the wine business (or at least that’s what it feels like sometimes), but how much of it is backed up by action and how much amounts to little more than greenwashing? That’s an important question and a complicated one, since sustainability has so many aspects and complicated trade-offs. What can a wine producer do to improve sustainability and signal it clearly to consumers?
One simple action is this: use lighter bottles. Glass bottles are an important part of wine’s carbon footprint and reducing weight even a little can have a significant impact when multiplied by the billions of bottles of wine that are produced and sold each year.
Tale of the Scale?
I’d invite you to weigh the next ten wine bottles that you open just to see big the gap is between the heaviest and lightest bottles. I used to include a segment about wine bottle weight in one of my Wine Wars talks. I asked for a couple of volunteers to come forward to heft bottles of different weights. They usually expressed great surprise at the difference and wondered why very heavy bottles were needed when lighter-weight alternatives are available. Good question.
I was reminded of the heavy bottle issue when a press release from Alois Lageder, the famous Alto Adige wine producer, appeared in my email inbox. Lageder’s commitment to the environment is unquestioned — they are one of Italy’s leading biodynamic estates. Their search for improved operational sustainability caused them to start thinking about wine bottles back in 2013, when they reduced bottle weight from 750 grams per bottle to 650 grams.
Some winemakers I know think that the weight of the bottle is an important marketing factor — heavy bottles signal quality. But obviously this isn’t always the case, as Katie Jackson of Jackson Family Wines told us a couple of years ago at the Porto Climate Change Leadership Conference. Jackson moved to lighter glass and then waited for a negative reaction … that never came. So they did it again.
And Lageder is doing it again, with a special new Burgundy-style bottle that takes the weight down to just 450 grams, which allows the winery to reduce glass use by 17% or 87 tons. The bottle on the left in the image above is the old heavier bottle and the one on the right is the new sleeker product. The difference is subtle, but it is there.
“Of course, there are already lightweight bottles on the market, but there is hardly a Burgundy bottle that is so light and still meets the demands of a valuable wine. Strangely enough, many people still believe today that a valuable wine must be equipped with a heavy bottle,” says Alois Clemens Lageder. “The bottle also has a name. It is called Summa and is deliberately not patented so that many winemakers are motivated to switch to lightweight bottles,” adds Helena Lageder.
Lageder is also eliminating metal such as screwcaps and foil capsules that might make their bottles difficult to recycle. Putting a bottle in the recycle bin doesn’t guarantee that it will actually be recycled. A lot of “recycled” materials end up in the landfill. Lageder knows they can’t solve that problem, but they can take steps to help.
Tale of the Scale?
Bottle weight is a frequent topic of conversation at The Wine Economist dinner table. Sue hefts each bottle and makes the call. Unexpected heavy and lightweight bottles are swept away to be weighed and recorded at the end of the meal. Just for fun I got out the group of bottles and alternative packing that I used in the Wine Wars talks to provide context . Here is the range of weights from lightest to heaviest.
Wine can 375 ml: 16 grams (x 2 = 32 grams)
One liter tetra-pak wine container: 40 grams.
Plastic wine bottle 750 ml: 56 grams
Eco wine bottle 750mml: 426 grams
Lightweight wine bottle 750 ml: 444 grams
New Lageder wine bottle:750 ml: 450 grams
Previous Lageder wine bottle 750 ml: 650 grams
Older Lageder wine bottle 750 ml: 750 grams
Heavyweight wine bottle 750 ml: 1084
Super heavyweight wine bottle 750 ml: 1198 grams
An ultra-heavyweight bottle of a wine from China: 1218 grams.
Lageder is clearly taking a big step in the right direction with its new bottles, which are amongst the lightest glass bottles we have found. They seem very confident that going light won’t affect consumer perceptions of their wine and I think they are right.
Can you believe that some wine bottles weigh more than a kilo? The 1084 gram bottle on the list was a Chilean wine, so it is interesting to speculate the size of the carbon footprint it created. The bottle might have been made in China, for example, then shipped to Chile and then on to the U.S. Incredible when they are good alternatives. At 1218 grams,, the bottle alone of that Chinese wine weighs more than full bottles of wine in lightweight glass containers.
Is Heavy Glass Sustainable?
It seems to me that the weight of the glass bottle is a sustainability issue. I wonder, do any of the many sustainability certification protocols specify a maximum weight for wine bottles? I really don’t know — I’d appreciate it if you’d use the comments section below to provide information about this issue.
Sometimes too much is too much and I think we have reached that point with heavy glass wine bottles.