How much does that wine bottle weight? The answer, too often, is simply too much.
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.
The wonderful jancisrobinson.com now includes bottle weights for most wines they review.
For me if I buy in store and pick up a heavy bottle it goes straight back on the shelf and I’ll choose something else.
As more and more producers realize the importance of supporting the “war” on climate change, the move to lighter weight and more recyclable packaging is the key. Replacing metal screwcaps with Novatwist closures solves the recycling problem. Novatwist closures mimic the metal screwcap but are made from plastic that can be recycled with the container. http://www.novatwist.com
The California Sustainable Winegrowing Alliance (aka Certified Sustainable) has identified this issue and uses it in its carbon footprint issue.
I saw the above graphic and immediately switched to lighter glass (also switched to local suppliers). Not only does it help the long term carbon footprint, but the bottling line employees really appreciate the lighter glass! Imagine lifting and placing hundreds of 48 lb boxes per day!
As a winemaker who has used and promoted bottles of under 400 grams for over 30 years, I applaud reductions, but tend to view touting the reduction to any thing over 400 g. as green washing.
I’m hoping to find some partners in developing a bottle based on logic and physics rather than “package Design. We should be able to get down below 300 grams by getting rid of long necks, punts, and other reman of obsolete tech.
I’ve also never used a capsule on our wines. None are RRR .
Most ROPP (screw caps) use an absurd long skirt and twice the needed metal.
My model is a lightweight beer bottle made in Portland in 1963 for Lucky Lager. It’s a stubby. Carried a carbonated beverage around on a truck, spent over 40 years out in a field, got plowed up in 2004, and still would work perfectly.
Since you have a forum and an interest, I’d love to have a discussion and see if we can make a move to reduce the Carbon Footprint of my industry.
Paradisos del Sol Winery and Organic Vineyard
Zero Pesticide, ingredient labeled estate wines
Please Mike do take the moment to go tell a wine producer to his or her face to stop using heavy wine bottles. Please.
Heavy wine bottles are a tiny segment for an even tinner problem, and you know this fact. Or, as an economist you would have at the very least attempted to quantify the segment in question. As others have pointed out one could make the same argument for your books in hardcover or even in paperback – why not kindle only for your next book release?
Greenwashing – I realize worrying about the .03% that this topic probably touches in the wine industry will win you woke points but oh the irony of it all. Can we agree that your next overseas trip with the wife accompanied by a few days driving around the featured wine region as far as sustainability goes will probably add more CO2 to the atmosphere than the current in-vogue desire to ban the next shipment of heavy bottles filled with Malbec from Argentina?
Yes, as you point out a premium wine needs a premium package as one restauranteur in Decanter put it “With so many wines available, the strength of a good bottle and label is often a winning formula. Wine is quite a tactile product and people like nice thick glass; it has a feel of history and heritage.”
But that obscures the point individual behavior in your next purchase is not the major cause of global warming it is a get-out-of-jail-free card for your next Caribbean vacation or the consumerism that goes hand in hand with the next iPhone, OLED TV purchase.
Virtue signaling wine writers railing against heavy wine bottles to garner woke points is sad to see from your typical out-of-touch pseudo-intellectuals decoupled from the actual business of selling wine in the global marketplace but not from an economist wine writer.
Who likes heavy wine bottles? Let’s, see? = The UK market, the USA market, Canadian, Latin America, Japanese, China – you know …the whole Asian market…Australia…. you probably can add natural cork at that price point as well.
Switching the restaurant industry’s wine BTG programs to keg format would have far more impact than banning heavy bottles…. but you know there is that infrastructure problem… and I suppose the plastic lines to the taps are environmentally friendly….it all becomes so silly in the end. Have you looked at an electric car’s carbon footprint? ….let’s not even talk about the stress on the grid in the coming years.
Like it or not, heavy bottles help some people choose a wine as do Parker/WS points.
The anti-human-impact movement is a religion and as an economist, you should be in the business of explaining much more acutely the pluses and minus of the solutions rather than being an advertiser for Alois Lageder. Whose wines I love and drink – and I’ve visited the estate…. but his reputation transcends the weight of the bottle….and one must wonder if this is not Green marketing on his part.
Woke discussions for feel-good comments from your readers is what this amounts to – See Michael Moore’s Planet of the Humans. Now that’s courage….and I can’t stand the guy.
Before claiming that “markets” like heavier bottles, please show us some quantitative, statistically robust evidence that it is truly a consumer preference or positively impacts perception of the wine/brand. I’m not ruling out the possibility, but I haven’t seen any proof to date.
Kiona Vineyards on Red Mountain in Washington is “World Class with Lighter Glass.” Read their press release here
I’ve been a Kiona customer since they opened. Good folks. I’m going to call JJ and see if I can get them on board.
Paradisos del Sol Winery and Organic Vineyard
My wine purchase is based on the quality and taste of the wine enclosed in a bottle. My purchase is not base on the weight of the bottle, nor any carbon footprint. While I do not like wasted resources and unnecessary costs as a engineer, there are few enjoyable pleasures in life, such as a glass of great wine. At that point, it could come in a 2 liter bottle or a wonderful punted bottle with graceful elegance.
I have not found any “sustainable organization “ that seriously addresses bottle weight.
Paradisos del Sol Winery and Organic Vineyard
I agree wholeheartedly with the logic and sensibility of sustainable wine consumption as a consumer and concerned seller, but having years of selling wine on the floor allows me some perspective, and I must belay the obvious: a large portion of the [luxury] wine market simply reacts to less-than-mature gut purchasing impulses, and one of them, like corks vs screwcaps and very large SUVs and very very fast cars vs more economic transportation, doesn’t care about sustainability in their purchasing equations. Simply: bigger, heavier and dare I say it, more expensive wines are better. It’s nearly impossible to inject conscientious buying patterns into luxury items. Understanding the consumer(?) is a start. That’s marketing. Heavy bottles are a marketing choice, nothing else. Going by shelf count, all countries produce heavy bottlers, with perhaps New Zealand producing the fewest. Bravo to Kiwi wine!
A more compelling question: how does one persuade big spenders to spend sustainably? And, would a Champagne producer even consider selling a lightweight bottle for $200?
Glen in Wash DC
There’s actually surprisingly little data from properly controlled experiments that proves that heavier bottles = higher quality perception. At least in the public sphere.
Timely post, Mike. The Wine Market Council is considering a controlled quant study on the impact of bottle weight (visually and tactile) on consumers. Many assume heavier=upscale, but there’s scant hard data on the subject. Swedish monopoly has made bottle weight part of the criteria for purchasing.