LVMH – often associated by wine drinkers with Krug, Dom Pérignon and Bordeaux Premiers Crus – has just launched a plastic bottled wine.
Galoupet Nomade is a Provençal rosé and LVMH’s desire to invest in this booming category is not unexpected. The luxury empire bought the rather dilapidated Château Galoupet near Hyères in 2019, and may have regretted it when, a few months later, it managed to acquire a majority stake in Ch d’Esclans, which makes the best-selling rosé of all, Ange qui murmure.
Thanks to the extraordinary global success of Whispering Angel, Provençal rosé has really taken off in the past decade, with producers vying for the palest wine in the eye-catching clear glass bottle. But I wonder how many enthusiasts realize how bad the packaging of these wines is for the planet.
It is impossible to make a transparent bottle from recycled glass and all these distinctive shapes will have required special production in energy-consuming glass furnaces. The general manager of Ch Galoupet, Jessica Julmy, who has worked in Shanghai, Buenos Aires and at Krug champagne, is more than aware of this. She chose an amber bottle of less than 500g and made of 70% recycled glass to launch the estate’s rosé from its own vines. The glass is necessary for this wine because it’s designed to age, although she admits the new bottle “created a bit of a tizzy because you can’t see the color.”
The flat-shaped plastic bottle for Nomade, Galoupet’s second wine made from purchased fruit, is the result of an analysis of different ways of packaging wine and finding the dangerously high carbon emissions associated with the production and transporting heavy glass bottles.
On a recent visit to London, Julmy told me she hoped this innovative bottle would expand Nomade’s market. Being so much lighter and unbreakable it should come in handy for sporting events, sailing, festivals etc.
Richard Lloyd, operations director at The Park, Accolade Wines’ factory outside Bristol, which packs around a quarter of all wine sold in the UK, isn’t so sure. Accolade has the only bottling line in Britain for this flat plastic bottle designed by Garçon Wines of London, but Lloyd reports that the packaging, so helpful in terms of saving weight and space, “hasn’t not quite taken off”. He admits the pandemic may have slowed adoption, but wonders, “Does the consumer fully understand that they are recycled Plastic?” Partly thanks to David Attenborough’s TV series blue planet, plastic is widely seen as the enemy. Even Julmy recognizes that “plastic is a huge challenge in terms of optics”.
For festivals and the like, Lloyd is betting canned wine will take off in the UK as it has in the US. He has seen sports venues move away from small plastic bottles for wine and believes cans will replace them.
Accolade offers virtually every possible way to package wine. Lloyd is particularly fond of bag-in-boxes and admires the Nordic nations who have adopted this convenient format, thanks to the monopolies which explain its low carbon footprint.
St John in London has been a fan of boxed wine for 15 years and claims to be the only Michelin-starred restaurant to produce its own range: a red, white and rosé Languedoc. Trevor Gulliver from St John says: “Everything is recyclable, from the cardboard exterior to the plastic inner bag.
For Lloyd, “there will be a breakthrough for boxed wine sales when someone cracks the recyclability of the plastic tap and bag.” He is well aware of the difficulty of recycling packaging made of different materials, which is not a problem with glass.
Damien Barton Sartorius is a more unexpected sustainability champion. He represents the 10th generation of the Barton family who own the highly respected Chx Léoville Barton, Langoa Barton and Mauvesin Barton in Bordeaux. It is therefore deeply rooted in one of the most traditional wine cultures in the world, one that has taken its time, for example, to embrace organic viticulture (although it finally seems to be moving).
But his perspective is exceptionally broad. For him, organic viticulture is only a small piece of the puzzle. “What about transport, the use and treatment of water, respect for people, wildlife, our carbon footprint, relations with local partners, health? he asked in an interview with The Buyer. His eyes were opened when he attended an online conference hosted by Sustainable Wine in late 2019.
One result was its returnable bottle program. It sources its reds, whites and rosés from Bordeaux, marked 225 after the capacity of a traditional Bordeaux barrel, and ships them in bulk to London where they are put into reusable bottles by London City Bond to be sold by Borough Wines in London. L’Impression de Mauvesin Barton, the second wine from his family estate in Moulis-en-Médoc, perhaps the most chic wine to be packaged in a returnable bottle, is also included in the program.
The Gotham project in the United States was founded on wine in returnable barrels, like beer. He introduced a reusable wine bottle program in several states. Co-founder Charles Bieler says, “Engaging consumers is proving difficult. Saving empties and returning them to the bottle shop, despite an incentive to buy back and good consumer intentions, seems like a tough new habit for many wine lovers. I think we’ll have to be patient on this one. Recycling in general is less developed in the United States than in Europe.
UK supermarket Tesco is trialling a returnable bottle of wine in 10 of its stores as part of its cooperation with global reusable packaging platform Loop. According to Lloyd, the bottle is a bit heavier than ideal at 530g because “it has to survive at least 10 life cycles”.
The glass manufacturer OI now offers a wine bottle as light as 300g but designed for single use. According to OI’s Melianthe Leeman, “We are currently seeing increased interest in returnable glass wine bottles for local markets as it is the most sustainable packaging solution.”
For Lloyd, whose job involves being immersed in wine packaging, “My belief is that the biggest change in the wine industry has to be a break with the link between glass weight and wine quality. . This is the fundamental change needed to reduce the carbon footprint of wine. And the glass industry has a responsibility to make its furnaces more efficient. He hopes to see glass furnaces, which must be heated to exceptionally high temperatures, fueled by hydrogen.
I should point out that the liveliest tasting I attended last year was that of the Institute of Masters of Wine in November devoted to wines in alternative packaging. Executive Director Adrian Garforth observed that it was the loudest event they had ever held. Beneath a live screen recording ‘the carbon footprint of single-use glass wine bottles in the UK so far this year’ (726mkg and growing) there was a real sense of excitement . And it’s not just young people who find themselves behind the cans, cardboard bags, kegs, pouches and particularly light paper bottles of Frugalpac. My co-author of The World Atlas of WineHugh Johnson, 83, was also making the rounds.
Inert glass bottles – as heavy, fragile and space-saving – will likely continue to be the go-to packaging for good wine that benefits from ageing, but there are now a host of alternatives for everyday wine.
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