From the WSJ, take a look at the life of Box O’ Wine… A great alternative for situations where bottles might be too bulky and inconvenient (i.e. on boats, park, near hard surfaces etc…). They also share a few suggestions on good types of Box O’ Wine that not only taste good but are available at a reasonable price point! These are perfect for your outdoor Spring Celebration!
Happy Monday! Enjoy!
The ancient Romans are said to have pioneered a packaging breakthrough by putting wines in glass bottles. As subsequent generations of wine producers realized, wine tasted better, looked better and lasted longer this way. Glass also allowed winemakers of different countries and regions to tailor individual looks—tall, thin green bottles for wines of the Mosel, square-necked bottles for Bordeaux and rounder, brownish bottles for Burgundy.
Today’s wine-packaging breakthroughs include metal barrels, plastic bottles, cardboard boxes, aluminum cans and even test tubes (available only in France, at least for now). Winemakers proclaim the ecological friendliness (smaller carbon footprint!) and the economy (cheaper than glass!) of some of these new formats, but I wondered if any of them actually one-up the Romans. Do they make a wine look better, taste better, last longer or, for that matter, express a regional identity? I don’t think, for example, I could tell a Bordeaux from a Burgundy in a Tetra Pak.
The Tetra Pak container is the most widely distributed of these alternate wine packages. First created in 1943 by Ruben Rausing in Sweden as an “aseptic” cardboard container for milk, Tetra Pak cartons have since been employed to hold a variety of liquids, including wine.
Tetra Pak has attracted many ambitious wine producers, some of whom have even begun turning out vintage-dated products. However, California winemaker Joel Gott, who owns both Gott Wines (packaged in traditional glass bottles) and Bandit wines (packaged in Tetra), says vintage dating on these packages is just “a marketing ploy.” Though one of his Bandit wines, a Merlot, carries a vintage date, most of them have “bottling” dates embossed on the box tops. Mr. Gott says it’s more important to know when the wine was packaged than its vintage. “Tetra wines oxidize after about 24 months,” said Mr. Gott. “And whites age faster but reds lose their color sooner.” He counseled consumption within the first year of production.
Mr. Gott is a bit of a packaging impresario; after an attempt to revive the old “fingerhook” glass jug of the 1970s, he was a pioneer of Tetra-packaged wines in the U.S., launching Bandit in 2003. It’s been a great success, according to Mr. Gott, who sold an impressive 300,000 cases of Bandit last year (versus 90,000 of his glass-bottled Gott wines). The Bandit boxes come in a Crayola-colored array: green for Pinot Grigio, blue for Merlot. Unlike conventional bottles, whose labels convey information about the wine, the Bandit boxes are covered with facts about packaging: “Made largely of renewable resources! 33% more wine! 96% wine, 4% packaging!”
Mr. Gott is currently experimenting with PET bottles (aka polyethylene terephthalate, a recycled plastic used for cheap wines in Europe) but says it’s been a challenge: “It’s hard to make the PET bottle look large enough. When you put a regular-sized [750 ml] bottle in PET plastic, it looks like a 500 ml bottle,” said Mr. Gott.
Jean Charles Boisset, scion of a famous Burgundy family (now married into the yet more famous Gallo clan) is another PET proponent. The Boissets produce Fog Mountain California Merlot in a 1-liter PET bottle. Originally produced for the Marriott hotels, it’s now available at a handful of retail stores.
The Boissets (who also produce California Rabbit in Tetra Pak boxes) surmounted the problem of the seemingly too-small bottle by putting a cardboard collar around the neck of the Fog Mountain bottle. The collar notes that the PET bottle holds “33% more wine” than a regular bottle as well as a few more interesting facts, including a note that the bottle has a “60% smaller” carbon footprint than a regular glass bottle and that seven recycled Fog Mountains could produce a single extra-large T-shirt.
The future production of clothing seemed like a peculiar incentive to buy a particular wine (unless said T-shirt would be yours at some point in time). So, too, did the fact of a wine’s carbon footprint—though this phrase was cited over and over again on wine packages. In fact, “carbon footprint” seems to be the “terroir” of winemakers using alternative packaging—a phrase everyone likes to hear, even if they don’t know what it means.
Almost as popular is the phrase “wine on tap,” used by makers of wine in kegs. Barreled and dispensed much like Budweiser, wine kegs have been attracting more and more winemakers in the past several years. Sonoma-based Dan Donahoe, one the first wine-on-tap producers, told me he sold “the equivalent of 5,000 cases” of Silvertap wines in 2010 and expects to sell four to five times that much in 2011. Once pretty much alone in the market, he estimates there are three or four more companies producing wines on tap and numerous wineries (Saintsbury, Palmina, Syklark) who use his “custom kegging” services.
One of Mr. Donahue’s first clients was Todd Rushing of the restaurant Two Urban Licks in Atlanta. Mr. Rushing opened his restaurant six years ago serving only wines on tap. For Mr. Rushing, the biggest incentive to go total-tap was “the green aspect, first and foremost” he said, citing the (inevitable) “carbon footprint.” But the system used to keep his kegs full—sending barrels back and forth to California by Fed Ex for refilling—seems like it could leave a fairly sizable carbon footprint as well.
Bruce Schneider may have a solution to that problem. Mr. Schneider, who produces keg wines from New York State grapes under the Gotham Project label, has a list of proposed “filling stations” around the country that would localize his barrel returns. “As we expand we’ll have filling stations across the country,’ Mr. Schneider said unfurling his map over lunch at the Breslin in Manhattan, one of his top wine-on-tap customers. The map looked like something a wildcatter might use—not to drill for oil but to barrel Riesling and Cabernet Franc.
His wines, on the other hand, were a delight: the Gotham Project Riesling and Cabernet Franc were fresh, lively and bright, and quite reasonably priced at $8 a glass. “Wine on tap is about 25% cheaper than their bottle equivalent,” said Mr. Schneider. “And we pass the savings along to our customers,” said Carla Rzeszewski, the ebullient manager of the Breslin who joined us.
A week or so after my Breslin lunch, I began amassing various alternatively packaged wines. It wasn’t easy—in fact I probably I left a pretty large carbon footprint tracking them all down.
Was it worth all the effort (and carbon)? With a few exceptions, I’d have to say no. Or, in alternative-packaging-speak, the expended energy wasn’t commensurate to the pleasure experienced. The wines in aluminum cans tasted tinny and thin and left me thinking (longingly) of beer. Ditto the Fog Mountain Merlot, which I mostly admired for the amount of information they managed to fit on its cardboard collar.
The California Rabbit Pinot was pleasant (and cheap) enough, and I did think a couple of the Bandit wines were pretty good—a light Pinot Grigio, a simple, juicy Merlot. I was quite impressed with a Spanish rosé and an Argentinian Torrontés, both from Yellow+Blue, an all-organic producer that buys wines from all over the world and packages them in Tetra. I also have hope for wine on tap, given my Gotham Project experience.
Sometimes it wasn’t the wines but the boxes themselves that failed. When my Bota Box wine leaked all over as I poured it, a friend who was watching commented, “I can’t say I’ve ever had that experience with a glass bottle.” I had to agree (and find something else to wear).
Though I admire the ambition, not to mention of the resourcefulness and the ecological mindfulness of these producers, my carbon footprint isn’t likely to be getting much smaller soon. I’ll be doing as the Romans did—at least for now.
Oenofile: Alternate packaging
Although I also loved some of the wines on tap that I tasted, they’re only served at restaurants—hence, these five in boxes and Tetra Paks.
Bandit Pinot Grigio, 1 liter, $8
2009 California Rabbit Pinot Noir, $6 (500 ml, $5)
A pleasingly light Pinot from Boisset Family Estates—whose holdings are in both Burgundy and California—makes a Tetra Pak wine that spans both continents as well. It’s a California wine that’s lively, drinkable and, well, quite cheap.
2009 Yellow and Blue Torrontes, 1 liter, $12
This fresh lively white from the Salta province of Argentina is made from Argentina’s Most Favored White grape. It’s also made from certified organic grapes (as are all Yellow and Blue wines). Marked by a bright acidity, it’s a particularly delightful aperitif.
2009 Yellow and Blue Malbec, 1 liter, $12
If there is one company that seems to be doing particularly right by Tetra Pak, it’s Yellow and Blue. I really liked the three wines (there was also a rosé) that I tried. The Malbec, from San Juan Argentina is light to medium bodied with soft tannins and notes of strawberry.
2010 Domaine Le Garrigon Cotes du Rhone, 3 liters, $41
Made by respected Rhone winemaker Daniel Couston, this Grenache-dominant red is juicy, bright and positively delightful. The package is a combination of old and new: a plastic bag inside an attractive wooden case.
Printed in The Wall Street Journal, page D6