Jason Haas can’t find lightweight bottles that don’t look cheap

jasonhaas Jason Haas went to Sacramento thinking thin. He came away disappointed.

Although it’s known for belt-tightening of a different kind, Sacramento is not known as a weight-loss destination. In fact, Haas, the general manager at Tablas Creek Vineyards in Paso Robles was attending an enormous wine trade show. He recounts on his blog how set out to find a lighter bottle for his top wine, Esprit de Beaucastel, a red blend that retails for about $50. But, in the end, he wasn’t happy:

It became clear that the bottle manufacturers have been taken by surprise with wineries’ desires for lighter bottles. Most of the lightest bottles that they make still are intended for the lowest-end wines. They look cheap. What we’re looking for is a bottle that looks like a top-end bottle, but weighs half as much. And, somewhat to our surprise, those bottles just don’t exist yet.

Specifically, Haas is looking to replace the 900 gram (almost 2 lbs!), oversized bottle with something half that weight. While he could find something acceptable weighing 700g, he writes that lighter than that the bottles “look cheap” with none having the same shape and proportions of top Burgundy bottles and none that “imply quality.” About 9,000 cases of Esprit de Beaucastel were made last year, or 108,000 bottles. As he points out in his post, reducing the weight of each in half would make a real difference on the carbon footprint of the wine and bring it more into line with the winery’s efforts at environmental responsibility, instead of undermining them. Congratulations to him on thinking thin.

What do you think he should do? One solution might be to go to a 450g bottle for one of the winery’s other, higher volume wines and gauge reactions. It’s my impression that consumers are ahead of wineries on this issue and wineries are apparently ahead of bottle makers: hopefully one day, wineries will stop prejudging a wine’s apparent quality for consumers with bulky, bling bottles from a bygone era. Give us good wine, give us a pretty front label and an informative back label, but keep the heavy bottle.

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21 Responses to “Jason Haas can’t find lightweight bottles that don’t look cheap”


  1. Maybe this would be the time to put a good wine in a box. Easy for me to say since it is not my business, but someone at some time has to initiate a trend in the US that has been going on in France for a long time.


  2. Tyler, as a Tablas Creek club member, I can comment that the lower end of their range is already in lighter bottles.

    Chuck, I’m not sure how well a box would work for their line. Pretty much all the reds are good for at least a few years of cellaring. How well do boxes work over the long term, and how do they fit in cellar racking?


  3. Concannon vineyards has reduced the weight of their bottles significantly – from 38 to 24oz (approx 680g) and the bottle looks great, check it out!


  4. Chuck, Although we have discussed box wines quite a bit, Esprit de Beaucastel is an age-worthy wine and thus would not be a strong candidate for this packaging in my view. There are plenty of other wines made in the world that would be a better fit.

    MPH – Thanks–I wonder if they are 450g? Would you be disappointed if the EdB came in the same bottles as their other wines?


  5. I just checked the Museum of Empties in the garage, and 2007 Grenache Blanc (screwcap) came in at 464g and 2005 Syrah (cork) came in at 550g on my scale.

    I don’t care that much about bottle heft or shape, so long as the bottles fit in my racking (and all the TC bottles do). I’d be fine with lighter bottles. But I’m also an INTJ scientist-type, so anyone making marketing decisions based solely on people like me is daft.


  6. If your target audience is interested in collecting or aging wines, I say go for thick heavy bottles and the highest quality cork you can get. What’s the impact of some extra weight versus years of electricity devoted to temperature and humidity control?

    There’s a basic factor of human psychology that will also be difficult to overcome: we tend to associate something heavier with being more sturdy, more solid, and more valuable. If you take apart hand-held electronics sometimes you’ll find a thick metal plate underneath the circuitry. This has no other purpose than to add weight to make the device seem more reliable and worth the price. (Good fruit tends to be heavy for its size, so this goes back a ways in our human development.)

    I’m all for alternative packaging, and really think that all sub-$10 wines should be in Tetra Paks, PET bottles, or even cans. I tried a serious microbrew beer this weekend that was packaged in a can, and it had no flaws when compared against similar Imperial Stouts packaged in glass bottles. But for the high end, collector market? It’s going to be hard to fight against human nature, sensitivity to temperature variation, and shipping stresses.


  7. I am interested in Benito’s reference to “sensitivity to temperature variation.” I assume the suggestion is that a thicker bottle has some effect in insulating the wine from ambient temperature shifts. There was a comment on the Tablas Creek blog making the same point more explicitly.

    Having done some work on passive wine cellar design, I seriously doubt that bottles have an insulating effect that would be significant in the context of a wine cellar. Glass is a very poor insulator (R-0.24 per inch), which is why houses with single-pane windows lose so much heat. By my calculation, the difference in insulation between a very thick glass bottle (say 1/3 inch) and a bottle half as thick (1/6 inch difference at R-0.24/inch = R-0.04) is approximately the same value that would be added by placing a 200 thread count cotton sheet (R-3.7/inch x 1/100 of an inch) over the bottles. (In reality, the sheet might do better than the extra glass because it traps air underneath — also a better insulator than glass!)


  8. Studies have indicated that food and drinks stored in such containers—including those ubiquitous clear Nalgene water bottles hanging from just about every hiker’s backpack—can contain trace amount of Bisphenol A (BPA), a synthetic chemical that interferes with the body’s natural hormonal messaging system. And what about PET, PVC, etc. Think before doing…


  9. Matt,

    My point there was based on anecdotal evidence with regards PET bottles and Tetra Paks. At a tasting with all sorts of different white wine containers that had been left in the fridge overnight, the non-glass bottles reached room temperature faster than the glass ones. For shipping purposes it isn’t as important since the styrofoam is going to be a better insulator than anything else. Is thinner glass more prone to breakage? Which materials at which thicknesses provide the best performance as regards equilibrium with room temperature? I welcome the science on this issue!

    There is, however, that pesky human component. A 750 mL PET bottle looks like it only holds 500 mL because it’s shorter and thinner. We’re awful as a species at estimating volume, thinking in 2D and assuming that a taller bottle holds more liquid. A 1 L Tetra Pak is shorter and about the same width as a glass 750 mL bottle, though it holds 33% more. Despite the hard data, the customer is going to go with his or her animal instincts about how much wine is being purchased.

    Cheers,
    Benito


  10. Thanks for bringing this discussion to a wider audience, Tyler.

    And thanks, everyone, for weighing in with your comments.

    I’m curious on two fronts. First, do you think that most people even notice the bottle (except when it’s an inconvenience, like when it doesn’t fit in their racks)? My guess is that 90% of people never even think about it, though there is probably some small subliminal “heft=quality” thinking going on like Benito mentions.

    I don’t think that there is any ageability difference between different bottles. Look at the first-growth chateauxs, or the top Burgundies. All are in basic, normal-weight, normal-dimension bottles.

    And we have used different bottles, of different weights, for different wines over the years. We moved to the heavier bottles that we’re currently using for our Esprit de Beaucastels (red and white) and our top single-varietal bottlings 18 months ago… and started kicking ourselves shortly thereafter. We love the look of them, but not the weight or the implication of environmental tone-deafness.

    Anyway, I do appreciate the feedback. I’m sure I’ll be posting more on our blog as our thinking clarifies.

    Thanks,
    -Jason


  11. http://www.wineanorak.com/wine_in_pet_bottles.htm

    from article above:

    “PET, it seems, is pretty much safe”.

    I have seen wine seating outside the grocery store under the sun. I have received wine shipments in Styrofoam and had to return the wine because the corks were leaking because of heat.

    It is good for the environment, I agree.
    Is it good for you? I don’t know…I’ll go for the glass bottle from a local winery. Just like going to the local farmers market to get fresh seasonal organic vegetables…


  12. Questions:
    Where are the bottles made? In the US or China?

    If China. What is the carbon foot print on a shipment of plastic bottles from China?


  13. I think that a 900g bottle is ridiculous; it is incredibly wasteful. That said, I have to agree that the lighter weight bottles (those less than 500g) do not have a quality feel. I think manufacturers need to make the glass more opaque put more effort into the finishing details. The neck should be finished with cleaner lines and the seam should be less pronounced. Bottles in the 650g range look quite nice.


  14. mauricio:
    Glass bottles are made domestically, in Europe and in China.


  15. As a consumer, I could not care less about how heavy the bottle is, but winemakers and wine marketers seem stuck on the idea that heavier glass means better quality. The last time I was pondering this issue I couldn’t find any consumer studies that reinforced this. (Please let me know if you know of any.) Good for Tablas Creek for wanting to buck the stereo type and go for a more environmentally friendly bottle.


  16. I would be perfectly happy if every wine made from here on out were bottled in a 500mg (or less, so long as it’s not prone to easy breakage) bordeaux styled bottle. I hate having to worry about whether a particular bottle of wine I would cellar for a few years will fit in the racks of my wine fridge.


  17. While we are drawing up a wish list for bottle producers, increasing recycled content should also be on there along with lightweighting. Unfortunately, it takes more energy than making new glass but it does make a closed loop, drawing on no new raw materials.


  18. If anyone of you reads spanish (castellano, actually):

    http://www.ecova.cl/


  19. To reduce cost, recycling is one answer. I was in San Francisco visiting my step son prior going to the Sacramento show last week and I was impress by the recycling requirement in the City. This should be done on a National level. An other solution to reduce cost is by sampling. An example of that is what France is doing with the “Tube”. Check it out at http://www.witfrance.com and email me at winesweluv@gmail.com, if you are interested to know more.


  20. Interesting post, percieved value vs environmental impact. This is something that I deal with in an inverse fashion. I bottle in a 530 gram one liter bottle which saves the weight of a BMW 325i worth of glass for every thousand cases of wine. In terms of percieved value the challenge for me is that a larger bottle is often associated with lesser wines. But in the end it’s a fight worth fighting.


  21. New Zealand’s Yealand Estate created their own 51gm bottles from PET and invented a liner (called “DiamondClear technology”) designed to minimize the amount of oxygen that reaches the wine. Their first use of the bottles was with a Sauvignon Blanc.

    I’m not sure how it’s being received by their customers, but you’ll find a direct link to the post by clicking on my name above.


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