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Small bottle phenomenon ~ What a sweet idea, or is it?

Comments this week will be placed in a drawing for a $75.00 gift certificate from True Fabrications. (Just your name will qualify you.) Drawing on Saturday.

A few months ago, I received a package that contained six 50-ml size bottles of wine. Each one contained just two ounces. This was totally new packaging for me; it seemed like (maybe) a good idea. About that same time, I remember my friend Dan Berger (Vintage Experiences) writing in his newsletter about how 50-ml samples would be faring in the long run. I also, like Dan, know that wine ages really well in big bottles; e.g.,  magnum, 3-Liter, 6-Liter, etc., the bigger the better. It, therefore, stands to reason that these small bottles are going to be having some problems. Dan wrote:

“Moreover, if the 50-ml size was bottled and not used within about a six-month period, I suspect that the deterioration of the wine would make its use as a marketing tool almost foolhardy. Who wants to display such wines when they are not representative of what the 750-ml bottle would offer?”

Buy Dan’s newsletter for his entire thoughts. His subscription is well worth a tip he gives to his readers about what else you can do with these small bottles. It’s priceless advice!

So, I sampled those small six bottled wines that had been sent to me. I liked five of the six. One was definitely oxidized. So, when I wrote about the wines, I just left the oxidized one out of my story. (I save my rants for when something has insulted my sensibilities, not my palate. Wine’s a living entity, and can have problems beyond the winemaking.)

Around that same time, I also got a bottle of Trefethen’s Fallow terroir in a 50-ml bottle. The accompanying paperwork held a great story about the importance of  fallow vineyard land. I felt that this one was a brilliant marketing idea and wrote about it, “Fallow the Yellow Brink Road at Trefethen on April Fool’s Day.”

Shortly thereafter, I received another package from Trefethen, delivered by my FedEx lady. It contained a sample package of two 50-ml bottles of Trefethen & Trefethen Double T wines. It was beautifully packaged; again, proving to me that Trefethen’s stepping out with their marketing…

And, great for them, because anyone who knows anything about marketing will tell you that an economic downturn is a marketing opportunity. During this time, those smart enough to get their acts in gear position themselves as a big pebble on a small beach, while everyone else runs and hides under the blankets.

The wines delivered were:

  • 2008 Trefethen & Trefethen Double T, Napa Valley Chardonnay
  • 2007 Trefethen & Trefethen Double T, Napa Valley Red Wine

I had responded to Trefethen’s efforts with their fallow story, so they kept the camp fires burning. I’ve been wanting to write about the sample bottles, but have been running like a chicken with my head cut off since they arrived… Always thinking of them, but just not getting there. I’m also a big believer that everything happens as it’s supposed to, and now I know why I never got to it.

There was an even better story coming down the pike.

A parcel shipper just delivered one more package. In it were 750-ml bottles of Trefethen & Trefethen Double T wines.

  • 2008 Trefethen & Trefethen Double T, Napa Valley Chardonnay
  • 2007 Trefethen & Trefethen Double T, Napa Valley Red Wine

With the second shipment was a letter of interesting disclosure from Janet Trefethen.

“Dear Jo, I’m following up on the shipment of samples you received in March. During our ongoing monitoring of these small bottles, we have noticed variation among some of the samples. The wine in the larger bottles was in excellent condition before transferring into the 50ml bottles and our initial testing showed the samples representing the original wines. But at this point some of these smaller bottles are not representative of the quality of the wines in the larger bottles.”

Well, it appears that the perfect time had presented itself. How could my curiosity not be satisfied immediately?

I had to give it a go… I opened one 5o-ml and one 750-ml, and compared…

True to Janet’s letter, there was a decided difference between the two.

  • The 750 ml 2008 Double T Chardonnay was bright, fresh, and very delicious. It’s a wine that I highly recommend as a casual Chardonnay for your summer time adventures.
  • The 50 ml sample, while still a lovely Chardonnay, was showing signs of age already. It’s vibrancy had lost its edge, and it was clearly not in the same life cycle as the larger bottled wines.

Another communication just arrived with the technical data sheets for these wines. The continued follow-up, the newsworthy content, the disclosure all along the way, and the attention to detail is a lesson in marketing for you and anyone else who’s made it this far in this blog posting.

My hat’s off to Trefethen; and, I highly recommend these wines, for a lot more than their perfect balance and beautiful flavors:

  • To the next generation of Trefethens, for demonstrating their astute marketing skills.
  • To their parents, for making sure that their kids are able to carry on with their dream.

As anyone in my generation knows, that’s not an easy one to pull off for any of this.

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12 Responses to “Small bottle phenomenon ~ What a sweet idea, or is it?”

  1. Jolan says:

    What an interesting article! I work in the wine business, and my team and I were recently discussing the possibility of marketing our wines in small bottles. I certainly appreciate your feedback on the tastings.

  2. Steve Howe says:

    Interesting how the size of the bottle affects the wine. There are just so many factors that influence the quality of a wine.

  3. Leah McNally says:

    I’m facinated by the possibilities of using small bottles for shipping sample tastes to consumers. It’s noteworthy that Trefethen cares enough to follow up when they realized there was a problem. I’d like to hear more about quality comparisons over the long run.

  4. Jo Diaz says:

    Hey Jolan, Steve, and Leah,

    I was out all day at wineries gather stories (Gustafson Family Vineyards and Michele-Schlumberger), so I wasn’t able to comment.

    Jolan, In small lots as a “feature” they might work. For a business-2-business venture, I’d not be doing it, if I had the decision to make.

    Steve, Yes, size of bottles is really important. In a humongous bottle, wine ages for a really long time; so in a small bottle… forget it. It’s for instant gratification… purely.

    Leah, Ship to consumers if they’re going to be enjoying quickly. Yes, Trefethen really impressed me. Great job by them. I’m betting anyone who ages these small bottles for any length of real time will be disappointed… Just sayin’

  5. Hi Jo,
    I, too, didn’t realize that size matters, so thanks for the info. When I had first read about the small bottles – I think Grgich has some – I thought what a good idea to be able to have tastes before investing in the big bottle. But now your experience suggests that the small bottles need to be tossed out. However I wonder if the quality difference is simply from the transfer from 750s to 50 ml bottles – an oxidizing experience. I guess they can’t bottle directly into the small bottles. Perhaps the compromise can be 350 ml sample bottles?

  6. Jo Diaz says:

    Interestingly, I had a discussion with someone yesterday who understands more about the actual transfer of the wine. According to my source, it was done in a vacuum… no air contact in the transference. I think it’s a great marketing idea, because how cute is a baby bottle of wine? Practically speaking, the wine should not for critical review. If there are slight variances, consumers won’t care that much… Unless their professional consumers; i.e., people who take their wine experiences very seriously. Just my humble opinion… You book, BTW, is blowing my mind, and coming to the end shortly.

  7. Lorrie S. LeBeaux says:


    Great article! The quality of wine should never be compromised. The wine represents the wine makers talents and the wineries reputation. I have never sampled Trefethen’s wine, so maybe I should contact them; but I think that they are smart in there protecting their good name in the wine business!

  8. Jo Diaz says:


    You’re right… Nothing should compromise the integrity of a wine’s reputation.

    I know in writing this, I’ve felt some empathy for the marketing people who came up with this concept, and sunk money into the projects on on the table.

    I need – also – to put myself in the winemaker’s position, so now we have a REAL debate… Marketing over winemaking?

    Wine making has to really come first.

  9. Hi All, nothing insiteful. I just want to see myself type – Good products can fall with a poor marketing campaign whilst great products can endure even with a failing presentation.

  10. Jo Diaz says:

    Good points, well taken, Joel.

  11. Ted Henry says:


    I had several hundred 50ml bottles made by Crushpad. Luckily, I caught the fact that they were all oxidized/aldehyde infested before I sent any out to the press or public.

    There have been many articles (responding to press releases I assume) about these “great” new products. It is nice to see you cover the fact that cuteness and convenience may not be that beneficial if the wine has been compromised in the process. I feel for other wineries that are risking time, money and their reputation on this fad.

  12. Jo Diaz says:


    Honestly, I didn’t enjoy writing this one, because it’s not good news. I lean toward if I don’t have anything nice to say, don’t rant. That said, I did end up in the middle of it, and it just seemed like the right thing to do, given the Trefethen’s way of handling it. That was the positive. It may be – as you’ve noted – a fad. As Lorrie commented above, nothing is more important than the wine’s integrity…

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