Marketing,Wine,Wine Business

Weight of Wine Bottles and Being Unduly Impressed in a Time of Sustainability

How do you feel about the weight of wine bottles these days?

I know of one wine writer who, when the bottles began to take on the “Big Boy” effect, had serious issues right away. It’s only been within the last 10 years that wine bottles have put on the extra pounds…

As part of the fattening of America, they’ve been super-sized.

Are you impressed?

Do you pick up a wine bottle from a shelf, and make a decision based on the complete packaging, including that the wine bottle, combined with the wine within it, now weighs five pounds?

When I first started working at Belvedere Winery, a case of wine was 36 pounds. (Each bottle filled with wine weighed three pounds, times 12 bottles in the case.) When we shipped the wine, we automatically put the weight down as 36 pounds. Some marketing department must have decided that it wanted its brand to take on a new and improved persona, I’m thinking. I would begin with the wine (hopefully), and end with the bottle… Now, a case of wine can weigh up to 50 pounds. That means that each bottle became 1.16666666666666 times heavier.

But I’m still back to what’s in the bottle, not the bottle itself, having the quality that I’d like to enjoy. I’d rather have the extra dollars it takes to make quality of the wine be the real consideration. Does it take a “complete package” to sell you, though, on the quality of the wine within?

How do you feel about this issue? I’d really like to hear your pros and cons. Are you into the sustainability movement, which prefers that all things in life, including creating a bottle that uses less energy to create, and takes less energy to haul across country in 18-wheelers, be more environmentally conscious. Or do you see the heavier bottles and believe that what’s inside must be of a higher quality?


29 Responses to “Weight of Wine Bottles and Being Unduly Impressed in a Time of Sustainability”

  1. As a very small winery, making wines from an old sustainably certified vineyard, we take sustainability very seriously. We purposely buy lighter weight bottles (38 lbs for a full case box in a shipper), and have eliminated capsules, but do worry about consumers’ perceptions…don’t want them to think our wines are “lightweight”, and not to be taken seriously.

  2. Jo Diaz says:

    Good points, Betsy. A back label story about sustainability with great vit and wine making practices will seal the deal.

  3. […] Weight of Wine Bottles and Being Unduly Impressed in a Time of Sustainability […]

  4. Don Phelps says:

    Heavy bottles are an ego trip for the winemaker and buyer who both think bigger is better – if one has to stand out on the shelf it is better to improve the label design or go to screen printing, The older you get the better the Eco-glass looks in terms of how your back feels 🙂

  5. Andrew says:

    As a long time wine drinker and Architect I think not only what is in the bottle, my main thought but also what the entire package looks like, label, shape of the bottle, typeface graphics etc all have varying degrees of interest to me. I do not pick up a bottle in the store and access its weight, rather the weight of the bottle is often reviewed after the wine has been consumed. This is often when I am astounded by the disparity of empty wine bottles. Yes I am concerned about sustainability and worry about the additional glass used unnecessarily to transporting wine. I would rather the glass industry find a sustainable methodology of designing and manufacturing a lighter stronger bottle, so all can benefit. The hidden costs of unnecessary glass starts with its manufacture from raw material, to equipment needed to wash it and support it on the bottling line, stronger cardboard boxes to transport it, extra fuel for the shipping truck, etc. need I go on. In the end, the consumer is paying for an unnecessary portion of the product without realizing any benefit. This unnecessary burden ultimately contributes to environmental damage, something we should all be cognizant of. Now is the time that everybody in this complicated food chain realizes that one small decision costs us in many ways.

  6. John Tummon says:

    Our Liquor Control Board of Ontario won’t purchase any wine priced under $15 that has a bottle weight over 420g (14.8oz)

  7. Deborah Hall says:

    We are all about sustainable. So happy to see more people feeling the same. Last year we introduced our earth bottle. The lightest wine bottle made. With new cutting edge technology, quality along with sustainability, a 16% reduction in energy, material and shipping. Each bottle only weighs 14oz. Every time I pick one up, it’s “wow” all over again. So fun to share. We now bottle all our wines in the earth bottle except a small offering in hand blown bottles. As far as consumer perceptions, in my opinion a high end wine can’t truly be high end if the winemaker is not taking into account the care of our environment.

  8. gdfo says:

    Perhaps for some winemakers the heavier bottles may seem like an ego statement. Consider that some wines that are made to remain in the bottle for extended periods need a bottle that can withstand the aging process in uncertain conditions. Also consider that sparkling wines need a stronger bottle because of the pressures involved.

    For everyday drinking wines that need little or not bottle aging then a heavier bottle is not required and is probably less of an expense.

  9. Mike Mora says:

    The heavier bottle are for the over $200 a bottle Napa Cabernet. In order to make the buyer not feel like a total sucker, the wine is put into these heavier bottles to create the psychological effect desired- you didn’t get totally screwed buying this wine. It works- chumps.

  10. Richard says:

    Hi Jo,

    I make a small amount of wine – I make a Cabernet to age (not for six months! but for 10, 20, 30, or even 100 years) and have found that gdfo is correct – the wine seems to be better in a heavier bottle (perhaps this is my ignorance and faulty perception).

    And while it isn’t scientific, I did two studies – informal – whether it is ego, ignorance, style, whatever, my consumers (the few that I have!) said that the exact same wine (no kidding) was better out of the heavier bottle. I did not tell anyone the wine was the same or different – just let them taste – and every single person of about 25 (small sample group, I know) said that the wine in the heavier bottle tasted better. Now, this was just with a Cabernet. The second informal study was to ask folks which wine they thought was “better” without trying it. Again, of approximately 60 folks, 55 indicated the heavy bottle wine was “better.”

    Perception is reality – and we all know that even if you make the best wine in the world, the public will NOT beat a path to your door – may be true with widgets, mouse traps, and other things, but not wine! So, that is why I use the eco-busting heavy bottles, sadly. It actually does help sell the wine.

  11. First a response to gdfo:
    So now in addition to the size of the bottle (larger formats age slower), your position is that the heavier the bottle, the better the wine – what… tastes better ages better. Couldn’t agree more with Richard. Zero empirical correlation.

    Now from the perspective of a broker who has to lift these increasingly heavier cases, consciously or otherwise, might this affect buying habits? If I have two wines – quality, flavor, or pick a descriptor, will I choose the wine that’s easier to handle.
    AND, I work with clients, many of whom have custom cellars in their home that were designed and constructed to store traditional Bordeaux style wines. Some of these new vintners are putting their wines in Champagne (or what once was) sized bottles where you’re lucky to get nine wines in a bin. Whay happens to the other three bottles, Uf

  12. Paco Weldon says:

    I buy a lot of wine. I hate, hate, hate, bottles that are oversized and find myself being negatively influenced by the weight (i.e., size) of the bottle. It’s not necessarily the weight that I object to. It’s the fact that bigger bottles wreak havoc in my cellar. They take up too much room and sometimes render a space that was designed for 12-15 bottles, able to accommodate only 8 – 11 bottles.

    Equally distasteful to me are odd shaped bottles that are clearly used for marketing purposes. Winemakers, let your wine speak for itself. For me, odd shaped and heavier bottles signal to me that, perhaps, more thought was put into marketing of the wine than into making of the wine.

  13. Jo Diaz says:

    Andrew (and all),

    Forgive me. I took some time off to be with our grandchildren and didn’t check my blog for responses. I’m pleased to see so many interesting comments.

    In the early 70s, when it became an issue, Andrew, I made the decision to never use another can with chlorofluorocarbon. When I think back to how many cans I could have/would have used, the pile would be staggering. Now, when I’m cleaning surfaces, I just use a mixture of vinegar and water. Imagine all of the ammonia that I’m also not using. I care deeply about what I’m leaving behind for not only my grandchildren, but also for other grandchildren, too. The world doesn’t have to be as dangerous as it has become… Including massive bottles.

  14. Jo Diaz says:

    Don… No kidding. I remember the 36 pound cases that suddenly became 50 pounds. I also remember one story when the producer who had switched to MASSIVE bottles received a huge fine. They hadn’t considered how much heavier their 18-wheeler was going to weigh, until they hit the CHP weigh station and also got a massive fine.

  15. Jo Diaz says:

    Excellent points, Deborah. With larger wine companies, though, a marketing department might be calling the shots for the bottles being purchased. This is a huge mistake, because a winemaker with integrity can’t be bought, like the weight of a bottle can be. I love your comment about a 16 percent reduction in energy costs. That’s huge.

  16. Jo Diaz says:

    gdfo, I actually thought about the bubbly wines, when I wrote this one. They can’t have a light weight bottle/glass, as you’ve pointed out. The bottle could explode in time. Very dangerous. But an everyday Chardonnay or Petite Sirah… could be ego, as you’ve suggested. Hard to imagine anything else, except wanting to capture a wine newbie, who wouldn’t quite understand, yet.

  17. Jo Diaz says:

    Mike, very funny and probably right. Still, just shows how superficial we can be as people.

  18. Jo Diaz says:

    Richard, did your group see the bottles from which the wine was being poured? (If yes, people are so funny, in my humble opinion.)

    I wonder if heavier can make a difference? With no oxygen in the bottle, and a bottle doesn’t breathe, I can’t help but wonder if it will age any differently. I might consider cork as a contributing factor, but glass? Interesting.

    Yes, perception is reality and people don’t necessarily gravitate toward sustainability. We wouldn’t have the landfills that we now have, if people did try to be more energy and environmentally conscious.

  19. Jo Diaz says:

    Bruce… That’s right. I forgot about storage in the traditional spaces allowed/constructed for a wine rack. I have empty spaces, because of these massive characters, wich do allow for a neighbor. It becomes a juggling act, every time it’s time to move product around. (Wasted time = wasted energy.)

  20. Jo Diaz says:

    Paco… great thoughts.

  21. Jo Diaz says:

    John, They can’t be fooled… Very interesting.

  22. Nick Aleksich says:

    From a winery’s perspective and many years of trials and results, please find this alternative perspective …. indeed many wines are placed into heavy bottles more for presentation motives than anything else, which in these instances lighter bottles are certainly more appropriate and caring for the environment.

    However there’s also a genuine place for heavier bottles in relation to ultra-premium wines destined for long aging periods (10-50+ years).

    Ask any glass manufactuer or windowmaker about the thermal properties of thin vs thick glass and you’ll find a significant difference in respective insulation qualities.

    In turn, thicker glass provides a greater thermal barrier moderating temperature fluctuations on a daily and seasonal basis (much the same as an underground cellar for example), which in respect of wine greatly impacts its ageworthiness and the final wine experience in glass.

    Hence wines for longer aging in thicker glass/heavier bottles (all other things being equal) will deliver a greater wine experience. This is certainly our experience.

    Whilst bottles for the most acknowledged wines of the world are often found in medium weight bottles, they’re transported and cellared (by winery, wine trade, and afficionados) with great care under controlled environmental conditions at all stages along the way, negating the need for heavier bottles.

    This same high level of care often isn’t given to wines generally, hence the need for heavier bottles to offer additional protection. Of course, such bottles also come with the added benefits of conveying prestige and a premium feel.

  23. Jo Diaz says:

    Well, Nick, you just made my day.

    Yes, it has to do with your explanation as the general manager for Mills Reef Winery in New Zealand. I know that you’ve had to make decisions on what bottles to be buying and why. But, more for me is the reconnection of an old friend. I trust you’ve been well, and I miss all of my friends from Mills Reef. I learned a lot about wines from New Zealand, the year that I helped Tim Preston (family owner and winemaker) make his way around the US and connect with media friends along the way. My best to the family!

  24. Nick Aleksich says:

    Thank you Jo, likewise very nice to be in contact with you again.

    Will pass on your regards and hope all is well in the US!

    Incidentally, we’ve just bottled our 2013 Hawkes Bay reds, hailed as ‘the vintage of a lifetime’ for the region.

    Beautifully full balanced rich (but not over-ripe) wines which will age wonderfully for many years.

    Undoubtedly a vintage to purchase and cellar, hence many of these wines will be appearing in heavier bottles for reasons aforementioned.

    Take care!

  25. Carroll Price says:

    From what I can gather, just about everything associated with wine, analyzing, sniffing, tasting, labeling, (including the weight of the bottle) is naïve and superficial in nature.

  26. Jo Diaz says:

    Carroll, If we think about what Nick Aleksich has said, for a wine that is going to be in a bottle for a long time, a thicker glass is an advantage. Still, I would keep that to bottles of wine that cost more than $150. So, it’s a waste of resources otherwise; i.e., superficial.

  27. Richard says:

    Jo, didn’t check and didn’t see your question. Yes, sadly, the folks did, “did” see the bottles! that was part of my informal experiment – that was what I wanted to see – and it worked. Heavy bottle equals good; light bottle, not so good. And I believe study after study has proven this – people have been served the same wine and told that “glass A” is a $100 Cabernet and that “glass B” is a $15 Cabernet; in study after study, folks say the $100 Cabernet tastes better – yet, it’s the same wine. So, I believe it is the same perception with heavier bottles.

    And, on Nick’s point, I didn’t want to argue or get into the polemics of thicker bottles initially, etc., but most winemakers I know (and again, this is a generalization – because I only know about other winemakers), with one lone dissenter, have told me that the heavier bottle will help the ageing and handling of the wine. This is why, in my winemaking infancy, I listened to these guys and got the heavier bottle – has it made a difference? No idea – since I didn’t bottle any (aside from my experiment and that was just pouring half a bottle of the heavy bottle into a lighter bottle) in a lighter bottle.

    The questions that occur to me though are: (a) there are so many other things that each and every one of us can do to save the environment that are much more important than a heavy wine bottle; and (b) where do we draw the line? do we put wine in a total eco friendly “plaper” wine bottle (this is a new eco thing I read about that is part paper and part plastic – allegedly all eco and compostable) with a eco cork? (c) corks – cork production is technically, not eco – do we stop using corks? and watch all the fine Napa Cabernet and Bordeaux and Pinot and Zin and Rhone and Syrah, and Burgundy never age again? (d) do we all ditch our gas burning cars and walk/bicycle/public transport (this would save much more than wine bottles!)… even if each person traveling singly in a regular/average gas burning car took one less day to drive to work each day (driving from the North, South, or East Bay into The City) and could “tele-commute,” it would save more than heavy wine bottles…

    So, just some random thoughts!

  28. Jo Diaz says:

    Thanks, wine barrels!

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