Reduce, Reuse, ReTHINK: UnPacking Alternative Wine Packaging – Take-Aways and Observations

In recent years, the world of wine has seen a shift towards innovative packaging options beyond the traditional glass bottle and cork.  While alternative wine packaging, such as Bag-in-Box, aluminum cans, plastic and paper bottles, offer convenience and sustainability benefits, there are often questions and concerns about these modern approaches.

On a rainy Monday afternoon during New York City Climate Week 2023, in the vibrant borough of Brooklyn, Melissa Saunders, Master of Wine from Communal Brands and known as “The Wine Queen” decided to host a special event to showcase a diverse selection of wine in alternative packaging to wine professionals, journalists and consumers. 

 As a part of this event, the Climate Talk panel discussion was in association with The Porto Protocol Foundation and Boldly NY, The New York Grape and Wine Foundation, and together, they transformed Pollyn, a cozy horticultural shop, into a wine-tasting wonderland, with different stations representing wines in various packaging options from many parts of the world. 

As attendees strolled in, Melissa welcomed the visitors and encouraged them to explore the alternative packaging options while they awaited the opportunity to ask the experts questions and address their concerns. As the glasses clinked and laughter filled the air, a lively discussion ensued, fueled by curiosity and, of course, a few glasses of wine. 

 I, Kenn Pogash, the host and moderator of the Climate Talk, was among the first to voice his concerns to Bruce Schneider from Gotham Project about stainless steel egs. “I just can’t wrap my head around the idea of wine in a keg,” he admitted, displaying his skepticism.  “Doesn’t it compromise the quality of the wine?” and, “how do I know where the wine is from, specifically how authentic is it?” 

Bruce assured me that wine from kegs typically is served in a glass, just like bottled wine.  The stainless steel keeps it fresh and eliminates the risk of taint. Restaurants now have kegorators that keep the wines at specific temperatures providing an additional level of enjoyment as you sip the wine. And, there are more than 300 different wines available in kegs throughout the market at the present time. 

Some attendees expressed disbelief and doubt about wine in aluminum cans. John, a traditionalist, furrowed his brow and asked Michael Cook, from Bridge Lane Wines, “Does wine in packaged in an aluminum taste the same as wine from a glass bottle?” 

Michael replied, “Absolutely, John. Canned wines are carefully crafted to ensure the same quality and taste as their bottled counterparts. The can doesn’t affect the flavor. Michael went on to say that, “there are several other important considerations. Cans have a 20% lower carbon footprint versus glass, aluminum is 100% recyclable. In fact, endlessly recyclable and aluminum cans finds its way into recycling far more often than other container options.” Michael emphasized that cans are convenient, easily portable and lightweight. 

Clara, a curious wine enthusiast asked Melissa Saunders, “How long does wine in a bag-in-box stay fresh after opening?” Melissa explained that…

“bag-in-box wines can stay fresh for weeks or even months after opening, thanks to the airtight packaging. You can enjoy a glass of wine without worrying about it going bad.” 

Taylor chimed in, “I understand that wines in bag-in-box can be quite good, as the selections of wine presented here today clearly demonstrate, however, is the plastic bag recyclable? Melissa, never side-stepping any issue, felt it important to clarify this point. She stated that, “unfortunately the plastic bag and spigot are not recyclable in many regions. But, she added, “that fact does not negate the benefits of bag-in-box from an environmental perspective. It has the lowest carbon footprint by a significant margin. A  3-liter bag-in-box has about 1/9 the carbon footprint of a single use glass bottle. 

Peter, asked the final, and most controversial questions of the afternoon. “What role does education play in the furtherance of alternative packaging? How do you do it? Who has credible authority and responsibility? Is it the winery, distributor, retailer or journalist? 

Many voiced the opinion that everyone who has involvement with the wine industry has the responsibility to educate the consumer. Tom, representing a retail shop in New York, clearly believed employees of retail shops need to receive education in order to promote these alternatives. 

Susan, an importer of wines, stated that “these alternative packages must move from the far back corner of a retail store to reside side by side with glass bottles.” Marco added that, “if you have an Italian wine in an alternative package, it should be with all the other wine in the Italian section. Susan, a winemaker of primarily Chardonnay, highlighted that, “If you have a Chardonnay section the Chardonnay in an alternative package should be in the Chardonnay section.”

There was consensus that everyone in the wine industry must acquire the knowledge and understanding of innovative alternative packaging to be able to discuss the feature, advantages and benefits to all who will listen. 

As the afternoon went on, the group continued to discuss the pros and cons of alternative wine packaging. They shared their concerns about taste, preservation, and the impact on the wine-drinking experience. They also considered the benefits, such as convenience, portability, and environmental sustainability. 

In the end, the group agreed to try more wines in alternative packaging over the coming months to broaden their horizons. They discovered that while glass bottles would always hold a special place in their hearts, there was room for innovation and change in the world of wine packaging. This is a a win-win for wine lovers and the planet.

The story of these wine enthusiasts serves as a reminder that it is essential to keep an open mind and explore new possibilities, even when it comes to something as cherished as wine. As they learned, alternative wine packaging can offer surprising delights and contribute to a more sustainable and diverse wine culture. 

Written by: Kenn Pogash, Master of Versatility for the Porto Protocol