Lighter, greener plastic wine bottles gain favour

By Leslie Gevirtz June 28, 2011

The PET, polyethylene terephthalate, bottles are 100 per cent recyclable, unbreakable, lighter and smaller to transport than glass and take less energy to create.

"We see (plastic) as a positive step in terms of energy and production," said Michael Wentworth, of New Zealand's Yealands Estate. "It's 89 per cent lighter than glass, so you're reducing your carbon footprint there, as well as anytime you ship it."

The plastic containers have not changed the taste of the wine Yealands said because its Sauvignon Blanc and Merlot, which have both been bottled in plastic, have done well in blind tasting wine competitions.

For Naked Winery in the western U.S. state of Oregon, which has used PET bottles for more than a year, the containers suit its outdoor wine concept.

"I like to backpack and I like to take wine backpacking and this is perfect," said David Barringer, 52, a winemaker at Naked.

Both wineries use a 750 ml sized bottle, which Wentworth said looks smaller next to regular size bottles.

"The consumer may think that they're not getting the same amount of wine, so we clearly label ours 750 ml," he said.

Despite the convenience of plastic bottles, the containers have faced an image problem with some consumers still preferring their wine in a glass bottle.

While Boisset Family Estates sells its California Fog Mountain Merlot and its Yellow Jersey wines in plastic bottles in North America, it had less luck with Beaujolais Nouveau.

When Boisset bottled its 2008 Beaujolais Nouveau in plastic bottles consumers, who like to bring a bottle of the young wine to their annual Thanksgiving Day dinners, complained.

"Thanksgiving is a very traditional holiday . . . so consumers wanted a more traditional package. They wanted glass," said Patrick Egan of Boisset. As a result Boisset switched to a lighter glass, which weighs less than traditional bottles, for its Beaujolais Nouveau.

The Bordeaux-based Institute of Vine and Wine Sciences also raised concerns about quality after a preliminary report it released last year suggested white wine in plastic bottles stayed fresh for six months.

Marc Kaufman of EnVino, the maker of PET bottles for Boisset and Naked Winery, rejected the study's findings, saying plastic bottles are not meant for expensive wines that need to be laid down for years before being drunk.

"Those wines make up less than three per cent of the market. We're aiming for the other 97 per cent," he said.