Why Reduction in Wine Bottle Weight Is the Quickest Way To Offset Wine’s Carbon Footprint

Dr. Laura Catena, Karen MacNeil, and Jason Haas sound off on the importance.

Innovating and working against consumer expectation to tip the scales the other way.

Dr. Laura Catena of Catena Zepata
Courtesy of Catena Zepata | Photo by Matt Wilson

Dr. Laura Catena of Catena Zapata in Mendoza, Argentina has been dedicated to educating consumers about the environmental impact of bottle weight. With this and focused efforts of the winery, they have successfully reduced the weight of their Appellation Vista Flores Malbec bottle by 45%, and reduced the Catena Zapata Classic bottle weight by 33%. Overall the entirely of their bottles have seen a 40% reduction in weight. I asked Dr. Catena why it’s important for quality wine producers to follow suit in the efforts of Catena Zapata and work toward glass reduction in their bottles. Here is her heart-felt response:

« It’s important to lower the weight of wine bottles because up to 60% of a wine’s carbon footprint comes from the glass bottle and its transport; however, because very few consumers in the USA are aware of this, they often choose the heavier bottles which look fancier, in the same way that heavy Champagne bottles look so gorgeous and fancy. »

« So what’s really important right now for the wine industry is to teach consumers about why lighter bottles are a better environmentally friendly choice, so that consumers start preferring a lighter bottle. For example, if we have an Argentine wine that is high-priced – over $100 – right next to a bottle from Napa, California at the same price, and the Argentine wine has a lighter bottle, it looks less expensive than the heavier bottle of the Napa wine. People are visual. This is why at Catena we’re doing this education campaign for the consumer. We want the consumer to make the choice and to have all the information necessary to make the right choice. I’m confident that the consumer, with the information about the significance of the glass bottle to the carbon footprint, will prefer the lighter bottle. It’s the same as asking a luxury perfumer like Dior to use light-weight plastic bottles for their fancy perfumes. Consumers wouldn’t like this, so it wouldn’t happen. Look at cognac bottles; they’re heavy, beautiful. I think we need to do a lot of talking to the consumer about this. Why would a consumer pick a less attractive packaging unless they understood why? »

Similarly on the journalism side of wine, we are seeing a changing tide. A few weeks ago Karen MacNeil, author of the best-selling book The Wine Bible, announced via Instagram (see post above) that she and her team will no longer write about wines that come in heavy bottles. I applauded the news when I saw the Instagram post myself, but then though about it even more deeply when I came across the LinkedIn post below from Jason Haas, Proprietor of Tablas Creek Vineyard in Paso Robles, CA:

« Glass accounts for half of wine’s carbon footprint, more or less, and a move from heavy to lightweight bottles will save a winery 20% off its tally. At Tablas Creek Vineyard we did this back in 2011 and have used nearly 2 million pounds of glass less and saved more than $2 million in aggregate since. How did we have the confidence to make the switch? We asked our customers what they cared about. The most common response: “please just give us something that fits in our wine racks.” -Jason Haas, Proprietor of Tablas Creek Vineyard

We are also seeing it go down in the Willamette Valley! And it’s no surprise because winemakers in Oregon are always ahead of the curve when it comes to sustainability, and glass production, shipping, and recycling have a huge carbon footprint. Wineries like J.L. Kiff, who have been using lighter-weight glass and screw caps for many years, are embracing the new trend in sustainable packaging: refillable bottles. ReVino is a new company creating refillable glass bottles in the Willamette Valley, creating a new, more Earth-friendly bottle ecosystem for beverage producers and consumers in the PNW. Early signers-on include Et Fille Wines and Fairsing Vineyard, both in the Yamhill-Carlton AVA, as well as Remy Wines in Dayton. 2023 wines will start being bottled in these reusable bottles this month. Reduce the weight, reuse the bottle. A winning recipe for continued success and massive carbon footprint offset! 

The challenge will be within each of us, as we tangibly hold a bottle of wine in our hands and allow that weight to influence our opinion of the juice inside. When we reverse that psychology, we will unlock ways for the industry to continue making course-corrections that’ll take us into innovations of the future.