Bye-Bye Bottle? Alternative Wine Packaging on the Rise

by Gabe Saglie, Senior Editor, Travelzoo
published in the Santa Barbara News-Press on 8/13/15

I enjoyed a lovely pinot noir over the weekend.  It was easy-drinking, with bright cherry flavors, earthiness and a clean finish.  Made from Central Coast fruit, it paired nicely with my wife’s homemade turkey tacos.

I also poured myself a tasty cabernet sauvignon.  It was smoky and robust.  And it was, impressively, sourced from French Camp in Paso Robles, the celebrated organic vineyard owned by Santa Barbara’s Miller family, who own and manage famed Bien Nacido Vineyard in Santa Maria, too.

What was especially unique about these wines, though, was not how they tasted, or their pedigree.  It was their packaging.  The pinot, on the new Alloy Wine Works label from San Luis Obispo County's Field Recordings, comes in an aluminum can, just like any inexpensive beer, complete with popable pull tab.  The cabernet comes inside a small cardboard box – a Tetra Pak is what the producer, CalNaturale, calls it.  You open it by twisting a small plastic cap.

I’ve always been a traditionalist; it took me a long time to embrace the industry’s slow move toward screwcaps.  So I balked, at first, at the notion of gulping wine from a can.  But these unique packages do come with perks.

Portability, for one: in this season of beach outings, picnics and camping trips, stuffing a few cans or small boxes of wine into your bag is easier to do, and more forgiving, than glass bottles.

And then there’s value.  I bought these wines at Nielsen’s Market in Solvang, which sells 500-ml. cans of Alloy – the pinot noir I mentioned as well as a grenache rosé – for $7.49.  That’s the equivalent of just over $11 for a standard 750-ml. bottle.  The 500-ml. box of cabernet from CalNaturale, the Northern California producer that also makes a boxed chardonnay, sells for $5.99 – that’s under $9 if it were a regular bottle, probably the lowest price for anything ever made from French Camp fruit.

You’re not supposed to really sip right out of the can, of course, or the box.  Question is, once you pour, does it really matter where the wine was housed from the time it left the barrel to the time it hit your glass?  For young wines meant to be drunk young, an aluminum or paper vessel is just as effective as glass.  Image issues aside, the only drawback of the can may be commitment: if you don’t want to finish the full 500 ml. of pinot, you’d have to get creative about closing the can back up.  The Tetra Pak cap recloses easily, though I don’t think the cab tasted quite as fresh on day two.

“I wish more producers started experimenting with these types of closures,” Ozzie Osmonson told me.  He’s the buyer for the impressive wine department at Nielsen’s, which features a variety of wine cans and boxes at two different store displays.  “You can do a lot more with a can than you can with a bottle, and they’re just a lot easier to use.”  As we part ways, the fundamentalist voice inside my head wants to argue.  Traditional bottles rule!  But I find myself agreeing.  And I find myself adding a Sofia sparkling wine to my stash as I head toward checkout; the pretty pink 187-ml. can fits perfectly in the palm of my hand, comes complete with a tiny straw and costs just $4.49.

Still not convinced?  Understandable.  But there’s no denying that the trend toward alternative wine packaging is growing.  The classic glass bottle isn’t going the way of the dodo bird anytime soon, but store shelves are getting increasingly more crowded with wine-filled cans and boxes of all shapes and sizes.  And at such competitive prices, pulling a tab or two may well we worth the experiment.



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