It's summertime, and the wine drinking is easy! While there are certain objects I refuse to sacrifice to sustainability (LP's, books and snail mail), there are plenty of things that I will avoid if it means a healthier planet. And as much as I love a bottle of wine, it's not the bottle that I'm as into as much as the wine itself (wheeee!). Fortunately, depending on the material used, wine from a box lasts longer and tastes just as good as wine from a glass bottle - and it seems to be the greener choice. Read on to learn more, and don't miss our list of favorite boxed wines!
Photo © Chris Willis
You might be wondering what the heck is wrong with using a glass bottle for wine anyway? Well, not that much — if your wine is from down the street, ie. very local. Plenty of lucky folks on the West Coast and in France, Spain and Germany can drink wine that’s made fewer than 100 miles away. But if you don’t live in a wine-growing region, as I don’t (if you live on the East Coast, it’s actually more eco-friendly to get European wine that’s shipped on a less-polluting boat than Californian, which is trucked).
Since plenty of wine is transported pretty incredible distances (I HATE that my favorite wine is Shiraz from Australia), the weight of all that glass really adds up to lots more fossil fuel burning than need be if the wine were packaged in a lighter material. While you can’t change much about the weight of the wine itself, smart design can lighten the weight of a case of wine bottles.
While some businesses have been ‘light-weighting’ bottles in recent years, wineries have been slow to adapt to this trend, though it can result in a compromise, with glass bottles that are 12-28% lighter than their conventional counterparts. As reported by Wine Business magazine, Fetzer Wineyards in California benefits from, “…a 14 percent reduced carbon footprint (a measure of the impact activities have on the environment). Lightening their 750mL bottles by 3.3 ounces (from 20.3 oz. to 17 oz.) will reduce their yearly glass usage by 16 percent, totaling more than 2,100 tons of glass.”
But when it comes to the weight game, boxed wine end up being tons lighter — literally — than even the lighter glass bottles. As Yellow + Blue wine’s website details: “Consider: A case of wine in glass weighs 40 pounds and holds 9 liters of wine — close to 50% wine and 50% packaging. A case of Yellow+Blue weighs 26 pounds and holds 12 liters of certified organic wine. That’s 93% wine and 7% packaging.”
Box wine is also easily closeable and keepable – which might help you keep from drinking the whole thing! And some of the box designs will actually keep wine fresher, longer, with special seals and collapsable interiors.
Photo by Robert S. Donovan
However, box wine isn’t perfect. Boxes are not good for aging wines, so vintages that you want to keep for years in the basement aren’t going to fare well in a box. But frankly, not a lot of wine is aged – the vast majority is consumed within a year or so of its production. The biggest advantage that glass bottles have (aside from tradition) is that they are easily recyclable. While Tetra Paks (what most new ‘box’ wines is packaged in) can be recycled (and they are to a higher degree in Europe), here in the United States we are far behind and aren’t able to easily recycle them (though plenty of communties do – check yours here).
However when you consider the energy it takes to melt and transport glass for recycling, even if you don’t recycle the Tetra Pak, the energy savings alone make up for the (fairly low-volume) landfill use.
If you think boxed wine is all Franzia and their ilk, think again. Over the past few years I have gotten to try the “new” boxed wine produced by several companies, and it’s just as tasty as any other kind. Here are some standouts:
French Rabbit wines have been served at quite a few events I’ve gone to in recent years, and they are very (maybe too) drinkable and refreshing.
Yellow + Blue makes an line of organic wines that are very delicious and easy-to-drink. As an added bonus, the graphic container means I wouldn’t be embarassed to put it right on the table.
Boho Wines are from California, and everything from the taste of the beverage to the whimsical package reminds you. Due to the bag-in-box design, not only is a larger quantity of wine less expensive (a box that which contains the same volume as three bottles is $24), but it will last for six weeks in the fridge.
Akesson Vins, a Swedish vintner, wins the award for coolest package design. And the best part? They make single-serving ‘juice-box’ style wine containers! Just don’t get it mixed up with the Juicy-Juice for your kids’ lunchbox.
Thirsty for more? There’s lots of additional boxed wine recommendations in this roundup!
Starre Vartan is founder and editor-in-chief of Eco-Chick and author of The Eco-Chick Guide to Life (St. Martin’s Press). A green living expert, she contributes to The Huffington Post and Mother Nature Network (MNN.com)