The Test of Tradition: Previewing the Future of Wine Packaging
The tradition of wine
I love the tradition of wine, the years upon years of careful hands-on cultivation, the family-run wineries and time-tested production techniques, but I don’t hold tradition so precious as to eschew what modern convenience and innovations can bring. For the same reason I drive a car instead of manning a horse and buggy and far prefer running water over trudging down to the stream for my daily wash, I embrace the big thinkers in the wine world. (Almost) every idea deserve a chance, and in that spirit, here’s a brief introduction to some gizmos and gadgets you might be seeing in your neighborhood wine mart sooner rather than later.
Cork is so integral to the wine industry there are actually organizations like the Cork Quality Council (an non-profit group made up of US wine cork suppliers) that specialize in ensuring bottles are topped up in only the most proper fashion. Cork is still by far the most predominant type of wine closure, but other inventions are garnering more and more attention.
The screw cap is the most obvious addition to the mix, and probably the most recognizable as well. It seems to have gained the most traction in Australia and New Zealand, as well as with the gently labeled “affordable wine” sector, but these days a screw cap says far less about quality as it does thoughtful production and ingenuity. Purists argue that a living, breathing entity like wine needs the air a natural material like cork allows through, but screw caps are more durable, won’t snap off mid-service, and they do a great job of preserving a wine’s natural characteristics.
I think my initial affection for the Zork is quirky name, but truth is this slightly clunky stopper is pretty good at its job. Sort of like popping a can of refrigerated biscuit dough, you open a Zork-sealed wine bottle by unraveling a plastic lead until the lid itself pops off. It’s easy, it protects the wine from flavor-effecting elements, and best of all, it doesn’t require a wine key. Still, it requires a specially shaped wine bottle, and that requires wineries to completely rethink their most basic production.
Synthetic cork and vinoloks are the other two major entries to the wine sealant market. While I understand the convenience and affordability of synthetic cork, I find it clunky and ugly. Sure it preserves the wine, but for me, this forces wine to lose a little too much of its magic. Something about a plastic imitation of something as beautifully traditional as cork just makes the whole thing seems cheap. Vinoloks are little glass stoppers that, for me, seem to emphasize form over function. They’re undeniably beautiful but until they became easier to insert (the current manual-insertion method just isn’t practical for big-league production numbers) its always going to be a novelty – albeit a pretty one.
Anyone curious about the commercial potential of single-serving wine needs to do little more than look up Copa di Vino. Run by Oregon-based winery owner James Martin, this company specializes in premium wine packaged in a patented single-serve plastic cup, complete with a resealable lid. According to ABC News, as of April of this year Copa di Vino has done over $25 million in revenue.
Other companies like Bandit Wines, Tandem, and Bota Box combine nostalgia and convenience by selling their wines in disposable containers that bear a striking resemblance to the juice boxes you used to use to wash down your PB&J. Tandem, a French company, even boasts a special straw that they claim mimics the sensation of sipping your wine from an actual glass, so you’re not trading off the flavor factor in favor of portability. Even better, Bandit says their award-winning wines are better because they pour the money they save by not using expensive glass and cork packaging into vinification; it’s hard to say until I actually get my hands on one of these brightly colored, screw-cap topped boxes, but perhaps they’re onto something.
And then there’s the cans. Most people are no strangers to popping open a can of soda, but Pinot Noir? It seems somehow… sacrilegious. Union Wine Company has their Underwood line, and quite a few wine stores now carry Francis Ford Coppola Winery’s pretty in pink “Sofia” Blanc de BlancsMost companies seem to have developed some sort of lining for the can or other preventative measure to make sure the wine tastes like wine and not, well, aluminum can, like Barokes Wines in Australia, an important step that separates innovation for the sake of experimentation and practical application. It might not be sexy to flick the tab on your Chardonnay in the midst of a candlelit meal, but head out camping, and the idea is a lot more intriguing.
So yes, tradition should be protected, and our collective wine history is something to be cherished. But putting things on too high of a pedestal makes them awfully hard to see or truly enjoy. My advice? Give these newfangled ideas a try. I can almost guarantee it won’t hurt.
By: Uncorked Monthly