The SW Summary: Paper wine bottles, the impact of BLM campaigns on Black-owned wineries, cost transparency, and Bordeaux 2019 en primeur at a bargain

By Hanna Halmari

Frugal Bottle: The paper wine bottle

It’s no new news that bottle weight has a significant impact on the wine industry’s carbon footprint. In the search for lighter alternatives to the traditional heavy glass bottle, Frugalpac has launched the ‘Frugal bottle’ made from recycled paper. Writing for Decanter, Ellie Douglas reports how the fully recyclable bottle is “made from 94% recycled paperboard, with a [recyclable] plastic food-grade liner to contain the wine or spirits within.” According to Frugalpac the amount of plastic used in a Frugal bottle is around 77% less than a plastic bottle, the bottle weighs around five times less than a standard glass wine bottle, and has an “overall carbon footprint up to six times lower.” 

The first to adopt the Frugal bottle is Italian vineyard Cantina Goccia for the sale of its Q3 2017 wine. According to Frugalpac CEO, Malcolm Waugh, the Frugal bottle has received “fantastic feedback” and is under “active consideration” by a number of UK supermarkets. Having received a sample bottle to test out, Douglas shares her thoughts. Her first comment is how “one certainly notices that it’s much lighter to hold than glass.” Read more here.

The impact of Black Lives Matter campaigns on Black-owned wineries

As part of the Black Lives Matter movement, people across the globe have focused on ways to support Black-owned businesses. In her article for VinePair, Janice Williams examines whether the recent campaigns “highlighting Black-owned wineries, tasting rooms, and wine shops to support” have actually helped. According to her article, it has for some.

One of the wineries that has felt an impact is Abbey Creek Winery, having seen a recent rise in sales. Bertony Faustin, owner and winemaker of Abbey Creek, is Oregon’s first-recorded Black winemaker and a long-time champion of driving a more inclusive wine industry. The lack of representation in the wine industry is incredibly low. According to Statista, out of America’s almost 11,000 wineries, only 60 of these are Black-owned, Williams reports. To “help change perceptions of Black people within the wine industry” Faustin has produced his own documentary and works with children from the “Portland Opportunities Industrialization Center and a local high school.”

Over in California, owner and winemaker of Longevity Wines Phil Long has also seen a large increase in sales and social media engagement. Long also notes a surge in the number of new members at the Association of African American Vintners (AAAV), of which he is president. He believes that the current attention is opening up more opportunities for “the industry leaders of tomorrow and young people who may not have known a career in wine was even a possibility.” To maintain the momentum, the AAAV is investing in scholarships, mentorships and educational resources for “young Black winemakers-in-the-making.” The visible increase in sales and awareness of Black-owned businesses in the wine industry is encouraging and a good place to start. However, much more work remains to be done to drive the systemic change for a more inclusive wine industry.

To learn more about what you can do, Miguel de Leon shares a number of action points for the wine community in his articles here and here.

Should the real costs of wine be transparent? 

This is the question Robert Joseph ponders in his article for Meininger’s. The production costs of a bottle of wine are hard to determine. What should and shouldn’t be factored in? For example, should prices change according to yields, “irrespective of quality?” One thing that can be agreed upon is that “the wine industry is no different from any other. Whatever you make has to be sold for more than it costs to produce.”

However, should we know the breakdowns behind the price tags? Joseph discusses how in the early 2000s, UK supermarkets “employed their own wine markers to ‘work with’ and learn from.” Exploiting their new increased access to information about the winemaking process and industry, the supermarkets were quick to use this as leverage in their purchasing negotiations. This brought in the concept of ‘open book’ prices, resulting in large cost savings for the retailers. This strategy was also applied to the purchasing of branded wines as the retailers attempted to drive down prices – a pressure only strong wine brands could withhold. Overall, according to Joseph, “unless low prices depend on abusive exploitation of people or the environment or of a monopoly, a winery’s production costs and margins should be absolutely nobody else’s business.”

Bordeaux’s 2019 vintage bargain

According to The Economist, there’s a silver lining to the Covid-19 cloud for wine investors. The prices of Bordeaux’s 2019 vintage releases have dropped by 15-30% from the 2018 vintage, presenting investors with a bargain. The Bordeaux red wine vintages are sold as wine futures or as ‘en primeur’ at prices set by critics. The vintages are sold two years prior to being bottled and released on the market. The article shares how according to trading platform Liv-ex, en primeur investors who bought a vintage each year from 2000 to 2008 made an average return of 19% from selling the vintages after two years. 

The years from 2015 to 2018 delivered high quality vintages, resulting in higher release prices. However, this has led to an increase in inventory among investors and the négociants, or the middlemen who sell the wine onward, as they have struggled to make a reasonable margin through reselling the wine. The Covid-19 induced cut in the 2019 vintage price is no doubt welcome to many.

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About the author

Hanna Halmari

Hanna Halmari is the editor at Sustainable Wine and the head of conferences at Innovation Forum. Hanna specialises in sustainability research and events across various industries. She holds an MSc in international development from Kings’s College London, where she developed a strong interest in political economy and post-communist transformation. Hanna speaks Finnish, Bulgarian and English. In her spare time she is a dedicated Radio Lollipop volunteer at Great Ormond Street Children’s Hospital, enjoys travelling, and tasting new wines.