Why most wine is in heavy bottles with corks

jeff-smby Jeff Miller of Artisan Family of Wines (Seven Artisans, Sly Dog Cellars, Red Côte)

I came across the following post by the Wine Curmudgeon:

Why don’t these wines have screwcaps? which can be found at http://winecurmudgeon.com/why-dont-these-wines-have-screwcaps/

The gist of the post is that there’s no good reason why wine isn’t bottled  in lightweight glass  and closed with a screwcap.

I’m going to answer this question  in a kind of roundabout way. I was having lunch a while back with one of our distributors. We got to talking about what it takes for a wine brand to be a success. This is how he ranked the most important factors:

1. Marketing budget

2. Packaging

3 (and a distant third at that). The quality of the wine in the bottle.

Closures and bottle style fall under the second, “packaging”, category.

The primary benefit of a screwcap  fits into category three, because it  pretty much eliminates corked wines.

Bottle weight also falls under the “packaging” category. Does a heavier bottle make the wine any better? Clearly not. In fact, does the heavier bottle have any benefit other than consumer appeal? Again the answer is no.

But if you’re a wine producer, it doesn’t make any difference how good your wine is if you can’t sell  it. And when it comes to selling wine, consumers don’t like screw caps and they don’t like lightweight bottles. You can talk about the environment all you want, or how great screwcaps are at finishing a bottle of wine. A lightweight bottle with a screwcap benefits you not at all unless somebody is willing to plunk down some cash for it.

I’ve been at this wine thing now for quite a while, and I have to admit that my view about what makes for a successful wine brand  has undertaken a 180° shift. I started off thinking that if you produced really good wine, as with the proverbial mousetrap, consumers would  beat a path to your door. I now realize that this was naïve in the extreme.

I don’t know if  our distributor is 100% correct in his view, but he might well be. He certainly far more  closer to the truth than I was starting out.

And, when you think about it for a minute, you can certainly see his point. If I’m out buying a bottle of wine in the supermarket or wine store, the chances are very good that most of the wine I pick up I’ve never tasted before. So that’s a strike against quality counting for a whole lot. Now that’s not totally fair, because I do tend to pick up  wines from producers that I’ve had good experiences with in the past. But I think I’m a lot more cognizant of producers than most consumers are. Many of my friends will comment that they tasted a  wine last week that they really liked, but  they’ve forgotten what it was. So lots of good putting a quality product in the bottle did for that producer.

I suspect the place where quality counts the most is on direct to consumer sales. At least if you’re selling to a local clientele (as opposed to tourists), I do think your repeat business is going to depend upon your buyers being happy with what they bought.  Not to mention that if the buyers are coming into your tasting room, if they don’t like what they’re tasting,  you are not going to make a sale. But when it comes to any sort of regional to national distribution, I think the quality of what’s in the bottle definitely takes a backseat to other factors.

If you doubt this, maybe you should take a good look at the products available the next time you’re in the wine section  of your super market. And ask yourself,  “By and large, is what I’m seeing in front of me reflective more of the quality of the producer or its marketing power?”

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3 Responses to “Why most wine is in heavy bottles with corks”

  1. Glen says:

    Hi Jeff

    While I agree with most of your article, I would disagree with you vehemently about screw caps, and don’t make the mistake of lumping screw caps with light bottles as the only option.

    “The primary benefit of a screwcap fits into category three, because it pretty much eliminates corked wines.”

    I think you are missing the biggest benefit of screw caps here which is ease of use due to elimination of a cork screw, and while it eliminates corked wines, it does have it’s own issues with reductive wines so I would more likely put it into category 2 - packaging.

    “And when it comes to selling wine, consumers don’t like screw caps…”
    Disagree. In Australia, the screw caps sell out in most cases long before the same wines under cork. New Zealand and Australias are now very heavily into screw caps.

    I emplore you to be part of the solution and not to continue to be part of the problem by not engaging/encouraging screw caps.

    Best regards

  2. Chris Miller says:

    As a former Sommelier, I hate heavy bottles and in the restaurant world packaging matter much less than at retail. It’s a real shame, yet so true that marketing is the most important aspect of wine. But wine producers need to make a living and pay the mortgage. Not all are willing to be in debt for much of their careers to make authentic wine with real character and quality. I’m referring to the recent change of status at Alma Rosa in Santa Barbara by Dick & Thelka Sanford.

  3. Ronn Sven says:

    I believe your distributor is correct. I have often wondered why a lot of less expensive wines that I have tried were of better quality than some of the more expensive brands? This post answers my question.

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