With roughly 1,000 wineries, Washington state is the second-largest producer of wine in the U.S. Wineries in the state are looking to transition to more sustainable packaging in order to reach a new generation of wine drinkers willing to forgo tradition and address environmental sustainability and supply chain issues.
Traditionally, the industry pushed the belief that high-quality wines should come in a heavy glass bottle with a wooden cork closure and wrapped with aluminum or tin foil capsules on top, and that the heavier the bottle, the better the wine.
The capsules have been the first change. While the capsules were recyclable in some places, wineries found that most of its customers didn’t realize that and just threw them away.
Prosser’s Hogue Cellars, when it did away with corks entirely and switched to screw caps in 2011. Another winery, Fortuity Cellars, worked with its designer on a label that would draw customers but also make using a capsule unnecessary for one of its collections.
Meanwhile, Kiona Vineyards and Winery, announced a year ago that it would put several of its wine varieties into lighter-weight bottles, along with having previously reduced the number of times its tractors go through the vineyard. General manager JJ Williams explained that the need for change will come from the wine industry itself, namely because it shaped the culture and experience around the product.
The state’s largest wine company, Ste. Michelle Wine Estates, released cans for its 14 Hands brand in 2019. Additionally, Full Pull Wines offers customers a curated selection of wines through its email newsletter, including wine in cans and bag-in-a-box formats, along with those in traditional glass bottles.
Gavin Sacks, professor and associate chair of food science at Cornell University, has done research on wine quality when it’s stored in different containers and alternative packaging. He found that the seams of a bag-in-a-box wine often allow more oxygen to come in, which shortens the amount of time the wine can be consumed to just a few months. Still, the difference in wine oxidation when the package is closed and when it’s open is minimal, which allows for consumption for a longer period of time once a package is opened. An open bottle stays fresh for a few weeks at best, but a bag-in-a-box wine can be consumed for several months after opening.
Cans can keep oxygen out and be stored for a long time, but some sulfated wines, when in contact with cans, create a chemical compound that causes an unpleasant smell akin to rotten eggs. And sometimes, cans corrode and leak. Sacks said he’s researching to see whether there is a way to prevent the quality issue.