Do heavy wine bottles and fancy, thick foils help persuade you that a wine is of good, higher, or even cult quality?

If so, you might reconsider and move toward lighter bottles for a variety of reasons, starting with good taste and then adding environmental, economic, gastronomical, and psychological factors.

Winemakers have been pushing heavier bottles for decades as one sign of quality. Critics say the big bottle move is related to marketing, branding, and ego (my bottle is heavier than yours). The same is true for the heavier and thicker foils. However, studies have shown the additional weight doesn’t create a detectable difference in quality versus wines in lighter bottles. Foils, of course, are just foils (and often a major nuisance to remove).

In thinking about future buying strategies and encouraging your favorite wineries to go light, the packaging and transportation costs for heavier bottles result in increased costs of the wines and negative impacts on the environment. Heavier glass bottles require more energy and materials to produce, increasing their carbon footprint. The heavier the bottles, the larger the footprint.

The additional weight of heavier bottles increases transportation emissions, as more fuel is required to transport the same amount of wine. One estimate suggests moving wine in heavier bottles uses 20-30% more energy for transportation.

Move to Fewer Emissions, Saving Costs

Analysis suggests a move to lighter-weight bottles across the wine industry could significantly reduce emissions and energy use. For example, one UK study found a global switch could save over 180,000 tons of CO2 emissions per year.

The move to lighter bottles has financial benefits for the wineries, as well, according to Wine Business.

“Lacking a multiverse of packaging options due to consumer perception and traditional quality cues, wineries have had to watch packaging prices eat away at already thin margins. When asked what the most important driver or objective of their packaging strategy was this year, 43% of all wineries surveyed said it was to control costs,”

The concerns reflected in the survey are confirmed by the latest economic data. Glass bottles are included in the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) Producer Price Index (PPI) data. According to the BLS, the PPI for glass containers grew 50% from 190 in April 2013 to 279 in April 2023. Almost all that increase came after 2019, with the index growing 34% from April 2019 to April this year. In the same period, label costs increased by 30%, capsules rose by 26%, and the index, including corks, increased by 8%.

Eliminating Capsules

Wine Business reported that more wineries are reducing overall costs by moving to lighter bottles and getting rid of the traditional capsule. “In 2022, 74% of all wineries surveyed reported using a capsule to finish wines in traditional glass bottles. That share dropped to 55% in 2023, while those answering they used “nothing” to finish their bottles rose to 24% from just 5% in 2022. Among all wineries that use capsules, 49% say it gives their wines a premium look, and that can be seen in 76% of surveyed wineries in Napa County, which reported using capsules. By comparison, the use of capsules was the lowest among participating wineries in the Central Coast, with only 26% saying they used capsules and 63% reporting they used nothing.”

Dave McIntyre, wine columnist for the Washington Post, has been a crusader for lighter bottles for years. He includes bottle weights in his reviews. He notes that lighter bottles are easier to handle, and heavy bottles don’t signal a better wine. “These peacock bottles, strutting to catch our attention, won’t work.”

In a recent story, he documents why lighter bottles are good for our planet.

“Here’s why bottle weight matters: Glass is extremely energy-intensive to manufacture. Glass bottles account for 29 percent of wine’s carbon footprint — the single biggest factor — according to a study commissioned in 2011 by the Wine Institute in California. Transport is 13 percent, and bottle weight is a factor in that. Other studies of varying areas and scope put the combined contribution of glass to wine’s carbon footprint closer to 50 percent…Encouraging wineries to use lighter bottles is another form of environmental activism.”

What the Industry Says

Jancis Robinson, noted author and wine critic, is a proselyte for lighter bottles and packing. She wrote that we “are now familiar with the fact that glass-bottle manufacture and transport is the most significant contributor to wine’s carbon emissions.” She cited data from a study from the California Wine Institute, with the results shown in the infographic in this posting.

Wine Carbon Footprint

With lighter bottles, transportation costs drop, as reported by Tablas Creek.

Jason Haas, general manager of Tablas Creek Vineyard in Paso Robles, Calif., said his winery has saved more than $2 million since shifting to lighter bottles in 2010. Shipping represented about half.

Catena Winery of Mendoza, Argentina, reported reducing the overall weight of its bottles by 40% from 2010 to 2023. The yearly reduction in the use of glass is 1,200 metric tons, and CO2 emissions by 21 percent.

Jancis Robinson provides more guidance:

“Those bottlers and producers suspect that some of the resistance is inspired by the fact that the manufacturers feel they can charge more for heavier bottles. But since lighter bottles use less raw material, surely it’s just a question of getting the pricing right? Yes, new moulds have to be designed, but these lighter bottles will be increasingly demanded, and the manufacturer who can supply them first will be rewarded with healthy sales.”

“There really is a strong argument for bottle manufacturers and the wine (and beer and spirits) industries to work together to increase sales and reduce carbon emissions and for the glass industry to listen to the needs of their main customers. For the moment, they feel they have wine producers over a barrel (so to speak) and can afford not to take account of their concerns. How many switches from glass to cans, bags in boxes, and recycled plastic will it take to change their minds?”

Eschewing big bottles and bad foils is a great place to start.