Winery Benefits From Lightweight Glass

Thin is in at Fetzer Vineyards, as the Northern California winery switches to a lighter weight glass to cut shipping costs and give the environment a break.

HOPLAND, Calif. (AP) -- Thin is in at Fetzer Vineyards, at least when it comes to wine bottles: The Northern California winery is switching to a lighter weight glass to cut shipping costs and give the environment a break.

"It's one of those win-win approaches," said Ann Thrupp, manager of sustainability and organic development for Hopland-based Fetzer.

Trimming packaging to cut costs and lessen the environmental impact has been catching on in other industries as well. Some of the changes include redesigned cans that use less aluminum and super-concentrated detergents that prevent shipping water cross-country.

"It's about money and somewhat about marketing to that piece of the market that responds to environmental messaging," said Martha Leflar, senior project manager for the Virginia-based Sustainable Packaging Coalition.

For Fetzer, the new bottles are on average 14 percent lighter, with the 750- milliliter bottles now weighing 15.5 oz. when empty. With 23 million bottles a year shipped, that adds up to 2,200 tons of glass saved -- less resources used, less money spent on materials and less fuel needed for transport.

The new bottles have the same shapes and colors as traditional wine bottles, but most have a flat bottom, as opposed to the traditional indentation known as a "punt."

The punt is being kept for some of the winery's premium lines, but since one of its main purposes is to collect sediment, it is not necessary for everyday wines that aren't going to spend years in a cellar, Fetzer spokesman Jim Caudill said.

The ability to make lighter glass isn't new; what is is the attention it's getting as a "green" alternative, said Kevin Stevens, vice president of sales and marketing for the North American region of Ohio-based O-I, the manufacturer of the new Fetzer bottles.

Beer bottles have gotten lighter and the company is getting inquiries from other wineries, Stevens said.

Some wine bottles need to be robust. For instance, sparkling wine bottles have to withstand pressurized contents. But for most wines, the lighter bottles are fine, he said.

That's been the case at Fetzer, which hasn't seen an increase in breakage, Thrupp said.

Wine has been splashing out into new venues in recent years, appearing in boxes, juice-box style cartons and cans, as well as PET (polyethylene terephthalate) bottles.

Fetzer sells some of its wines in PET bottles, and this year, French wine producer Boisset Vins et Spiritueux is exporting Beaujolais Nouveau -- a light and fruity wine traditionally released the third Thursday in November -- in PET bottles.

Since Beaujolais, meant to be drunk soon after release, is shipped by air all over the world, using lighter packaging "just seemed like a really logical step," said Kathleen Burns, director of marketing for Boisset Family Estates, the company's California division.

The switch to lighter bottles comes as wine weight has become something of an issue among connoisseurs, with some prominent wine writers criticizing heavy bottles -- some of which are adding up to more than 4 pounds, including the wine.

Bartholomew Broadbent, a San Francisco-based importer of fine wines, is not a fan of heavy bottles.

"It's infuriating to have to lug heavy cases around," he said. "I'm amazed that wineries still put their wines in heavy bottles because it seems to me so uncool and unfashionable."

But there are defenders of the heavier bottle, such as John Bell, winemaker at Willis Hall winery in Marysville, Wash. He thinks lighter bottles are OK for everyday wines but vintages from small wineries are works of art that require special presentation.

"If you've got a handmade boutique product, you have to have the right frame for it," he said. "Would you want to see a picture hanging on your wall with a cheap black, wood frame? Not if it's a Matisse."

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