Fine Wine in a Box?

What comes to mind when you think about boxed wine? For me, it brings back fond memories of drinking affordable Franzia in college. Well, the New York Times reported this week that more wine producers are packaging their fine wine in boxes too. Italy's Agriculture Ministry announced that some wines that receive the government's quality assurance label may not be sold in boxes. The concept of good boxed wine is nothing new--it's been around for more than 30 years, with Australia being the first country to popularize it.

So what's so good about boxed wine? The lighter packaging reduces the producers' carbon footprint, for one. According to the Times article, more than 90 percent of American wine production occurs on the West Coast, but the majority of its consumers live east of the Mississippi. A standard bottle of wine holds 750 milliliters of wine and emits 5.2 pounds of carbon dioxide while traveling from a vineyard in California to a shelf in New York. In comparison, a 3-liter box generates about half the emissions per 750 milliliters. If 97 percent of wines sold in the U.S. were put into boxes, we would reduce greenhouse gas emissions within a year by about two million tons, or the equivalent of retiring 400,000 cars.

With America soon becoming the largest wine market in the world, we should start thinking about all the greenhouse gases we're producing while drinking. The problem, however, is that boxed wine in America is hard to market because of its stigma as a cheap, lower-quality variety. It's admittedly hard to imagine an expensive wine coming out from a plastic spigot. It does have its advantages however, as boxed wine can be stored for about four weeks (compared to the bottled variety, which only lasts a day or two). More importantly, per glass prices of wine will be cheaper out of the box since producers can ship more with less weight and boxes are cheaper than bottles.

All in all, boxed wine seems like the right (and increasingly necessary) choice to make. Theoretically, the boxes should be recyclable too! I hope that wine producers and marketers can pick up on this trend and change the way Americans think about wine. We've already switched from glass to aluminum soda cans, so it should not be all too difficult to make some changes for wine.