September 9th, 2010
01:03 PM GMT
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Are you a wine snob? Will you only drink your vino out of a glass bottle with a firmly sealed cork? Or have you already been converted by the nifty screw tops that seem to be on just about every bottle of Australian and New Zealand white, and many South African bottles of wine?

The reason I ask is because CNN recently spent time in Stellenbosch, which is one of the most beautiful places in the world, by the way. I profiled a well-known South African wine estate about their initiative to sell some of their wine in plastic PET bottles.

Backsberg Estate say that plastic bottled wine is more environmentally friendly, because you save substantially on transport costs and it’s easier to recycle. This is because a plastic bottle is smaller than a glass bottle so you fit more into a container and when it’s finished you can squash it up and so waste removal costs are also cheaper, says the winery’s marketing manager Simon Back.

They are also emphatic that it’s not their ‘plonk’ or cheap wine going into these bottles – but a decent tipple from their acclaimed vineyards. Its brand name is ‘Tread Lightly.’

So would you tread lightly when it comes to a plastic bottle of wine? Would you give it a try on your next boating or camping trip (it weighs much less that a glass bottle of wine).

Do the environmental and convenience factors matter when you buy a bottle of wine? Or would you rather have the familiar heaviness of a glass bottle of wine and the pop of a cork?



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soundoff (34 Responses)
  1. Craig

    The environmental benefit does not stem from the fact that the bottles are smaller, it comes from the fact that they are extremely lighter compared to glass. Therefore the tonne km's/miles (the metric used for GHG accounting) for that product to market are minimal compared to shipping full glass containers.

    September 9, 2010 at 10:41 pm |
  2. A J McKenzie

    If you are looking for innovation & wine in plastic bottles including an integrated flute, try http://www.singlz.co.nz

    September 10, 2010 at 2:25 am |
  3. Deepwater805

    As a collector of fine wines, all I have to say is not only no, but HELL NO! What are they thinking? In fact I would love to see the Australian's stop using twist off tops for their Syrah.

    September 10, 2010 at 3:58 am |
  4. Sandy

    strikes me as fine for whites, roses and light reds that we drink young. never for a fat red, though, that will still need glass and a cork.

    September 10, 2010 at 4:28 am |
  5. Johan

    Although I agree that the plastic bottles would be better for the environment in terms of transport related emissions, I'm reluctant to buy into the use of plastic for anything. I think the cost to the environment in the long run is just too big. Look at the massive problem in the oceans. Glass is much better. Can't see myself buy an expensive bottle of red wine in a plastic bottle either. I think, those guys from Stellenbosch are just driving the idea as "environmentally friendly", because it would save them a hell of a lot of money in transport costs when exporting wine.

    September 10, 2010 at 5:30 am |
  6. Jessica Abigail Murway

    As an avid enjoyer of fine wines, taking into consideration a collectors perspective as well as the ever emerging growth of the fine wine/commodities sector I would say the plastic bottle will not by any means be able to penetrate the market . I am quite sure there is and are forms of recyclable glass materials that can be implemented that will not affect the quality of the wine to such a large degree. I hope a scare of the above... (gasp) plastic atrocity spurs this development in a more forward moving direction...

    September 10, 2010 at 6:14 am |
  7. Acropolis

    Isn't the glass bottle itself part of the culture of wine?
    Like having a napkin on a diner table?
    Let's save some refinement in our lives, please.
    Would you wear flip flops in a city?

    September 10, 2010 at 8:30 am |
  8. kme

    What about poly diffusion into the wine??

    September 10, 2010 at 8:38 am |
  9. MIKE

    I think it is a great idea as long as the taste is not compromised in any way .

    September 10, 2010 at 8:44 am |
  10. TheRoadWarrior

    Much harder to cool a plastic bottle...

    September 10, 2010 at 8:56 am |
  11. pw johnson

    South African, Australian and American wines in glass bottles are sold in Germany cheaper than local wines. There is something wrong with this picture. Obciously, transport costs are not an issue.

    Glass has a better chance of getting recycyled into new glass products. Plastic may get incinerated in power plants and at least have a second use. Otherwise they end up in landfills whee they don't deompose for ages, if at all.

    if we really want to reduce transport costs and the polluton that shipping causes, we should by more things that ar produced locally.

    September 10, 2010 at 9:58 am |
  12. Marc Rupp (Nepal)

    ...I emplore you to stay away from plastic. They are by no means more environmentally friendly...1000 years to break down, produced from oil, glass recycling is far more (currently) accessible around the globe and plastic often cannot be reused for the same product when recycled. If you want to see what plastic does when you do not have recycling just visit South Asia.

    And corks...just see what getting rid of this will do to the carefully managed lands in Portugal that sustain a whole ecosystem. (They got rid of the old 'corked' problem years ago so no excuse).

    Wine is classy so lets keep it that way...glass and corks please :)

    September 10, 2010 at 10:20 am |
  13. allan

    Wine has acidity and there's questions about chemicals leeching from plastic into liquids.

    September 10, 2010 at 11:21 am |
  14. Kumi

    Why not? Milk used to be in glass jars before, too, but now in cartons. And people drink it with no problems!

    September 10, 2010 at 1:29 pm |
  15. Miki Wright

    Disgusting! Think of how much bpa is going to leach out into the wine from contact with the alcohol! And then there is the redneck factor...

    September 10, 2010 at 1:53 pm |
  16. ken

    Back the 80's when plastic wine containers first started showing up in California, I bought a carton to keep in my car in case a earthquake hit... Well Loma Prieta came along and we were all stuck in a parking lot at work since the quake it at about 5:00pm. While everyone was panicked, I introduced everyone to my liquid post-earthquake anti-anxiety medication. BTW, it was a decent chardonnay but I don't remember the label.

    Today, we probably go thru a bottle every other day. That's plenty in a year so if my wine ends up plastic, I'm not going to care one bit.

    September 10, 2010 at 1:54 pm |
  17. Acropolis

    Isn't the glass bottle itself part of the culture of wine?
    Like having a napkin on a diner table?
    Let's save some refinement in our lives, please.
    Would anyone wear flip flops in a city?

    September 10, 2010 at 2:03 pm |
  18. Katelyn

    I would like to know if there are any potential health hazards down the road with using plastic as a vessel for wine. Plastics make me nervous, in particular when they are used for extended periods of time, and so I would much rather stick with glass and know it is safe.

    September 10, 2010 at 3:20 pm |
  19. Name*Graeme Blake

    Yes I most certainly would, but then I drive to my ad agency and promote innovation all day long. Can't remember the last time a client rocked up in a horse and buggy although I'm sure they must be out there.

    September 10, 2010 at 9:33 pm |
  20. Ivos

    As a collector of fine wines, all I have to say is not only no, but HELL NO! What are they thinking? In fact I would love to see the Australian's stop using twist off tops for their Syrah.www.iblogy.cz

    September 10, 2010 at 10:52 pm |
  21. Ivos

    As an avid enjoyer of fine wines, taking into consideration a collectors perspective as well as the ever emerging growth of the fine wine/commodities sector I would say the plastic bottle will not by any means be able to penetrate the market . I am quite sure there is and are forms of recyclable glass materials that can be implemented that will not affect the quality of the wine to such a large degree. I hope a scare of the above... (gasp) plastic atrocity spurs this development in a more forward moving direction..http://www.iblogy.cz

    September 10, 2010 at 10:53 pm |
  22. Frieda Lloyd

    I am definitely giving the plastic bottle a go. It's summer in South Africa and we are picnicking at least once a week. Besides the positive environmental impactsas the major reason for buying Tread Lightly we need to make the picnic baggage lighter. I'll be stocking up on the Tread Lightly Sauvignon Blanc for summer. Well done Backsberg & Pick n Pay for this business approach to be kind to the environment. It is obvious why Pick n Pay has won the Sunday Times TopBrands award for environmental efforts in business 2 years running.

    September 12, 2010 at 6:43 am |
  23. OOOYOOO

    I like the Singlz's PET bottle with all-in-one design. However, I don't think the single serve design is environmental friendly. Indeed, it will waste more plastic bottle.
    I don't favor red wine in plastic PET bottles rather in heavy glass bottles.

    September 12, 2010 at 2:40 pm |
  24. Simon Back

    @Craig spot on.

    @Deepwater805 the Tread Lightly wines are not intended for cellaring; they are great quality, easy-drinking wines for drinking now. The PET bottles currently have a shelf life of two years, so glass is still the way to go for keeping wines for longer that that.

    @Sandy agreed.

    @Johan The question of environmental impact is indeed quite complex. We have chosen to look at so-called life cycle analysis studies, and if you look at the life of a PET bottle compared to that of a glass bottle, from a carbon emissions perspective, the PET bottle comes out favourably. There are indeed cost savings from a transport perspective. The Tread Lightly wines are available at sharper prices than the same varieties in the Backsberg range.

    @Jessica Abigail Murway it is early days in terms of our experience here in South Africa, but I know that the PET bottles are definitely moving off the shelves in overseas markets.

    Disclosure: I am the marketing manager at Backsberg

    September 12, 2010 at 7:23 pm |
  25. David Ward

    Did somebody 'screw-up' the heading for this item ?

    'Fine wines' in plastic bottles ? I'd say not unless you wish to drink it in under a week of purchase from the maker, and then who would buy it anyway ?

    Fine wine that can not be cellared is a contradiction in terms surely.

    September 14, 2010 at 4:46 am |
  26. nonewts

    I agree with Johan, the reason they are using lighter bottles is to save freight costs. These long-chain hydrocarbons (plastics of various types) are stable for centuries in the environment and are, after all, made from oil. Hard to sell the eco-friendly statements. The comment by Simon Beck is true (glass has a longer life in the environment) but does not address either the recycling or the origin-from-hydrocarbons issues.

    September 14, 2010 at 11:23 am |
  27. john carlson

    Enough!! Plastic is a environmental catastrophe and it should be utterly phased out or at the least minimized. The thought of drinking a fine wine out of a plastic bottle is appalling to say the least. I already loath the twist off caps and the plastic corks so to bottle it in plastic would add insult to injury. And if you want to call me a wine snob than so be it. I will wear that badge proudly!!!

    September 16, 2010 at 1:54 pm |
  28. George Day

    I wouldn't eat or drink ANYTHING from ANY type of plastic. If you don't know why already, you're in trouble. I spend a small fortune every year for all organics and a pallet of Speyside Glenlivet water in glass bottles... THAT has been my health plan for 23 years, and it's working perfectly.

    September 21, 2010 at 10:21 pm |
  29. TurnerKat

    Nothing snobby about it: plastic outgassing affects the taste, quality and chemistry of wine. Period.

    October 5, 2010 at 10:16 pm |
  30. dickjan

    No plastic for me. I donot see any reduced environmental impact-what you gain on the swings, you loose on the roundabouts.
    On the other hand, i find the screwcaps quite handy and excellent closures-so lets keep the corks for the premium ,traditionally made wine, and screwcap the rest!

    October 8, 2010 at 2:33 pm |
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