John Weekes

John Weekes is a reporter for the Herald on Sunday.

Cardboard bottles on the nose — Hawkesby

John Hawkesby says good wine deserves a glass bottle. Photo / NZ Herald
John Hawkesby says good wine deserves a glass bottle. Photo / NZ Herald

If you sneer at screwcaps, or reckon cask wine is for cheapskates, the next innovation in wine bottles will make your head spin.

Cardboard wine bottles are due to hit New Zealand next year. The eco-friendly containers, made from compressed recycled paper, had the same shape as regular glass bottles. But the new bottle drew derision from some Kiwi winemakers, who questioned whether the cardboard wine bottle would preserve the wine properly.

California packaging company Ecologic Brands told the Herald on Sunday it planned to release the cardboard bottles in New Zealand next year. Company founder Julie Corbett said cardboard boxes used to store glass wine bottles were re-pulped to make bottles, creating a "closed loop" waste model.

Two wines were already on sale in the US in cardboard bottles, and a top local vintner with green credentials was keen to investigate. The bottle, printed with natural ink, had a recyclable plastic bladder inside.

Lighter weights meant lower shipping costs, with less fuel needed to haul the same number of bottles.

Yealands' Michael Wentworth said the Marlborough winemaker would mull over the cardboard bottles, but already had recyclable polyethylene terephthalate (PET) plastic bottles 89 per cent lighter than comparable glass bottles. "We won't necessarily proceed with it but we'll have a good look at it," he said of the cardboard bottle.

He said big costs and strange challenges could bubble up when winemakers overhauled bottling methods. "One of the issues we had with the PET when we first used it was trying to stand up the bottles on the bottling line, because they're a lot lighter."

Wentworth said winemakers would have to test how cardboard affected a wine's shelf-life. Too much oxygen entering a bottle ruined wine but Yealands' PET bottles had an "oxygen scrubber" to control incoming air.

Wentworth said only Kiwi and Aussie consumers seemed to link cardboard with cheap plonk. In Scandinavia, he said, nobody whined about casks, with premium French vintages there sold in cardboard containers.

The bottles did not impress wine writer and winemaker John Hawkesby. "I find it abhorrent, to be perfectly honest." Hawkesby said premium wine deserved a good glass bottle, and glass also conferred practical benefits. Seeing is believing - serious wine buyers sought clues about wine quality by looking through the glass. "If it's good wine, clarity of colour, especially with aged wine, is quite important."

Yet Hawkesby conceded consumer trends could prove him wrong. He said cardboard could appeal to picnickers, or even boaties, who wanted to keep weight down.

Graphic designer Kevin Shaw of London firm Stranger & Stranger is credited with the cardboard bottle idea.

In September, Quantum Pacific and cleaning products company Eco Planet started using similar bottles for a detergent.

- Herald on Sunday

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