October 2011 Issue of Wines & Vines

A New Façade for Boxed Wines

Banker invents attractive dispenser to squeeze out wine

by Jane Firstenfeld
It’s official: Boxed wines are now mainstream. In August, the consumer wine press conceded the issue: Grant Butler wrote in the Portland Oregonian, “What’s going into those boxes has improved dramatically.…More restaurants are turning to boxed wine for by-the- glass pours.” In The New York Times, Eric Asimov led his blog, “The Pour,” saying: “It’s the epitome of déclassé, the vinous equivalent of trailer trash, the wine snob’s worst nightmare.”

A few paragraphs later, he recanted. “The logic of placing wine in a box is so compelling that, sooner or later, some producers were going to take a chance that better wine would sell this way.” He and a panel tasted their way through 20 boxed wines, many of them imported. “Without a doubt,” he wrote, “the choices are far superior to what was available five years ago.” Favorites included a $90 box of 2009 Pinot Noir (Dominio IV’s Love Lies Bleeding) and Constellation’s Black Box New Zealand 2010 Sauvignon Blanc priced at a tasty $22 for 3 liters.

In the wine industry, success comes with accessories. A few years ago, we were dumbfounded to receive a new product sample: an opener for screwcapped wines. This struck us as redundant, to say the least. This summer, though, we were intrigued by a pitch for a new product designed for bag-in-boxed wines.

Designed by a passionate consumer of boxed wines, and still in prototype mode, the Boxxle has captured the interest of at least one major winery as well as Scholle Packaging, the pre-eminent producer of wine bags in North America.

Tripp Middleton is a banker in North Carolina. He was inspired to invent the Boxxle by frustrations common to box-wine consumers. “I always enjoyed wine, I hated to waste wine. I read about the environmental benefits of boxed wines, and the fact that the wine would last a month after opening. I love to have a glass with dinner.”

He did not, however, necessarily like the look of the box in his kitchen; the need to prop it at the lip of a counter or refrigerator shelf to pour and, most importantly, he resented the difficulty of pouring the last glass or two out of the box. “You just want to tear the box open and squeeze,” he observed.

No tilting with Boxxle
Boxxle, a sleek dispenser fabricated from stainless steel and injection-molded plastic, addresses these issues. Middleton engineered a patent-pending method of bringing the wine up to the spout instead of relying on gravity feed and manual mauling. This enables the Boxxle to sit securely like other appliances and eliminates the “tilt to tap” (or messy squeezing) required to get the last ounces from existing boxes.

It does require some labor from the consumer or server, however. The wine bag must be removed from its original, branded bag-in-box (BiB) and placed in the Boxxle. Middleton consulted with Scholle to ensure that Boxxle’s spigot is compatible with commercially available spouts. “Boxxle will work with all their bags,” he said.

Katie Scarpelli, marketing communications manager at Scholle, commented, “We’re always excited when others get excited about BiB.”

While winemakers might welcome Boxxle if it attracts more buyers for their product, marketers could have objections. Every wine package is the child of carefully considered strategy and considerable monetary cost. 

Yet at least one winery is taking the Boxxle very seriously. Badger Mountain, Kennewick, Wash., produces some 65,000 cases yearly, including the organic blends Pure Red and Pure White sold at Whole Foods. It was the second winery in Washington (after Hedges) to install an automatic screwcap bottler and ships about 90% of its 750ml bottles in Stelvin screwcap closures from Amcor, according to sales manager Mickey Dunne.

Badger Mountain has a thriving by-the-glass program in restaurants and a national retail program of BiB wines, including the organic blends and Powers Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay, retailing from $20-$22 per 3L box (boxes are supplied by Pacific Southwest Container, Modesto, Calif.)

Dunne thinks that Boxxle could serve as an incentive for restaurants to sell his wines. On-premise servers don’t want a box on the bar, he said. Boxxle could answer that objection.

“If they made a commitment to pour our boxed wines by the glass, we could provide them with a Boxxle, and they could list our wine on their chalkboard,” he suggested. It also has potential as a premium for wine club members, especially locally. “It would save on materials and shipping weight,” Dunn acknowledged.

Angels dare to tread
Middleton has self-financed his venture so far, with help from family and friends. He sought additional funds through kickstart.com, a micro-financing site similar to Groupon and other flash sites, for which sign-ups aren’t charged until critical mass is achieved. When it closed Aug. 11, 59 hopeful investors had enrolled with amounts of $25 to $350 or more, for a total of $8,567; Middleton’s goal had been $75,000.

Later that month, Middleton emailed a news flash:  Piedmont Angel Network, a local investment group, had voted unanimously to provide additional funding to take Boxxle through production and to the market. While the angels complete their due diligence and iron out the fine points, Middleton continues to work with his design/engineering people, researching manufacturers.

More support came from a far-distant source. “A representative from a company in the Czech Republic contacted me about selling Boxxles,” he said. “They currently provide filling equipment, bags and boxes for the wine industry in Eastern Europe. They say adoption of BiB is growing rapidly and believe Boxxle will further acceptance of the packaging by consumers.”

Meanwhile, Middleton continues to use and enjoy his prototype Boxxle and reach out to potential sales partners. He hopes it will be ready for commercial release by February or March.

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