Innovation Must Still Deliver Wine Quality

Experts from the trade and wine industry discuss packaging innovation and sustainability

by Andrew Adams
wine packaging conference retailers sales
Wines & Vines Packaging Conference emcee Leslie Sbrocco (from left) and Curtis Mann of Raley's listen to Shelley Lindgren describe her process for selecting wines to serve at Bay Area restaurants A16 and SPQR. Photo: Cody Gehret

Yountville, Calif.—Wine in can is one of today’s top trends, but the head buyer for a major grocery chain advised wineries to ensure they deliver on quality if trying the new container.

“The big hot topic is cans of course, and these are growing quite popular,” said Curtis Mann, director of wine, beer and spirits for Raley’s Family of Fine Stores. Mann has to decide what will resonate with consumers, but he also holds a diploma from the Wine & Spirits Education Trust and is pursuing a Master of Wine qualification, so he has a deep appreciation for wine quality.

He said cans pose a winemaking challenge in that consumers are buying them for the convenience and portability, and so they are typically drinking straight from the can. In the past three months, he said he had evaluated cans from dozens of companies and found some had not taken into account how drinking from a can mute the aromas and tannins of a wine. “That’s really important. As far as quality, it has to be there,” he said. “It doesn’t do me any good to put a can in a store and people buy it once and never buy it again.”

Mann discussed the trends he’s seeing as part of a panel discussion of the fourth annual Wines & Vines Packaging Conference held Aug. 18 at the Lincoln Theater in Yountville, Calif. Emcee and television personality Leslie Sbrocco joined Mann and sommelier and restaurant owner Shelley Lindgren to discuss what the wine trade wants when it comes to wine packaging.

Cans, boxes and rosé
Premium boxed wine is also a growing category as brand-loyal consumers have discovered the value of the larger volume containers that also preserve quality. Mann said the No. 1 brand is Constellation Brands’ Woodbridge Chardonnay, and Black Box followed Delicato’s Bota Box. “Once they latch onto these boxes, they stay with them,” Mann said of the box wines that deliver a strong price-to-value ratio.

Another “super-hot” category is rosé. According to Nielsen, sales of domestically produced rosé wines surpassed pink wines from France for the first time this year, and Mann said he’s seeing tremendous interest in rosé wines.

Because producers want to show off the distinctive color of these wines, they use glass, which poses the challenge of the wine being exposed to light. Mann said when he evaluates rosés, he wants to taste the previous vintage. “That’s really important to me as a buyer to make sure the product can stay on the shelf,” he said.

After discussing the various trends he’s seen, Mann concluded by stressing no matter how a wine is packaged, it must also taste good. Innovative packaging and a hip design can prompt a consumer to pick a wine off the shelf but the wine has to deliver. “The important thing is that the quality matches what is on the label,” he said.

Lindgren admitted that packaging can pique her interest when evaluating wines, but how a wine tastes is still the ultimate factor when deciding what to stock in her restaurant. When asked about screwcaps, Lindgren said they are particularly useful for wines by the glass.

And while she said the closure is great for wines such as Sauvignon Blanc and German Rieslings, it wouldn’t prevent her from buying other varietals with a screwcap.

Many of the innovations in packaging like cans or boxes are touted as greener alternatives, and a session that took place earlier in the day focused on what some other wine companies are doing to foster sustainability.

Focus on sustainability

Moderated by Allison Jordan, vice president of environmental affairs for Wine Institute and executive director of the California Sustainable Winegrowing Alliance, the panel discussion included Ramon Ware, vice president of supply chain for Wente Family Estates; Rhonda Motil, vice president of marketing for J. Lohr Wines, and Mimi Gartens, marketing manager at Trefethen Vineyards.

Ware began the session by describing how Wente has focused on “supplier relationship management.” He said the company has challenged its suppliers to be more sustainable—such as asking cork companies if there’s a natural option for the binder of agglomerated corks.

In turn, Ware said Wente has begun hosting an annual supplier day at the winery in Livermore, Calif., in which the company’s suppliers gain a better understanding of the winery’s goals. “We’ve opened ourselves up to our suppliers with the sole focus on continual improvement,” he said.

Gartens, with Trefethen, said the winery has embraced wine on tap for its low waste and reduced packaging and said in it makes sustainability a major focus of point-of-sale materials and in discussions with the trade. She said it’s become impossible to talk to members of the trade or major retailers without detailing steps taken to ensure sustainability in production and packaging.

J. Lohr has partnered with the nonprofit Hope Services, which helps people with developmental disabilities learn life skills through jobs. Some of the jobs that Hope workers do include stripping labels off bottles for reuse, applying labels, re-packing and other tasks. “People are very important to any sustainability program,” Motil said.



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