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Boxed Wine Takes a Stand

The conversation of boxed wine has rippled through all media outlets throughout 2009. This simple container has been marketed as inexpensive, convenient, space-saving, and ecological. While consumers are getting the hard-sell from mainstream media efforts, boxed wine has been noticed by the “green” eyes of wine industry professionals and environmental advocates alike.

Boxed wine, however, has historically had negative associations being housed in dingy cardboard packaging and being of poor taste and quality. In rescue of such a tragic reputation, Eric Dubourg, Founder of wine distribution company Wineberry America, has designed a beautiful solution for those weary of letting go of their glass bottles to drink wine from an ugly box.

Eric was determined to replace the existing boxed wine designs with a higher end, sophisticated image and product. His determination stemmed from original reasons to replace the glass bottles including a global shortage of glass, breakability costs ultimately paid for by the consumer, and a heavily weighted carbon footprint.

Alternative packaging, however, presented Eric with an uphill battle of image, design, and quality. Eric researched existing ecologically sound packaging: Tetra Brik and traditional Bag in Box (BiB). He started with the most recently designed Swiss-based Tetra Brik packaging of milk carton disguise. While light-weight and resistant, Tetra Brik’s soft-sided cardboard has cheap-looking designs and no means of preservation. At one liter sizes, this wine is meant to be consumed in one sitting, thus preventing any oxidation. Tom Geniesse, founder of Bottlerocket Wine & Spirit and salesman of several Tetra Brik packaged wines, admits admiringly that the wine contained in Tetra Brik packaging is of good value. He continues, “One must address it with a sense of humor…but it is good wine at its price point.” Most notable Tetra Brik contender in the United States is Three Thieves, who sells their one liter Bandit label at $9. Their designs shout out fun, witty messages and flashy colors rather than a sophisticated traditional image. Eric recognized Tetra Brik were a good value but believed that the containers not only deter sophisticated wine consumers but the wine tends to bear little identity or terroir in comparison with bottled wine. His task remained to shatter those negative connotations and get some good juice in the box.

On the other hand, BiB packaging, specifically the plastic bag containing the actual wine, maintained several advantages: lighter packaging for lower carbon intensity, air tight containment for better preservation, no oxidation due to cork taint, and low risk of breakage. These benefits, however, have been unable to sway the consumer’s condescending point of view as historically these wines, too, are of a lesser quality. Even current heavy-hitters like Black Box couldn’t possibly be pouring great, terroir-driven wine from their $18 three liter BiB. Furthermore and unfortunately for the revival of BiB, its cardboard box also presents a visual deterrent for consumers. Eric even found that restaurants interested in serving less expensive BiB wines by the glass suggested they might hold the box underneath or behind a shelf in the bar so as to camouflage the unattractive box before pouring the wine into a glass or carafe for their guests. According to Eric, sometimes it is better to have no image at all than to have a negative image.

The outcome of Eric’s research and design efforts is a small wooden box which houses the plastic bag holding the wine. This new box, assembled with wood from sustainable forests (re planted every year) just south of Bordeaux, resembles a wine case. Its sides have burned labels, signage and messages rather than expensive or environmentally hazardous (or tawdry) ink labeling. The boxes can either be used as keepsake chests or as Eric states, “kindling to start a fireplace.” On the front side of the wooden box, a Vitop performs as the pour spout, an elegant faucet extending from the base. Finally, Eric designed a sleek, sturdy stainless-steel stand which lifts and suspends the wooden box in the air for easy pouring. Attached is also a stainless-steel handle for simple carrying.

With this innovative design, Eric was able to provide higher end wine makers with a cost-effective, ecologically responsible and sophisticated design alternative to the glass bottle or cardboard box. Eric was able to sell his new design to several wine houses including Rhone Château Le Garignon, NY Times honored organic winery and the historic Rhone winery Chateau du Chatelard. These beautifully housed BiB wines will be available for sale at Bottlerocket Wine & Spirits starting in July 2009.

Tom Geniesse is eagerly anticipating the arrival of Eric’s wooden boxes. He claims, “Eric has nailed all considerations” and will be successful on many levels with this new design. Especially in NYC, Tom explains that “consumers are from a larger trend of new wine drinkers, technologically accepting, not mired in tradition for tradition’s sake and not wired to any traditional closures,” addressing the ancient technology of cork and the acceptance of new enclosures. Eric’s goal with this project now is to continue to diminish the stigma of his predecessors and to introduce even better wine into his wooden boxes, a goal suitable for anyone concerned with being kind to the environment and drinking great, terroir-driven wine.

By Carrie Strong for Chef’sBlade