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Berger: The perks of paper bottles


In the 1970s, just for fun, I weighed a case of 750-milliliter wine bottles. It came in at 32 pounds plus a few ounces.

The average weight of a box of California wine didn't substantially change until about 25 years ago, when packaging became a big deal. Many wineries began to look at heavy bottles as a way to imply that their wines were of better quality. (Yeah, the logic escapes me, too.)

In 2007, a Napa Valley winery bottled a cabernet sauvignon in a heavy 750-milliliter bottle. I weighed it. It was 4 pounds 5.8 ounces.

It may not have been the heaviest and thickest of wine bottles ever, but it was unwieldy. A case would be more than 55 pounds. At its weight, it would be heavy enough to cause a slipped disk.

Moreover, the bottle was so thick it didn't fit into standard wine racks. The typical pallet holds 56 cases, but some wine bottles are so big that it's hard to get 52 cases on a pallet. And the added weight costs more fuel to ship.

And finally, a restaurant server told me a few years ago that she had gotten something like tennis elbow from having to serve some cabernets across a large table.

Now a Sonoma County winery, cognizant of the need to be more environmentally sensitive (not to mention aware of the business opportunity!), has come up with a better idea.

Truett-Hurst of Healdsburg has released nearly 60,000 cases of wine in paper bottles.

The actual packaging used for Paper Boy wines is a 750-ml, bottle-shaped cardboard sleeve surrounding a plastic bladder, similar to those bag-in-box packages that are seen on supermarket shelves. The entire package is recyclable and weighs in at just over a pound and a half.

As such, an entire case weighs less than 20 pounds, including the box!

The benefits are obvious. Not only will it be cheaper to ship (the company estimates the lighter bottles will save 18 percent in fuel costs), but retail store personnel can easily carry boxes without as great a risk of injury. Moreover, the package keeps wine cool longer than glass bottles because of its added insulation.

As such, the package may be seen as better for beach parties and picnics than glass, and may be taken where glass bottles are prohibited.

The screwcapped package is manufactured for Truett-Hurst by Green Bottle, a United Kingdom packager that presently uses the bottle only for milk.

For the first rollout of Paper Boy, Truett-Hurst made 26,000 cases of a 2012 zinfandel blend from Paso Robles fruit ($15) and 33,000 cases of 2012 Mendocino County Chardonnay ($14). The entire release initially went to Safeway stores nationwide. Further Paper Boy wines will be broad-market, said a company spokeswoman.

A major advertising point for the package is that it's entirely recyclable and that cardboard and paper recycling has a 91 percent recovery rate, whereas glass recycles at a 28 percent rate.

<strong>Wine of the week:</strong> 2012 Paper Boy Red Blend, Paso Robles ($15) — The zinfandel in this wine has an aroma of raspberry jam and plums, and the wine is attractive when served cooler than room temperature to assist its moderate acidity.

<i>Dan Berger lives in Sonoma County, where he publishes "Vintage Experiences," a weekly wine newsletter. Write to him at winenut@gmail.com.</i>