Thursday, September 20, 2012

Bring on the alternative packaging

Colorado wineries are doing a lot of things well. In the past year, a handful of wineries have redesigned their labels. More and more local wines can be found on Denver restaurant wine lists. I've noticed James Molesworth of Wine Spectator tweeting about tasting Colorado wines on more than one occasion. Most importantly, the quality of what is in the bottle is improving with every release. Those are all good things that help the industry improve as a whole.

However, there is one wine industry trend that hasn't really found its way into Colorado wineries: alternative packaging. Before I go on, I will concede to the fact that The Infinite Monkey Theorem has made a splash with its canned wine. A few other wineries are also selling wine to restaurants in kegs, but consumers don't get to see those kegs sitting on retail shelves. Other than the enterprising TIMT, I can't think of another Colorado wine sold in anything but glass bottles. No bag-in-a-box. No Tetra Pak cartons.

Those two alternative types of packaging could really be a hit with Colorado consumers on two levels. First, Coloradans tend to be environmentally conscious and active consumers. The lightweight and recyclable nature of non-glass bottle containers offers a smaller CO2 footprint than other traditional glass packaging. Plus, they both have the added benefit of being easy to take on and back off the Colorado mountains, whether skiing or hiking. Second, boxed wine is often cheaper than its glassed counterparts. As I stated previously, I think Colorado vintners really should strive to get into the < $10 market. I don't know if Colorado wineries are going to make a huge (or even small) profit by making cheaper wine, but I do think it will open up an entirely new consumer base and even get some to eventually move up the ladder to other Colorado wines.

Pinot GrigioBandit Wines offers a great example for Colorado wineries. Bandit offers seven different wines (all < $10) in 1-liter and 500-ml Tetra Paks. Bandit hits on both of the points I outlined above. The environmental advantages of the packaging is extensively highlighted on both the box and the website. This past summer they also sponsored the Bandit Bike Tour, where Reid Haflich and his brother Brant completed a 2,700-mile trek from California to New York. The Bandit social media presence showcased their journey every step of the way and they even stopped in Denver. I'm picturing Colorado wineries launching new products by doing something similar in Colorado. I can see a local winemakers posting pictures of themselves as they bring their boxed wine on rafting trips or to the summit of all of Colorado14ers. The potential is there people!

Packaging is an important part of the wine business, but what's inside is still what matters most. Most people know that boxed wine isn't going to taste like super-premium wine that scores big points from Robert Parker, and that is ok. The three Bandit wines I tried (all samples, $9) tasted like I would expect from an inexpensive, mass-produced wine. That's not to say they were bad. The Pinot Grigio was my favorite with its abundance of fruity flavors. It is definitely a bit sweet, but the sugar is nicely balanced by tart acidity. Did it make me ponder the terroir of its origin, no. Both the Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon were varietally recognizable, but both lacked much depth or complexity. Both had just a touch of sweetness that would please picnickers or rafters on a warm summer afternoon when a quaffable wine is warranted. All three are Average/Good wines that I would recommend when a glass bottle doesn't make much sense. Plus, you can't easily beat the value of $9 for 1 liter of wine.

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