You may remember bag in box wine from your student days, a summer festival or perhaps as something you hurry past on the supermarket shelves. Box wine has a stigma of being poor quality wine, for teens or binge drinkers and something that’s bought because it’s cheap.
But perhaps that’s all about to change. Wine in a box is making a comeback and one of the main reasons is its environmental and economic benefits.
A blast from the past and a new trend
Wine in a box has been around a long time. It was invented and popularised by the aussies (who also popularised the idea of screw caps instead of corks).
The wine is contained in a bag with an air-tight plastic tap welded into it. The bag of wine is then placed in a box which has a hole cut for the tap to poke through. The original bag in a box concept was originally patented in 1935 by Renmark, a winery in South Australia. In 1967 another Australian inventor patented the plastic tap dispenser.
Despite being around for many years, box wine has always been looked down upon by high-end winemakers and wine drinkers alike. But, as with so many aspects of modern culture, what was once old and tacky is now cool and trendy. The hipsters are bringing box wine into the limelight and giving it a chance to flourish.
1. Lower Energy Costs for Boxes vs Bottles
One of the primary reasons for this trend is the environmental and cost benefits of producing, transporting, storing and consuming wine from a bag in a box.
Although glass is recyclable, it’s also energy-intensive to produce; switching to plastic and cardboard is much less energy intensive to produce and the cardboard (and in some cases the plastic) can also be recycled.
2. Lower Carbon Dioxide Emissions in Transportation
Glass bottles are heavy and cost a lot per millilitre to transport. Not only is transporting a heavy material like glass more costly in money terms, it’s also more costly to the environment.
An article in the NY Times outlines the benefit of switching from glass to cardboard from a carbon emissions point of view:
“A standard wine bottle holds 750 milliliters of wine and generates about 5.2 pounds of carbon-dioxide emissions when it travels from a vineyard in California to a store in New York. A 3-liter box generates about half the emissions per 750 milliliters. Switching to wine in a box for the 97 percent of wines that are made to be consumed within a year would reduce greenhouse gas emissions by about two million tons, or the equivalent of retiring 400,000 cars.”
3. Less Oxidation Means Longer Life
The air-tight seal between the tap and bag means that wine in a box can be stored for weeks once opened without the taste being affected whereas wine from a bottle should ideally be consumed within a matter of hours or days.
Once opened, wine doesn’t tend to last more than a day or two in my house, but the idea of being able to keep a 3 litre box of white or rosé in the fridge and pouring (or cooking with) the occasional glass as needed sounds ideal.
Instead of finishing off a bottle to prevent it going to waste, having the ability to store wine in the box for weeks could lead to drinking less.
4. Bag in Box Wine is More Economical
If the environmental benefits don’t have you convinced then perhaps the economical benefits will. As packaging goes, glass is significantly more expensive to use than a box.
Yes, it can be reused and recycled but if winemakers don’t have to pay for glass, they can reduce the cost of their product and pass on the savings to consumers. Even if producers keep a higher margin, the consumer can still benefit if winemakers invest in better equipment and improve the quality of their wine.
Using cardboard rather than glass, bag in a box wine can be produced and thus sold at a much cheaper price. One unfortunate side effect of this cheaper price is the negative connotation from the top quality wine drinkers.
In an industry where price is often used as a guide to quality, the logic dictates that if it’s cheap it must not be as good. But it looks like that might no longer be the case.
To put the price difference in perspective, one of our local bars serves a small glass of wine £6 but serves wine on tap at £4 and wine from a box at £3.75.
It’s not uncommon for a large glass of wine from a bottle to hit double figures but a large glass of box wine at the same bar is only £5. That’s a significant saving and the quality is no different: we checked, thoroughly!
It’s Not All Rosé – The Downsides of Box Wine
While there are many benefits to wine in a box, there are some downsides too.
For a start, plastic isn’t the most environmentally friendly material to produce. Plastics aren’t easy to recycle and some even contain carcinogenic substances which are no good for your health.
Wine in a box will almost certainly never entirely replace bottled wine because the bag and box aren’t conducive to long-term storage. Many box wines have a shelf life of 12 months before the plastic container could fail or begin to have a negative impact on the taste.
The main downside of box wine at the moment is the stigma attached to it. The other is the lack of available choice or variety – certainly not at the premium end of the market. However, this looks set to change, especially if conscientious consumers start demanding it.
The Future of Bag in Box Wine
Based on a number of sightings of bag in box wine (referred to as BIB in an attempt to shake the bad reputation), it definitely seems to be on the rise in London.
Whether this is indicative of a more global trend is still yet to be seen.
But there seems no reason why BIB wine shouldn’t flourish in this age of environmental awareness and economic uncertainty. If nothing else, it’s great to support the local producers who are making their product available at a more affordable price without compromising on quality.
So, is box wine the future of all wine? Almost certainly not – at least not in 100% of cases.
There’s a lot of history and still a fair amount of snobbery tradition in the wine industry. Wine is a complex business and not one that’s particularly open to change – remember how hard it was to convince people about screw caps?
But fundamentally, BIB wine is best suited to wine that’s to be consumed as purchased rather than something to be laid down and aged for years in a cellar.
With better wine being made available in boxes at a more affordable price perhaps we’ll start to see more of the box wine trend. It won’t be long before we’ll all be able to enjoy the warm fuzzy feeling of drinking a more environmentally friendly product and the warm fuzzy feeling after a glass or two.
So next time you’re at the local wine bar or gastropub, keep an eye out for box wine and let us know what you’re drinking!
Images by Natalie HG, James Nord and Niklas Morberg used under Creative Commons