Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Modern Day Box Wine

Lets face it, boxed wine conjures up the image of Grandma's afternoon rose in what appeared to just be a larger "juice box" than mine. Or similarly, memories of college friends preparing for Friday night by stocking Franzia next to the PBR and jugs of Carlo Rossi. Remaining naive to the contents in the box was bliss, discovering the bladder was terrifying. Why would I drink out of something that resembles hospital use only?!

I will never forget being at a restaurant, not so long ago, when the patrons next to me ordered the house wine only then to see the bartender removing the nearly empty bladder from a box, and squeezing the remains into a glass like it were the end of the toothpaste tube. It took all my restrained to not slide down the bar on my belly and intercept the horrific event I was witnessing.

So how did Franzia become "The World's Most Popular Wine," and is Box Wine making a comeback? Lets start with the Australians and the 70's.

Thomas Angove from South Australia was the first to patent the the bladder in a box format. This allowed producers to cut costs on bottles and corks particularly for those who were not making fine wine. The 1970s were also a time when Americans were not drinking that much wine. The industry was starting to gain traction but overall, wine was not a part of American culture. Therefore, families were not coming together over a bottle of wine at dinner. An inexpensive format that would allow wine to stay "fresh until the last glass," (as Franzia advertises), was needed.

Since the wine industry has really taken off and produced award winning wines at all price points, why do box wines still exist and can high end, fine wines, be packaged in this method recover from the stereotypes that have come to surround wine in boxes? Are we compromising the quality of wine for convenience?

I recently had the opportunity to try what I am calling "Modern Day Box Wines." From The Black Box, the Clif Family Winery's "Climber Pouch", CalNaturale, Vendange, among others. The best part, I am happy to report, there are no bladders involved!
Most recently I tried CalNaturale's Chardonnay and have to say, this is not a corrugated box becoming soggy by its contents but rather a fairly complex package made by Tetra Pak. The Tetra Pak cartons are made from paper with a twist off top, boasting half the carbon footprint of a glass bottle. What makes this wine a Modern Day Box Wine, is that the winemaking is traditional. A vintage can be found on the packaging in addition to single vineyard designation. The Cabernet Sauvignon comes from the French Camp Vineyard in Paso Robles. The Chardonnay comes from Menecino, Ca. and is crisp, full of apples, pears, citrus, vanilla and holds a solid structure. Both wines are organic and retail at $12.99 for 1 liter and $6.99 for 500 milliliters.

Clif Family Winery markets directly to those who are outdoor adventurers through their Climber Pouch. Producing both an unoaked Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon, their wines provide "all-terrain wine transport" and consider "Life [to be] a journey and every day we are inspired to travel lighter and appreciate more." In other words, if you lead a very active lifestyle, you can still have you wine and drink it too. Both, CalNaturale and Clif Family make wines in eco-friendly packages that are easy to reseal, stays fresh longer all the while providing convenience.
In a society that is so consumed by convenience, these wines are the snickers bars for the wine industry. Yes, we would all love to sit down and eat a chocolate cake but sometimes, we need a quick fix for the craving, a snickers bar does the trick. If you are going on a hike, who wants to carry the extra weight of a bottle? Grab a Tetra Pak or Climber Pouch. If I were into outdoor activities such as camping and hiking, these wines would be accompanying me. Will they be joining me at my next dinner party, no. With that being said, they are good, solid, wines showcasing modern winemaking. I would bring these wines to a picnic, unlike Franzia, which I wouldn't be caught dead with.

To answer some of my own questions from above, after tasting these wines, I don't feel we are compromising fine wine for sustainable packaging. (Not that I think bottles are bad, especially when recycled.) With that being said, these wines are not as good as they could be, but on the right track to becoming something outstanding. I like seeing vintage and vineyard designations on the packaging. I trust this product because there is a connection to place.

And to answer my other question, yes, I do think boxed wines are making a comeback. These Modern Day Box Wines are changing the stereotypes of its predecessors and redefining "box-wine" by addressing the need for on-the-go, convenient, eco-friendly wines. These wines are not your Grandmother's juice box but rather wines designed to be as active as we are while being environmental conscience.

Charlotte :)


  1. I can see these being popular with hikey and camping people who want a swig of wine at the end of a long day tramping thru the wilderness but give me a good bottle of wine and glasses, a sun drench patio by a pool, with good company anyday over "wine in a box" but maybe if I get desperate or stuck up a mountain?!?! (He! He!:) T.

  2. I love alternative packaging, and am thrilled that some of it is starting to take off. Bottles and corks are traditional, but by no means the best way to package wine!

    If we can accept good beer in aluminum cans (Guinness, Dale's Pale Ale, etc) then why can't more wine come in cans (Sophia). I look forward to the day that bottled wine is in the minority!