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Reinvestigating The Wine Bottle

While scanning the shelves of our local wine store, I found one bottle distinct among the hundreds of others. It is the , pictured below, and the bottle form is refreshingly different.

Voga Italia wine bottle

Contrasted against the typical wine bottle, it looks modern, functional, and ultimately pretty cool. I imagine that alone has been enough for this wine to meet with some success in the marketplace. Admittedly, I am a sucker for cool packaging… I think our entire culture is, but the question going through my mind is why more wineries are not experimenting with the packaging of their product. The shelves of your wine shop are essentially dominated by a form factor that has been largely unchanged for hundreds of years. This shape can be traced back to around 300CE. In 1867 earthenware bottle shaped were discovered in a Roman sarcophagus dating to 325CE. So, the wine bottles on our shelves today are marginally improved versions of packaging created nearly 2000 years ago. Now that’s some serious design longevity. Is it because the wine bottle is the perfect shape in which to store and ship wine? Is it simply an unchallenged convention? Is is a cost issue?

I imagine that at some level the answer to all three of those questions is believed to be “yes.” But is it really? There is a terrifically strong argument that as these bottles compete on the shelves for the attention of the wine buyer that anything they can do to stand out, to be different, is going to be an advantage. This strategy has played out almost comically on our grocery store and discount department store shelves. Look at ketchup or laundry detergent. Products packaged well, sell well. Products that are packaged expertly have the potential to lead their categories. Naturally, to sustain sales the product must also deliver on consumer expectations for quality and performance. Now, we love wine and are constantly shopping for new experiences. It is stunning to me that as we scan the bottles of Califonia Syrah, Burgundy Pinot Noir, Loire Valley Sancerre, and Italian Barrolo we are essentially looking at the same bottle. There may be minor variations in the color and tint of the glass. There may be subtle differences in the glass thickness, in the punt, or the neck length, but essentially… it’s the same damn bottle. Now, some of this is determined by the governing bodies of the regions in which the grapes are grown and these wines are made, like the in France. But plenty of winemakers in all governed regions defy convention and the laws of the governing bodies (and their arcane rules) to do things their own way, and they do that successfully. At least one winemaker understands the value of differentiation, and their packaging (incredibly similar to that used for Voss water) was enough to get us to buy a bottle and try it… and had it been in a typical Pinot Grigio bottle we would have kept on walking. As it turned out, the wine was not bad. It was a nice summer, good value, patio sitting, crisp white wine. For the money, and with the packaging figure in, it over-delivered on the experience.

I state the obvious when I say that wine bottle shape has much to do with tradition, but it is a package that is desperate for creative thinking and innovation. The storage issue alone demands that the bottle shape be revisited. Add to that opportunities for limiting packaging waste, shipping in smaller boxes, and improved durability and there are compelling reasons to think differently about the wine bottle.


5 Responses to “Reinvestigating The Wine Bottle”

  1. Says:

    You make some very good points. In addition to the deep historical associations tied to wine, the very act of making it requires history. The aging process effectively makes wine live in the past, and this is possibly one of the reasons the industry has been slow on the uptake in the packaging department.

    I personally like that the bottle shape has become iconic of “wine-ness”, if that makes sense. Kind of like the branded shape of the Coke bottle, but in the case of wine the branding is built in as the result of thousands of years of “placement”. The silhouette has become comfortable as a shape of indulgence, luxury and relaxation, if only on a small scale. In the situations that I enjoy wine (and there aren’t many, I’m partial to beer and scotch) that bottle, that icon, is a signal to everyone gathered that it’s time to relax.

    Having said all that, I do enjoy the pocket-sized versions:

    Form follows function!

  2. John Schneider Says:

    I get that. But we can begin to associate those feelings with any number of shapes, and in terms of wine I think that the glassware is a more powerful symbol than the actual bottle. In our case, we usually decant red wines and keep whites in a stainless steel chiller. The bottle shape is irrelevant to our experience once we open it. Now, if it was well designed and I enjoyed interacting with it… well, that might present a whole range of different display opportunities once the package is in our home.

    MD20/20 is punk rock. You should consider a clause in your music scene integration steps that includes conspicuous display of MD20/20 product placement. That and American Spirits.

  3. Mike Says:

    I know this is an old post, but I feel compelled to write something. Im a student at an enology school in Walla Walla, WA, and the biggest thing Im learning, outside of making great wine, is that differentiation is key to success in this industry. Wineries like this that are willing to take a chance on interesting packaging are a breath of fresh air. It’s easy for older established wineries to rely on their history and name recognition but for newcomers it’s a whole different ballgame. If I see another new winery with some sort of animal or piece of nature on the label, Im gonna puke. Be original, have some passion for your product and allow your customer be intrigued. Just sayin.

  4. Mike Says:

    I know this is an old post, but I feel compelled to write something. Im a student at an enology school in Walla Walla, WA, and the biggest thing Im learning, outside of making great wine, is that differentiation is key to success in this industry. Wineries like this that are willing to take a chance on interesting packaging are a breath of fresh air. It’s easy for older established wineries to rely on their history and name recognition but for newcomers it’s a whole different ballgame. If I see another new winery with some sort of animal or piece of nature on the label, Im gonna puke. Be original, have some passion for your product and allow your customer be intrigued. Just sayin.

  5. John Schneider Says:

    Mike, thanks for the comment. The wine business is rife with conservatism and cliche, which makes it an industry still full with opportunity for innovation. I cannot imagine that we are alone in wanting to see new thinking in the approach to wine packaging, and ultimately its placement as a product on the shelves of our stores. In fact, the entire wine making and selling model is one that is open for improvement. Rock on.

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