In the wine industry where tradition matters almost as much as the product itself, seeing wine in a box can be jarring. However, economic and environmental concerns have led to the development of new packaging options. It’s not surprising—glass bottles aren’t very easy to recycle, their weight makes them expensive to transport, and producing them requires more energy than it does to produce other forms of packaging. Here is a quick rundown of the two “box formats” you may find in your local wine shop.
Tetra Pak Cartons
A Tetra Pak carton looks like an oversized juice box and is typically used for wines sold in 500 milliliters or one liter sizes. While the use of these containers for milk, juice and soup is becoming more common in the US, the use of them for wine is a less familiar sight. Tetra Paks are a good option for wine because they effectively protect the wine from sunlight and oxygen. True, a Tetra Pak isn’t well suited to spending a decade in a wine cellar, but as most wine is consumed within days of purchase, it’s hard to argue against the Tetra Pak for wines you open quickly and drink daily. Worldwide, billions of Tetra Pak wine cartons have been sold to date, and volume continues to grow. Argentina, Italy, and Spain are the largest users of Tetra Pak wine containers.
Tetra Paks are easily recyclable, great for travel, and less expensive to produce than bottles. According to the manufacturer, Tetra Pak wine cartons use 92% less packaging to deliver the same amount of wine, 54% less energy than that of glass bottles throughout the entire life cycle, create 80% less greenhouse gases, and 35-40% fewer trucks are needed to deliver the same amount of wine compared with glass bottles.
Bag-in-Box (aka “The Cask”)
Bag-in-Box technology was originally developed for industrial purposes. In the 1960s, some Australian winemakers adapted the technology and incorporated an airtight, resealable cap into the “bladder” containing the wine. Nowadays, a plastic tap is typically used to dispense the wine. This packaging format is popular in both Australia and Europe and is becoming more common in the US. It is usually used for larger sizes—2+ liters. Compared with bottles, Bag-in-Box costs less to produce and is more environmentally friendly as it has a smaller carbon footprint. Some US winemakers who have adopted the format cite environmental and cost concerns as a driver of their decision.
Bag-in-Box containers are especially good for wines that are consumed daily because the design prevents wine from being oxidized until it is dispensed, so the wine stays fresh longer after being opened than wine does in an open glass bottle. However, Bag-in-Box wines have a shorter “unopened” shelf life than wines in glass bottles. Bag-in-Box wine should not be cellared, and it should be consumed before the expiration date to ensure the wine is at its best.
Wine in a box has come a long way and, it seems, is here to stay!