The Origin of the Wine Bottle

By: Sam Klingberg

You are going to a BBQ this Saturday, and since you’re the resident wine expert, you know what you’re gonna bring. Maybe the company is family, maybe it’s friends, maybe it’s the new neighbors you don’t really know too well, but you want to drink something good either way. You surely have a wine in mind, if not a “go-to” already for these moments.

But, what is this wine packaged in?

Chances are this is a weird question, because, was there a question anyway? It’s gonna be a 750mL bottle, maybe magnum if you’re looking to impress, because wine and the glass bottle are virtually synonymous. But it hasn’t always been this way.

When wine was first making its way toward slaking human thirst and angst on a regular basis in the Caucasus, what is now the state of Georgia, some 8,000 years ago, qvevri where the mode for making and storing wine. About 2,000 years later the Egyptians would invent the amphora, which would not only be the mode for wine, but for all kinds of international transport of foods and goods into almost the middle ages.

The Romans expanded their empire into the West around the 1st century C.E., and as they encountered the Celts in battle, they’d also encounter a new technology the Celts had invented, the wooden barrel. The amphora had already reigned supreme for some four or five millennia, but it’d be just a couple hundred years before the barrel would replace it as the main transport for wine, food, and goods.

However as the the qvevri and amphora before, wooden barrels are large and not suitable for service from source to table. Askos, decanters, and growlers of pottery, and glass with its invention in the 1st century C.E., were always necessary.

In the 17th century things would begin to change. In Britain coal-fired forges would allow glass to be kilned strong enough to be shipped to and fro as a container for wine. As with the barrel, it’d take just a couple hundred years for a massive shift in wine logistics.

And here we are again, just a moment in an 8,000 year arc of wine technology, yet I think we are on another precipice of change. The single-serve economy we live in, this culture that holds mobility and ease of use to a premium, demands it.

Bag in box (BIB), or cask wines, famous with frat parties and half-in-the-bag aunts, were invented in the 70’s, and have been able to shed their laissez-faire attitude recently enough to be taken seriously in the market. According to the Silicon Valley Bank’s annual wine report in 2017, the major varietal wines in BIB have increased more than 20%, outpacing the average market growth.

Wine in aluminum cans were first invented by Aussies Greg Stokes and Steve Barics in the early
2000’s for their Barokes label, and although wineries like Sofia Coppola would find a niche in the U.S., it’d take until the last few years for canned wine to really take hold in the marketplace. According to Nielsen, wine in cans have bourgeoned from around seven million in 2015 to an estimated 28 million in 2017.

Tetra paks and PET plastic bottles, both pioneered by Jean Charles Boisset of the Boisset Collection in the mid-2000’s, have also played a major part in the market. While PET bottles have a very distinct niche, Tetra paks, wine pouches, single serving plastic glasses and bottles, and other alternative containers, including cans and BIB, are expected to contribute $3 billion to the $60 bilIlion U.S. wine industry in the next few years according to a study by Freedonia.

Format defines user experience. The wine bottle will always have the romance, the “je ne sais quoi”, and the fine wine sector will never change format. But the industry, especially the under $15 drink now category, has a lot of room to grow into the modern “anyway you want it” attitude. Alternative packaging is the way of the future.