Is cask wine the future of sustainable wine?
An all-in look at boxed wine
By Emma Vidgen
Cask wine. Like dial-up internet and Sun-In hair lightener, it’s a rite of passage we thought we were happy to leave behind…until now. Yep, much like Crocs, against all odds, boxed wine is having a moment.
“People are looking for alternative packaging options across the board, not just for wine, so there’s a renewed openness to doing things differently,” explains Mat Bate, Minimum Wines’ Head of Impact.
Crazy, no? Well, when you think about it through a sustainability lens, it’s actually not that hard to believe. Since almost all wine comes in glass bottles, and glass is made from sand, the environmental impact of wine production is quite significant.
“There’s a pretty dire sand crisis at the moment; the UN has listed sand as the second-most exploited resource after water,” says Mat.
“Like any packaging option there’s upsides and downsides to boxed wine, but for certain contexts and uses it’s quite a well-performing option in terms of sustainability.”
So is cask wine really the future? And, maybe just as importantly, is it possible to make a cask wine that doesn’t induce flashbacks to our misspent youth? We asked Mat Bate to separate the greenwash from the Grüner Veltiner.
Is boxed wine better for the environment?
Well, it’s complicated.
“It’s important not to over-simplify sustainability metrics,” warns Mat. “It all depends on context and how you define sustainability.” The real advantage to boxed is looking at emissions created during the production process. “The bottle becomes the single largest source of the embedded emissions (38 per cent), plus if you extend the emissions calculation to the lifecycle of the product which includes shipping, storage, recycling, etc then that emissions figure just for the glass jumps to around 68 per cent.” Some winemakers – including Minimum Wines – opt for a lighter glass but this only reduces emissions by 10 per cent to 15 per cent.
How sustainable is boxed wine compared to bottled wine?
Data nerds can check out The Australian Wine Research Institute who crunched the numbers, but a real-life example shows how the two stack up. Minimum Wines first boxed wine – 4L Days & Nights 2021 Red Grapes, is equivalent to 5.3 bottles of wine. ”We use over 80 per cent less emissions just in the switch from bottles to boxes, and then if we take into account shipping/transport/storage emissions we save around 50 per cent on emissions,” explains Mat. “Zoomed out, that equates to around a 45 percent emissions savings for the entire lifecycle of the boxed wine, compared to glass.”
What are the sustainability challenges of cask wine?
Any way you dice it, that notorious silver bag inside the box remains an environmental challenge. “The tap is a hard plastic, so that can go in the normal recycling bin, however Australia doesn’t currently have the capacity to recycle PET/MET which is what the bag is made from,” says Mat. While fully PET bags exist, they’re currently only used for water and not fully tested on wine. “We’re confident that a better 100 per cent PET bag should be available soon, and once Australia implements a better recycling system, we might have a fully recyclable box,” says Mat.
Does cask wine contain more preservatives than bottled wine?
While your hazy recollections may suggest otherwise, it certainly shouldn’t contain more additives than bottled wine.
“Boxed wine doesn’t require adding more sulphur, so the preservatives in our boxed wine and bottles are the same,” says Mat. Despite that, one of its most appealing qualities (other than its eco cred) is its life expectancy. “We’re still running tests to get a more exact figure, but it looks like a boxed wine (given it’s vacuum sealed) should last between four to six weeks once opened,” says Mat.
“Compared to a cork/screw cap bottle, which might be lucky to last around 5 days.”
For anyone who wants to enjoy a more occasional glass rather than open a whole bottle and feel you either have to drink it or ditch it because you didn’t finish it, it’s a game changer. One word of warning: while it outlasts bottled wine once it’s opened, its shelf life is much shorter. “Boxed wine probably only last 6-7 months fresh.”
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