Technological advancements always have a huge effect on the wine industry. Over the centuries, we’ve seen a myriad of advancements affect the way that we make wine. When it comes to agriculture, better irrigation and more modern tools allow us to control and harvest crops much more efficiently. The Italian wine industry would never have come close to reaching its current size if we were still using the tools of yesteryear in this regard.
With increased chemistry knowledge came a whole range of man-made substances. These can help producers to stave off pests and perhaps stimulate the growth of their crops. But those who aspire to the organic side of production tend to point out that such chemicals can damage the land and affect the taste of the grape.
That brings us to an important point about another important innovation. Namely, plastic. Now, we’ve been producing plastic products for decades, but it’s only in recent times that we’ve seen some producers forgoing the traditional glass bottle in favour of the plastic alternative.
Much like with the organic debate, this has led to a lot of traditionalists getting upset. Many will tell you that using plastic for a bottle instantly damages the quality of the wine. That’s an important issue for the Italian wine industry, which prides itself as much on its quality as it does its wide-scale production. Others will say that plastic does no such thing, and that it actually has a number of benefits that those who oppose its use tend to overlook.
So, what’s the truth of the matter? That’s a question that we hope to answer in this article.
Why Are Some Producers Going Plastic
To understand why plastic bottles have started to gain in popularity, we must first look at some of the benefits of using them.
For producers, one of the most important benefits is that plastic is not prone to shattering. This may seem like a minor issue to you. But think about the sheer number of bottles of wine even a small scale producer will send out every year. These wines enter transit on several occasions before finally reaching a supplier. Every trip raises the possibility of a glass shattering. It only takes a jolt in the road and an awkward connection to completely ruin a glass bottle. And, of course, every broken glass bottle is a little bit more money out of the pocket of the producer. Plastic bottles remedy that problem because they are far less likely to break while in transit.
There’s also the cost issue. Now, a plastic bottle doesn’t offer a huge cost difference to a glass bottle. But it does have a significantly lower weight. In fact, a plastic bottle may weigh almost ten times less than a glass bottle.
How does this reduce costs? It all comes down to shipping. Most carriers will charge for shipping based on the weight of a package, as well as its size. As a resulting, transporting 100 bottles of wine in plastic bottles will almost always cost less than transporting the same number of glass bottles. Such savings are difficult to resist, even for some of the more renowned producers out there.
Then there’s the issue of the carbon footprint. You may think that using plastic would mean that plastic bottles have a larger effect on the environment than glass bottles. But that may not be the case. Again, the weight plays a role here. Less weight means less fuel needed to transport the bottles. Whether this outweighs the various environmental issues caused by using plastic in the first place is up for debate. Moreover, plastic bottles being better for the environment rely on the plastic being recyclable in the first place.
Wine Bottle Material and Quality
You may have noticed that the benefits of plastic bottles mentioned above don’t touch on the most important point – the wine’s quality.
Simply put, glass bottles do a far better job of helping a wine to maintain its quality than plastic bottles. In fact, you’ll usually find that plastic has a negative effect on the wine just because it’s made using a variety of chemicals. Glass is a far more neutral container, which means that the wine has much better protection from things that could cause it to lose its quality.
There’s also the issue of ageing. Plastic bottles simply don’t allow for ageing a wine in the same way that glass bottles do. In fact, you’ll often find that you can only keep a plastic-bottled wine for about a year before it completely loses its lustre. Glass bottles allow you to age the wine for decades without any negative effects. Even treated plastic bottles can’t do much to help a wine age. Plus, the use of a man-made treatment again has certain effects on the wine’s quality.
On top of that, plastic isn’t as durable as you might think. Where glass might be prone to shattering with the wrong impact, plastic may split. A split can lead to anything from a slow leak through to allowing more oxygen into the bottle. As we all know, too much oxygen will damage almost any wine.
The Final Word
So, which is better?
It really depends on which angle you approach the question from. Plastic bottles certainly have some benefits. These include not shattering when dropped and cheaper transportation costs. But such benefits tend to benefit the manufacturer, rather than the consumer.
It’s in maintaining a wine’s quality that a plastic bottle will start to seriously struggle. Plastic does not provide adequate protection from oxidation. Moreover, the chemicals used in the making of the plastic will often get into the wine, which affects its quality. Plus, you just can’t use plastic bottles for wines that require even a year of ageing.
As a result, plastic bottles may do the job for mass-produced wines that are intended for consumption almost as soon as they’re made available. But glass bottles will always be superior because they prioritise the quality of the wine above all else.