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Glass bottles: history of the almost-inseparable wine companion

Today we can buy wine in cans, tetra pack and even in plastic bottles. But the neutral characteristics of glass are difficult to replace. Let's discover the history of this classic wine container, from Antiquity to modern ecological bottles.

By Ania Smolec / May 29, 2018
Wine Journalist

There are several sizes of glass bottles, from the smallest (¼ bottle of the traditional) to a monster called Nabuchadnezzar (equivalent to 20 bottles). There are also bottles of transparent glass, blue, green, tile, etc. Yes, but we always talk about glass. Although it is heavy, fragile and expensive compared to other materials, it has remained for centuries as the favorite recipient for wine aging due to its unsurpassed aromatic neutrality.

botellas 3Humanity knows glass for a long time. Obsidian glass was used in tools since the Stone Age. The first glass was produced around 3,000 BC in northern Syria. In South Asia, glassware spread around 1730 BC. The ancient Romans were particularly known for their work in glass. They developed the glass blowing technique, which was used to make wine bottles. No wonder that the term “glass” was used for the first time by the Romans.

Why, then, literature or films about Antiquity show us that Greek or Roman wine was kept in amphorae? The explanation is simple. Glass was too fragile to move between the different provinces. However, glass was used. People poured their wine in hand-blown glass bottles to celebrate big events. At least, the wealthiest could do it. When glass bottles were moved, they were wrapped in straw to protect them and then stored in an upright position.

The turning point came in the seventeenth century with the invention of the coal-fired oven. This changed things radically. The higher temperatures allowed to obtain a thicker and darker glass. Later, with the invention of the cork stopper, humanity had a container not only decent to put on the table, but also to transport the wine and save it for aging.

Botellas 2However, in the first decades of the seventeenth century, the bottles were not yet standardized. They had different shapes, sizes and colors. Instead of modern wine labels, the bottles were usually only marked with a stamp from the bottle manufacturer.

In the eighteenth century, humanity began to make a difference. Yes, marketing broke up. The names of the producers, the grape varieties and the vineyards in the bottle appeared. But, as the bottles were so dissimilar (it depended on the “puff” of air from the glassblower, generally between 700 and 800 ml) the business did not prosper. In England, it was even illegal to sell bottled wine. It was marketed in barrels and then poured into non-standard bottles. This remained law until 1860!

botellas 1In 1979, the USA established the standard size for a glass bottle: 750 ml. In order to allow for simpler and more fluid business relationships, the fledgling European Union quickly adopted the same standard. Now, of course, 750 ml glass bottles are a familiar and indissoluble part of the wine world.

The increase in wine production means that billions of bottles are moved around the world every year. Many people are worried about the carbon footprint. That is why the tendency of some companies, such as Concha y Toro, is to implement sustainable innovation practices. We began calculating our carbon footprint in 2007, identifying that 56% of its emissions came from the use of bottles. In order to reduce the environmental impact, the winery decided to reduce the weight of the bottles.

botellas 4These “light bottles” are produced with 25% recycled material and weigh on average 14% less than traditional glass bottles. All this results in a noticeable decrease in the consumption of energy in its production process and fuel in its distribution. Since the beginning of its implementation in 2010, this initiative has reduced the used glass by more than 48 thousand tons and a consequent reduction in the carbon footprint of 55 thousand tons of CO2.

Today the voices that advocate sustainable processes are getting stronger, but at least me, I cannot imagine a wine in a plastic bottle. The glass is part of the ritual and enjoyment of the wine, from the blowing technique to the tasting of our favorite wines.

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