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Sustainable Wine Roundtable

How Bulk Wines Contribute to a Sustainable Wine Industry

On the World Bulk Wine Exhibition (WBWE) in Amsterdam, leaders in the wine industry charted a path toward sustainability, aiming to reshape the sector’s future. The Sustainable Wine Roundtable, convened on November 21st, drew around 50 professionals. Their discussion, “Breaking Traditions: How Bulk Wine Can Create Both Business and Sustainability Opportunities,” highlighted the benefits of bulk wine. Defined as unpackaged wine for bottling in the target market, it’s usually shipped in flexitanks or ISO tanks, bypassing the shipping of labeled and bottled wines.

The Challenges

About 40-70% of carbon emissions from wine production are attributed to glass bottles. The roundtable’s primary objective, as stated in the SWR Bottle Weight Accord, is to reduce the average weight of 750 ml wine bottles from 550g to 420g by 2026, with plans for further reductions thereafter. However, their ambitions extend beyond packaging. The SWR has recognized the wine industry’s direct experience with the impacts of climate change, as vineyards become unsustainable due to rising temperatures, extreme weather, or drought. Referencing the United Nations, they pointed out that we are on a trajectory towards a 1.9°C increase by 2100, which will significantly affect wine-growing regions, emphasizing that “there is no business on a dead planet.”

“There is no business on a dead planet”

United Nations

Finding Solutions in Bulk Wine


Barry Dick MW of UK retailer Waitrose initiated the event, discussing the evolving landscape of bulk wine shipping. Once viewed skeptically, it’s now seen as efficient and sustainable. “The old prejudices against bulk shipping have diminished, revealing its potential to enhance both sustainability and commercial value,” Dick said. This mirrors a broader industry trend, with Waitrose leading in using bulk shipping to improve its carbon footprint, a strategy increasingly adopted by other retailers.

A typical flexitank, made of food-grade polyethylene (PE) with an outer layer of polypropylene (PP), costs about 600-800€. Cheaper versions are available, but likely of lower quality. Flexitanks offer logistical efficiency and increased shipping volume, and wine in a container doesn’t heat up as quickly, unlike bottled wines where temperature increases can push out corks or alter flavor profiles. Shipping in bulk, with volumes between 24,000 and 26,000 liters per 20-foot container, significantly reduces shipping costs, compared to shipping bottled goods.

The Wine Society, since 1992, has shown adaptability in responding to changing consumer preferences. “Our current goal is ambitious yet crucial: achieving net-zero carbon emissions by 2040,” Mason stated. Their commitment includes optimizing shipping processes and transitioning to UK-based packaging.

Free Flow Wines’ VP, Barclay Webster, showcased their model of sustainable practices, with over 90% of their wines shipped in bulk. “Our approach aligns with sustainability goals and offers flexibility in wine blending, presenting new opportunities in wine production,” Barclay noted. Their wines, sold in reusable kegs, mitigate oxidation, a common issue in the gastronomic industry. He emphasized that unlike beer or spirits, wine faces unique challenges in service by the glass.

Simon Mason from the Wine Society introduced innovative packaging alternatives, like Bag in Box (BIB) and recycled PET bottles. “The positive reception of these sustainable solutions by our members marks a shift in consumer preferences towards environmentally friendly options,” he commented.

Johan Arnø Kryger of the Danish Hans Just Group offered a Nordic perspective, noting the trend of BIB wines being perceived as premium, in line with sustainability objectives.

Future Taxation?

The roundtable discussions revealed an industry seeking a sustainability revolution. The upcoming Corporate Sustainability Reporting Directive (CSRD) is expected to be a catalyst for change. According to the EU it: “[EU law] requires all large companies and all listed companies (except listed micro-enterprises) to disclose information on what they see as the risks and opportunities arising from social and environmental issues, and on the impact of their activities on people and the environment.”  Previously, Robert Malin, CEO of When in Rome, highlighted the likelihood of future taxation on emissions, underscoring the importance of emission reduction.

Positive Consumer Preferences

NielsenIQ data showed that sustainability claims significantly enhance product performance by 17%, signaling a shift in consumer preferences and influencing the industry’s sustainability strategies. Governmental roles in fostering sustainability, such as climate labeling initiatives, were acknowledged as essential, with data-driven policies promoting sustainable practices.

As the roundtable concluded, it was clear that the wine industry, traditionally bound, is now evolving with a focus on reducing emissions, adopting sustainable packaging, and aligning with consumer preferences.

About the Sustainable Wine Roundtable

The SWR, a nonprofit, multi-stakeholder initiative, rallies the wine community towards sustainable practices, providing a framework for sustainability standards, sharing best practices in viticulture and winemaking, and serving as a center for communication and learning. Additionally, the SWR advocates for policies that reward sustainable practices in the wine industry.

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This text was neither commissioned nor compensated. It reflects exclusively my own opinion. 

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