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Labels, seals and boxes are all accustomed to change in the wine industry. But choice of glass bottles has seen less design innovation. Camellia Aebischer reports on a few examples where something different has been chosen.

(Left to right: Shiny Wines, Sami Odi & Brave New Wine)

The importance of having a unique brand sees many trends come and go. Some are welcome, like a tidy wax seal, but some others just won’t seem to disappear, like glitter-covered bottles of sparkling.

The wines vessel often remains the same. Glass; clear, or tinged with green. In fact, wine bottle styles have barely changed across the past hundred years. But some makers are thinking outside (or inside) the box and exploring new shapes for a point of difference.

“We bottle our wines in Calvados bottles, typically used to package French brandy,” says Fraser McKinley, of Sami Odi Wines. “I always really liked the packaging of Calvados, it kind of has this faux old-style feel.”

“[As a winemaker], you put all of your effort in to something, so you want the best for it,” he explains. “We change the labels every year but the bottle stays the same. It’s a part of our brand, it keeps us recognisable.”

 

BREAKING THE MOULD

Having a unique bottle can benefit a winery’s trademark, especially those who like to have variation in their labels. It’s also useful for brand identity in places like a bottle shop or restaurant display, where a sea of wine bottles all start to look the same.

Winemaker James Scott, of Shiny Wines, noticed the trend and decided to curb it. “I remember once, before starting Shiny Wines, I went for a walk to the shopping street to do a bit of market research. I practically had a mild heart attack seeing all the wine stacked in rows, and I thought ‘How do I make my wine stand out here?’.”

When it came to choosing a bottle for his Pinot Noir, Scott took the matter seriously. “The Pinot bottle is like a work of art, it’s very impractical. It’s about as wide as a sparkling bottle and tall as a Riesling.”

Although he has some challenges with packing and freight, he believes its artistic nature is important to the consumer experience. “If you look at it from the top it’s got this lean elegance, but from the side it’s huge and imposing and beasty. I think if someone’s spending $35-plus on a bottle of wine, I want it to be an experience for the consumer,” says Scott.

 

EXPERIENCING THE DIFFERENCE

Aside from having a point of difference on the shelf, a bottle can help to set your brand apart in a way that a label can’t.

Yoko Luscher-Mostert and husband Andries Mostert, of Brave New Wines, have seen plenty of success using a scalloped bottom, clear Burgundy bottle. “Retailers have loved it because it’s something different. People are tactile creatures and they want to touch it and pick it up,” says Luscher-Mostert.

“We weren’t specifically looking for a weirdly shaped bottle. We were just looking for a Burgundy bottle with clear glass and a Stelvin closure, which turns out to be surprisingly difficult. The supplier was reluctant, saying ‘Oh well, there is this one bottle, but it’s lightweight and has a funny punt’. But once we saw it, we loved it and thought ‘this is exactly what we’re all about’.”

Brave New Wines is a small batch winery and most of the work is done by hand, by the couple. Luscher-Mostert designs the personalised labels and the bottles have helped to solidify their brand identity as an alternative product. “The bottles can be quite polarising, but we love them,” she says.

 

THE COST OF STANDING OUT

Unfortunately, interesting shapes and proprietary bottles carry extra costs. Part of the reason that the shelves of wine stores are filled with generic bottles is due to their price point and availability.

“A typical Australian-made wine bottle might cost a buyer somewhere between 10-40 cents each, depending how large the order is,” says Fraser McKinley. Bottles imported from Europe (where most of the experimentation happens) can cost from $1 to $3.50 or more per unit. This can add up when each palette contains around 1000 bottles.

Although it’s a steep cost increase, it’s easily the best item to be flexible with according to McKinley.

“When you buy a box of corks, it arrives and looks like the size of a bag you’d take on a sports trip as a kid. Buy the same number of bottles, and you’ll get a box the size of a room. The cost of the cork is easily twice that of a bottle,” McKinley said.

Manufacturing giant Saver Glass is one of the go-to suppliers for many Australian winemakers and distillers looking to set their bottles apart. The company is based in Normandy, France, and is famed for producing the clearest glass in the world.

Because of Saver Glass’ location, bottles have to be shipped from Europe and can sometimes take months to arrive. Aside from making sure to pre-order in advance, shipping can provide all kinds of new disasters.

“Once I had the shipping container opened on arrival to Australia and all the bottles were broken. It takes about 12 weeks to get bottles from France to Australia,” says Scott. The disaster meant his cash flow took a temporary hit and that year’s rosé had to be released at the end of summer, once the new order arrived.

Luscher-Mostert and her partner missed the order window for 2016 and subsequently have had to produce that year’s vintage in typical Burgundy bottles. “(Saver Glass) only manufacture the lightweight bottles twice a year. It’s just teething problems. As soon as we could, we placed a big order for this year’s vintage so we can get back to normal.”

 

CHALLENGE ACCEPTED

Once orders are out of the way, packaging challenges can arise. McKinley has vetoed 12 packs of his signature Sami Odi Pinot Noir because of its immense weight. “To actually put it in a 12-pack is an occupational health and safety risk.” Even with the six-packs, the cardboard becomes strained quickly.

Scott avoids these issues by custom making his boxes for Shiny Wines. Brave New Wine put all of their varieties (except for the pet nat) in the same bottles – which fit in to standard boxes.

Even through all the hassle, the consensus is the same when it comes to asking if it’s worthwhile. “We’re 11 years in and it’s never occurred to us that it’s too hard,” says McKinley.

For small scale wineries like the three listed, labelling and packing is less of an issue since it’s all done by hand. For larger wineries, or those with less flexibility on the bottling line, making the switch wouldn’t be so simple. Although, some larger producers might be onto the scalloped bottom Burgundy bottle before too long. Their modern design means that the bottles are lightweight (which is better for exports), and sturdier. Luscher-Mostert has dropped a few during the hand-bottling process and says “they kind of bounce”.

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