Box whine

It’s your fix in a box.

It’s your fix in a box.

(Come friend Aunt Ruthie on Facebook and let’s hang out.)

But of course Aunt Ruth is a wine snob—she prefers wine to beer—but lately her eco-ethics have conspired with the recessionary ravaging of her coin purse, enough to consider crossing what true wine snobs consider the sacred divide: wine in a box.

Wine bottles, what’s to love? They are heavy, they make ungodly high-pitched noises when they clunk against each other in the recycling bin and, according to Tyler Colman in The New York Times, “Switching to wine in a box for the 97 percent of wines that are made to be consumed within a year would reduce greenhouse gas emissions by about two million tons, or the equivalent of retiring 400,000 cars.”

But that has to do with the costs of transporting the much heavier wine bottles from California, where most domestic wine is produced, out east of the Mississippi. Distribution accounts for about 35 percent of wine’s emissions overall. Not as big an issue for us Left Coasters in Sacramento, so now what?

Auntie Ruth chatted with a local food co-op wine staffer whose main issue with boxed wines was that of quality—the cost of putting a great wine in a box is still the cost of a high-priced wine; most of the wines in a box are of a lower quality.

But the co-op worker did introduce Ruth to both Tetra Paks and wine in a box. Tetra Pak makes an aseptic wine package—a papery boxy thing made of paper, polyethylene and a little aluminum. Aseptics are big in Australia, Argentina, Sweden and parts of Europe.

A study by the Tellus Institute in the early ’90s lauded aseptic packaging as having “one of the lowest environmental impacts of any beverage container,” a comment that Slate’s Green Lantern questioned in noting that Tetra Paks aren’t easily recycled. Wine in a box, on the other hand, had a recyclable box with a plastic bag inside—one likely heading to the landfill after the drinking is done. In Ruth’s research, that aspect of the debate has received less attention than the distribution issue.

If distribution and quality are the issue then, there are two wines that jump out: Black Box Wines out of Granite Bay and Bandit Wines out of Napa. Both got commendations from Wine Spectator for quality; neither will arrive in Sacramento via a slow boat from Italy.