Aluminum bottles roll out for Napa Valley ultrapremium wine

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After increasing traction for premium U.S. wine in aluminum cans, the light-weight metal is coming to another increasingly popular way consumers can enjoy the fruit of the vine on the go: aluminum bottles.

“Aluminum cans are getting broad acceptance by consumers — mostly younger consumers — and that has upped the incentive for aluminum container manufacturers to finally make aluminum bottles in the correct approved volumes for wine,” said Paul Tincknell, a principal of Healdsburg-based packaging design firm Tincknell & Tincknell.

He’s been an advocate of alternative packaging for the wine business for years, looking to innovations in other beverage-alcohol products and with wine in other countries.

One sticking point for aluminum bottles for projects that Tincknell has pursued for wine clients has been the lack of bottle sizes that comply with federal rules for volumes of wine containers, such as 187, 375 and 750 milliliters. Multipacks were allowed but the total volume of the pack had to equal an approved size.

But the biggest deterrent for use of aluminum bottles for wine is needed adaptations to filling lines, Tincknell said.

“In my discussions with co-packers, it would take a few hundred grand to do the change parts on a bottling line to convert it to handling aluminum bottles,” Tincknell said. “That’s a serious investment, and co-packers haven’t seen the demand to justify the expense, and wineries are reluctant to invest or co-invest because they haven’t seen the demand. I think the explosive growth of cans is beginning to change that picture for wineries.”

Sales of 375-milliliter bottles, half the volume of the 750-milliliter industry standard, have been growing by double digits, Sterling noted. Sales for the 52 weeks through late last year were up 54 percent by value and 35 percent in volume, according to IRI figures.

“The convenience factor plus societal forces of moderation with alcohol make single-serve or duo-serve containers an increasingly more attractive package for consumers for everyday wines,” Tincknell said.

Earlier this year, Sterling Vineyards of Napa Valley announced a trio of wines that would be packaged in resealable two-serving aluminum bottles. The vintner is owned by Treasury Wine Estates of Australia, where wine brands in cans have been hopping about for decades.

Sterling said it opted for half-bottles over cans to have a convenient container that reflected the upscale style of the brand. Consumers have said the package has a “sleek, modern and unique” look, according to Rob Knott, brand director. It’s part of a “Sterling style” rebranding program.

“It’s no surprise that we are bringing something different and very much in tune with what consumers expect from Sterling,” said Knott.

Playing off the shiny metal labels on Sterling’s other wines bottled in glass, the bottles have a brushed aluminum texture on the narrow, 375-milliliter package. The consumer cue for the contents is the color of the cap and a bar around the bottom, corresponding with the varietal: yellow for chardonnay, red for cabernet sauvignon and pink for rosé.

The vintner is starting with its entry-level Sterling California Vintners Collection wines in these bottles. The suggested retail price is $8, equivalent to $16 for a standard-sized bottle.

Sterling plans to offer an optional custom cap with an integrated straw and display the bottles in store aisle end-cap dispensers that feed bottles one by one as consumers remove them.

Though the wine industry has seen “exotic” use of alternative packaging — stackables, flexible pouches, PET plastic bottles with wine glass-like caps, the business likely will settle on cans, aluminum and plastic and bottles, and TetraPak cartons, according to Tincknell.

“They all have successful precedents with other beverages,” he said.

Jeff Quackenbush covers wine, real estate and construction. Contact him at or 707-521-4256.

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