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Boxed wine has always gotten a bad wrap. I’m certainly not here to defend it, but I’m more than willing to shed a little light on a trend that I expect to gain huge popularity over the next decade. Of course, anyone would be apprehensive about buying 5 liters of wine for the same price as 750 milliliters of wine. What’s the catch?
It’s not the goal of every winery to make as much wine, and sell as many bottles as possible. Grape growing is as much of a business as wine making is a business, as bottling, and marketing and selling are businesses. Some companies have multiple tiers of wine giving them an outlet for just about every grape they grow, or buy. The Robert Mondavi enterprise is a great example. The best grapes from a very specific vineyard make Opus One ($160 retail). The best grapes that aren’t from that vineyard make the Private Reserve ($110). The grapes that aren’t good enough for the Private Reserve make up a lower tier ($50). As the tier quality drops, the production doubles and triples. Grapes that aren’t worthy of the Napa tier will find their way in to the “Mondavi Series.” Below that is the “Woodbridge” line. Every grape that is grown by the huge winery is used in one of their wines, whether it’s in one of the 100,000 cases of White Zin, or in one of the 10,000 cases of Opus One.
Not all wineries have the luxury of bottling every grape. In fact, most don’t, and a vast majority doesn’t want to. Limiting production increases demand. Chateau Montelena wants to make 5,000 cases of their Estate Cabernet ($120) and 15,000 cases of their Napa Cab ($70). When the growing season is less than perfect, they strive for these numbers. In 2007 when the weather was just right, they could have easily upped these numbers by 50%. Why didn’t they? If Topps knew that Micky Mantle’s rookie card was going to be the most valuable baseball card ever made, would they have made 1,000,000 more of his cards? Of course not! A million more cards in circulation makes the card practically worthless. They stay exclusive, and they keep the demand high. It is extremely common for wineries to sell grapes, and juices.
Obviously Franzia isn’t buying grapes from the Montelena Estate vineyards. They are, however taking advantage of over planting all over the western coast. From Temecula to the Columbia Valley of Washington, grapes don’t ever get thrown away. Companies like Castle Rock own a winery, but not vineyards. They make a living buying other peoples grapes and making their own wine. William Seylem does this as well. William Seylem has never made a wine that hasn’t been recognized in Wine Spectator. All this means really is that you don’t have to run a vineyard to make amazing wine.
Your local wine shop probably has a pretty extensive selection of boxed wine right now. Almaden, Franzia, Bota, Block, Black, Hardy’s, Trove, Delicato are all names I’m seeing. If the wines were awful, than this wouldn’t be a growing trend. The fact is: boxed wine is hands down the most environmentally friendly wine produced. Boxed wine quality will last ten times longer than an open bottle. Though I haven’t done the market research, I can assure that the quality of these boxes will continue to rise. A bottle of wine is romantic, so it will never disappear. Corks are romantic, so they will never disappear. As the planet continues striving to be greener, the boxed wine business will continue to grow. And these wines will get better and better. Personally, I’ll wait, but I don’t want that to be discouraging!
View my restaurants’ wine lists: