Thinking Drives Premium Wine Brands

by Kate Bertrand
Stylish carton decoration, better barrier film and ergonomic spigots spur growth of high-end wines in bag-in-box packaging.
One reusable Box, Many disposable Bags
English Estate Winery, Vancouver, Wash., is taking the wine box a step further by creating permanent boxes for bags of English Estate premium Pinot Noir. The winery manufactures wooden and travertine marble boxes to hold wine bags.
English Estate calls the concept “Wine in a Bag in a Beautiful Box” (BIBB). Customers buy a Beautiful Box one time, then buy 3- or 5-liter bags as needed.
The BIBB products hit the market last in December. In addition to selling the innovative packages to consumers, the winery is starting to market the BIBB to restaurants.
The winery sells the wooden box for $29.95 and 3-liter bags of wine for $44.95. But through the winery’s BIBB wine club, the box is free if the customer commits to buying at least four bags per year.
English Estate decorates the boxes with the winery’s logo and illustrations using printed transparent labels. Scholle supplies the bags.
“The strategy is to provide an excellent quality wine at a fair price,” says Carl English, the winery’s proprietor. “Response has been far greater than we predicted.”
Imagine a time when “wine-in-a-box” will carry a cachet of elegance, sophistication and impressive taste for U.S. consumers. Once unthinkable, that time is coming—thanks to advances in bag-in-box barrier technology, carton printing and decorating, and the pioneering efforts of premium-wine brand owners.
Since early 2003, wineries both large and small have launched bag-in-box versions of their premium wines in the United States. They are following the example of wineries in Europe and Australia, where bag-in-box retail packaging does not carry a negative connotation.
Statistics from Scholle Corp.—a supplier of bag-in-box systems—indicate bag-in-box wine packages, also called casks, control 40 percent of the wine market in Sweden and represent 53 percent of all domestic wine sales in Australia.
In contrast, cask wines control only about 15 percent of the U.S. market, based on the familiar 5-liter boxes of wine that have been sold here since the 1980s. But that is about to change. And the growing volume of U.S. cask wine will come primarily from sales of premium varietal wines.
“Bag-in-box wine is the fastest growing category in many parts of the world—the U.K. and Scandinavia, for instance. In the United States, many of the major wineries are producing premium ‘boxed’ products or are seriously considering it. It just may revolutionize how Americans drink wine, just as it has in Australia,” says Roberta Morris, Scholle’s Director, Global Market Development.
A big billboard
In the United States, “Changes to the retail market have driven all kinds of wineries—boutique and otherwise—to explore bag-in-box packaging, with the goal of gaining better distribution and the billboard effect of the box,” says Bryan Smith, Executive Vice President of Sales and Marketing with Pacific Southwest Container.
With the carton’s large amount of surface, versus a label on a bottle, wine casks provide plenty of space for graphics and text. All the new-generation bag-in-box wines use the space on the box’s back and/or side panels to tout the concept of bag-in-box and to promote its benefits. These include portability, no corkscrew needed, stays fresh for weeks, etc.
The trend toward premium wine in casks has stimulated printing and decorating creativity. Lithographic printing on single-face laminates, coupled with advances in water-based coatings and spot UV coatings, enable wineries to provide visual pop on the shelf in the liquor or grocery store.
The single-face laminates provide good structural integrity, and they can be die-cut, foil stamped and/or embossed for a high-end look.
Smith acknowledges the “stigma” of bag-in-box for wine in the United States but says, “More and more wineries are willing to take the risk to differentiate themselves and at the same time sell premium wine. Their marketing people are interested in the overall aesthetics of the bag-in-box.”
Making the value proposition
To lure U.S. consumers, wineries are counting on the lower price point of premium wine in casks versus the same wine filled into a glass bottle.
Materials and labor costs are lower with bag-in-box filling versus bottling, and the wineries are passing the savings along to consumers. The new bag-in-box premium wines carry a price of $10 to $30 for a 3-liter package—the equivalent of four standard 750-ml bottles.
And in many instances, the wine is exactly the same product that comes in bottles. Premium brands such as Banrock Station, Corbett Canyon, Delicato, English Estate and Hardys Stamp of Australia are available in both bottles and 3-liter casks.
“We feel the U.S. consumer is ready to try the same wine they drink in a bottle, but in a box. The box offers convenience—you don’t need a corkscrew and you can take it with you—as well as freshness,” says Ben Dollard, President of Pacific Wine Partners, Gonzales, Calif. “And because of the pricing, you effectively get a bottle for free. The value and convenience of a 3-liter box cannot be underestimated.”
Pacific Wine Partners markets Black Box Wines in 3-liter casks only. Positioned as a super-premium brand, Black Box Wines carry a higher price tag than other cask varietals. It retails for about $25.
Black Box Wines uses a distinctive carton to signal quality. Unlike other casks in the category, which are rectangular, the Black Box casks have a square footprint. The boxes exhibit a lustrous black, with six-color printing that includes metallic gold ink. Matte aqueous and gloss UV coatings enhance the box’s look and feel.
Color-Box, a division of Georgia-Pacific, supplies the cartons.
Sonoma Hill Winery sells Blackburn Fine Wine Cache (Cabernet Sauvignon) in a 3-liter cask exclusively. The super-premium brand sells for about $30.
The Blackburn carton sports a rich look, with a burnished-gold foil exterior that resonates with the brand’s super-premium identity. This box consists of a single-face laminate with 18-point metallized polyester board.
Overprinting the silver metallization with yellow ink creates a glossy gold metallic look. Pacific Southwest Container prints and decorates the carton.
In addition to four-color lithographic printing, Pacific Southwest Container embosses the laminate with vertical pinstripes and also embosses a texture behind the oversize “B” logo. The textured area, created by printing with white ink, overprinting with PMS yellow ink, then embossing, creates the visual illusion of the “B” standing out from the box.
Logo acts as a label
Visually, the rectangular logo on the box’s front panel resembles a label from a wine bottle. “We set up the design to echo the idea of a label,” says Paul Tincknell, a Partner with Tincknell & Tincknell. His company, a wine marketing and brand consulting firm, helped Sonoma Hill Winery develop the Blackburn brand and packaging.
Bauermeister Design created the final graphic design for the Blackburn cask. One reason premium winemakers are making the switch to casks now is the recent improvement in film and tap technologies. Historically, high-end winemakers were wary of using a package that did not offer bottle-quality protection against oxygen, one of wine’s greatest enemies.
Technological advancements in the past two years, such as Scholle’s DuraShield high-barrier film and the ergonomically designed FlexTap spigot, overcome that problem.
When a consumer presses the pushbutton tap, the spout delivers a steady stream of product. It reseals quickly with no dripping. The resealed tap acts as an oxygen barrier.
Corbett Canyon Vineyards uses the patented SmartTap spigot on bags of Corbett Canyon Premium Wine Casks. The spout keeps the wine fresh for several weeks after the package is opened.
By using the new bags and spigots to protect the quality of their products, premium vintners also are safeguarding their brand reputation. The last glass of wine, even if it is consumed weeks or months after the cask is opened, tastes the same as the first.
Estimates of how long wine will remain fresh in an opened cask vary, from four weeks to several months. Wine in an unopened box reportedly remains fresh for up to one year. For drinkers who resist opening a bottle of wine because they want just one or two glasses, bag-in-box offers an attractive option—no more waste. And no possibility of cork taint.
Targeting the younger set
Delicato entered the cask market last fall with its premium Shiraz, Merlot and Chardonnay in 3-liter packages. The company calls its colorful wine cask the Bota Box. The cask for the red wines is lime green, with tangerine accents; the color scheme for the Chardonnay package is the reverse.
Auston Design Group designed the packages. These stylish casks are designed to appeal to younger drinkers, overcome misperceptions about cask wine, and encourage consumers to make everyday occasions special by drinking wine.
To protect the wines from oxidation, Delicato uses Scholle’s DuraShield bag and the FlexTap spigot for the Bota Box. Text on the back of the Bota Box discusses the advantages of FlexTap technology and encourages consumers to “Embrace the Box.”
To communicate the products’ premium quality, the side panel of each Bota Box includes a list of the awards the wine has won and shows a photograph of the product’s California State Fair gold seals.
The author, Kate Bertrand, is a San Francisco-based writer specializing in packaging, business and technology. Contact her at
Where to go for more information...
© Bag-in-box systems. At Scholle Corp., contact Eunice Reynolds at 888.224.6269 or
© Wine boxes. At Pacific Southwest Container, contact Bryan Smith at 209.526.0440 or
© Wine boxes. At Color-Box, contact Paul Sundgren at 925.516.9853 or
© Wine marketing and brand consulting. At Tincknell & Tincknell, contact Paul Tincknell at 707.433.3671 or
© Package design. At Bauermeister Design, contact Karen Bauermeister at 707.935.3566 or
© Package design. At Auston Design Group, contact Tony Auston at 707.226.9010, ext. 102, or