South African wine lightens up
Published:  04 February, 2010

South African wines are to be available in light-weight bottles.

From this year, 750-ml wine bottles closed with screwcaps and weighing 350 grams will be available to local wine producers.  These compare with an average bottle weight of over 500 grams just four years ago.

Su Birch, CEO of Wines of South Africa (WOSA) said: “As we raise our export volumes of mostly bottled wines, we also increase our carbon emissions, so it becomes a delicate balancing act to enhance our sustainability profile while pushing up our output.

“On the face of it, one solution might be to ship more of our wines in bulk directly to their export destinations for off-shore bottling.  However, this poses a major problem in that many jobs would be lost during what must rank as the worst recession in current memory.  Last year over a million jobs were shed in the formal sector, forcing many further millions of South Africans into a state of dire poverty.”

She said the wine industry body, SA Wine Industry Information Systems (SAWIS), had calculated that for every 10 million litres of wine shipped in bulk, just over 107 jobs would be lost.  “This figure does not even factor in the multiplier effect that such job losses bring. It has, for example, been reported that for every one of Unilever’s direct jobs in South Africa, another 22 workers depend on the company for at least a part of their livelihood. This is an indication of just how crucial each job is to a developing economy such as ours.”

The wine industry currently provides direct employment for close on 276 000 people, Birch said.

Last year, South Africa exported 389 million litres of wine. Of the total, less than half - 150,5 million litres - were exported in bulk. “Fortunately, the volume of bulk exports dropped 18% in 2009, compared with year before, whereas packaged exports rose 7% over the same period.  This is not only good for individual brands and for jobs but for the quality standing of Brand South Africa.”

While many players in the South African wine industry have actively supported bottle recycling programmes in recent years to reduce their impact on the environment, efforts are now being accelerated to focus on light-weight wine bottles as well.

“The new 350 gram glass bottles for red and white wines have been designed to accommodate screwcap closures, which account for over 65% of South Africa’s wine production.  They are scheduled for launch by mid-April, in time for the 2010 harvest.”

At the same time, the average weight of bottles sealed with corks had been reduced in weight from 570 grams to 460 grams, Birch added.

According to glass manufacturer Consol Glass, until 2006 the average weight of a 750ml non-returnable wine bottle was 516 grams, which by last year had dropped to 437 grams, a decrease of 15%.  The new light-weight bottle will bring down the average still further

Birch added that alternative wine packaging, such as the wine pouch offered by leading export brand, Arniston Bay, had also been welcomed in many export markets.  South African bag-in-box wines were also very popular, particularly in Scandinavia.

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