It’s getting close to that time again, folks. That weird occasion each year when a pretty good wine turns great through the use of some simple marketing hype and a dash of mystique. That’s right, it’s Beaujolais Nouveau season. But this year, the tradition is changing a bit.
The low-priced, easy drinking red has long been considered kind of a big deal in the fall thanks to a buzz created by the strictly controlled release date: It becomes available on the third Thursday in November, at which point distributors compete not only to see who can get the wine onto store shelves faster, but apparently who can make the biggest racket about it. Restaurants put on special menus to go with the wine, and stores trumpet its arrival.
The classic thing is to see gangs of motorcycle couriers revving up to sprint the first shipments out of little towns in the Bueaujolais region, shouting, “Le Beaujolais nouveau est arrivé!” as they race to Paris.
This year, however, some bottles have been released early, loaded onto ships, and are on their way abroad in leisurely fashion.
Of course, the bottle you pick up in the wine shop would most likely not have arrived via frantic motorcyclist. In past years, it probably would have been flown, but a Reuters story today reported that producers this year are going to ship a lot more bottles by sea — a drastically more efficient method — and are using plastic bottles, in a bid to reduce their environmental impact:
Georges Duboeuf, the largest maker of Beaujolais Nouveau, struck a deal with the French government to allow an early release of his wine so that he could use ships to haul about 75 percent of his 2 million U.S.-bound bottles, instead of the one-third that usually arrives by boat.
“It significantly changes the (carbon) footprint and it keeps the cost level down to the consumer, as well as keeping it in that $10-$12 range,” explained Barbara Scalera, a spokeswoman for Duboeuf’s U.S. agent W. J. Deutsch & Sons.
But, plastic bottles? Since when is plastic more environmentally friendly than glass? And also, since when did any winery more sophisticated than Franzia package its product in plastic? We were flumoxed by this as well, but it turns out there’s a case to be made:
The move is expected to lower the freight costs by a third and the result is that the suggested price for Boisset’s Mommessin Beaujolais Nouveau and Bouchard Aine & Fils Beaujolais Nouveau will be $12.99, instead of up to $14.99 for U.S. consumers.
When asked if shipping by air negated the carbon footprint benefits, [Boisset America spokesman Patric] Egan replied, “Because we produce less, more of it needs to be here more quickly.”
Although some wine lovers may not like the idea of plastic bottles, Egan said it does not harm the wine.
“It’s not great for long-term aging. But for up to three years it protects the wine just as well as glass,” he explained.
The website triplepundit has a breakdown of some of the math on the overall environmental impact of plastic vs. glass bottles. It seems because of its lighter weight and smaller overall usage of raw materials and energy in production, the plastic may actually be a more “green” packaging choice.
[Image: Via Carabin.fr]