French winemakers are brushing aside Gallic pride to bottle their wine in plastic to meet British demand for lighter, unbreakable plastic bottles for the summer festival season.
In the Languedoc-Roussillon area, winegrowers from the Pepieux co-operative have been converted, albeit begrudgingly. “Plastic bottles are difficult for me,” said Pascal Fernandez, a winegrower. “In the Frenchculture, a glass bottle with a natural cork is engraved in our genes.”
He is among 17 growers who are turning to plastic PET bottles, ready to try anything after an eight-year sales slump that led to thousands of acres of vines in the Aude region being ripped up.
One of their top clients, the Hugh Kevin & Robert co-operative, proposed bottling their Greener Planet wine in plastic, starting with an order for 75,000 bottles for Asda in Britain.
Asda said a growing number of wine drinkers were shirking heavier, breakable glass in favour of tough, easily resealed, lighter plastic bottles.
“We are expecting positive sales over the following weeks, especially as we head towards the summer months and there are more occasions such as outdoor festivals and concerts, where traditional glass wine bottles are banned,” said Lottie Parsons, a spokesman for Asda.
Britons consume about one billion bottles of wine each year. PET wine bottles are now a familiar sight everywhere from Glastonbury to the Henley Regatta.
Philippe Lauret, the president of Les Celliers Jean d’Alibert, which sells Mr Fernandez’s wine, said his firm expected to supply Asda with 360,000 bottles of wine in plastic bottles this year.
Even the French are forgoing glass and cork when it comes to lower-grade wines. Last year Auguste Bonlouis sold more than three million plastic bottles to French supermarkets, a restaurant chain and the retailer Monoprix.
However, shunning glass has appalled some purists. When the Boisset Family Estates switched to PET-bottled Beaujolais Nouveau in Japan, Canada and America, producers revolted.
Such was the outcry that the Beaujolais winegrowers union has since banned bottling their wine, including Nouveau Beaujolais, in plastic.
Meanwhile, high-end wine growers look down their noses at PET as totally unsuitable for wines destined for cellars, because the plastic is porous, allowing the wines to oxidise much faster than glass. “It is absolutely unusable for wines destined to be kept between three and 40 years, as is the case for ours,” said Patrick Maroteaux, whose Chateau Branaire-Ducru is a highly sought-after grand vin from the St Julien appellation.