This vineyard is betting on the possibility of fine wine in a box
You can't resist Tablas Creek's earth-friendly options.
Almost always on the bottom shelf, supermarket wine aisles are full of 3-liter boxes, hardly evocative of exquisite wines. Since the contents are generic and forgettable at best and sometimes bordering on revolting, they indicate dorm-room debauchery or just a desperate need for alcohol in large quantities. Most boxed wines are cheap, but that’s all they have to offer.
Managing partner and general manager of Tablas Creek Vineyard in Paso Robles, Jason Haas wants to change all of that. Last week, the winery released a bag-in-box version of the winery's 2021 Provence-inspired Patelin de Tablas Rosé, which costs $95.
It's actually a good deal: The wine is $28 a bottle, so you get four for $112. Tablas Creek is passing on their cost savings on packaging materials and shipping. However, Haas and his team didn't throw in with what had been the domain of cardboard-encased plonk for a chance to save a few bucks on the price of the product.
As a poorly kept secret, the wine industry's use of 750-milliliter glass bottles produces a rather flagrant carbon footprint, especially as other sectors have gone to great lengths to adopt sustainable practices.
Although glass itself looks like a promising, recyclable vessel, high heat is involved in its manufacture, its shape makes packing difficult, and its weight means that it takes a lot of effort to transport.
It has been a longstanding practice at Tablas Creek to be part of the lead phalanx in the wine industry's efforts to reduce its impact on the planet on both the farming front as well as the winemaking front.
Aside from the fact that their vineyards have been certified organic since 2003, they have also incorporated a number of biodynamic elements into their processes since 2010, and in 2020, they will become the first vineyard in the US to receive the Regenerative Organic Certification, a certification that is based on actually doing good for soil health, animal welfare and farmworker fairness, rather than simply doing nothing wrong.
When it came to the glass bottle dilemma, Haas was not ingenious. The winery lightened its bottles back in 2009, reducing its carbon footprint by 10 percent, he says, a relatively easy solution. Although he was aware of the benefits of bag-in-box technology, he says it wasn't feasible to sell $100 wines in a box when most cost $30 or less.
A winery like Tablas Creek has never been easy on itself, taking on the arduous task of importing every last grape from Rhône countries and propagating it for US producers through quarantine.
Consequently, Haas undertook a rigorous self-assessment of the winery's environmental impact last year, in light of a study published by the California Sustainable Winegrowing Alliance ten years ago that examined the impact of each element on winegrowing, making, packaging, and shipping. Despite all our progress, Haas couldn't give us an “A,” as the subtitle of his blog about the results reads.
This study stunned Haas because it found that packaging alone accounts for more than 50%, which means it matters just as much as everything else. After some soul-searching, arguments against "bottling" Tablas Creek wines in boxes, wine meant to be consumed within a few months, were swept away.
Many heavy glass bottles don't fit into standard cellar racks, says Haas, so it's not just about carbon footprint, but storage and use as well. Taping a box of wine does not degrade the contents like pulling a cork does; the internal bag deflates as the wine is dispensed, keeping oxygen out. Should you be able to store four bottles of Tablas Creek for that long, the wine will stay fresh for weeks. In addition, Haas says, "someone has to be the first to package a higher-end tipple in a box!"
This pale-salmon blend of Grenache, Mourvèdre, and Counoise from Tablas Creek Paso Robles Rosé is a crisp and lively wine. The rose petals open with wild strawberry, watermelon, stone fruit, and a vein of wet stones before lingering on raspberry and peach, with a lift at the end. Wouldn't it be nice to have 3 liters available?
In the Patelin family, Blanc and Rouge are waiting in the wings, according to Haas, and this isn't the last boxed wine from Tablas Creek. In the coming months, the winery's team will be tasting the wines regularly - boxed against bottled - and if the wines hold up, they will make them available on the winery's website as well.
This is a no-brainer when the wine in the box is this good.