The future of wine packaging part 1: None at all

I took a stroll down Amwell Street in Islington a couple of days ago and discovered a rather interesting shop. While some stores charge for plastic bags to help reduce landfill waste, Unpackaged go several steps further and remove almost all packaging from everything they sell. From nuts to pasta, from jam to shampoo, the idea is to bring your own container from home and refill it. Not only does this lead to less waste and associated pollution, but it can also save you money on your weekly shop.

I had a quick look in the drinks section, and was surprised to see that they offer this service with wine. You can bring your own empty bottle to refill from one of their two little wooden barrels (discreetly filled with bags or ‘bladders’ of wine to keep it fresh), or you can buy various sizes of reusable glass bottles with swing-top caps if you don’t have anything suitable to hand. Owner Catherine Conway explained that although some customers are reticent to experiment at first due to the poor image bulk wine suffers from, many of her customers are now in the habit of bringing back their bottle and filling it up.



Unpackaged aren’t the only ones doing this. Borough Wines, with shops in London Bridge and Hackney, offer a similar service. Wholefoods Market on Kensington High Street also offer bulk wines on tap. And in Norfolk, Reno Wine operate a delivery and collection service of locally bottled Languedoc wines, with discounts if you return the bottle to be refilled. If you know of any others, please let me know in the box below.

Though the green credentials of this approach are obvious, what matters when it comes to long-term success is the quality of the wine. Catherine was keen to underline Unpackaged’s “commitment to high quality product, which is essential to inspire customers to get into the habit of refilling”. And with the absence of brands, there is no hiding place for products that don’t stack up in terms of quality and value.

Both Borough Wines and Unpackaged buy some of their wines from a company called Sfuso, based in East London that specialise in bag-in-box wines of various sizes. Having recently read Fiona Beckett’s recent damning write-up for The Guardian on boxed wines, I didn’t have very high expectations… but this company didn’t appear in her piece, so I paid them a visit to taste through their wines and see for myself. I’ll let you know how I got on in the next post tomorrow.