Monday, September 28, 2020

Why beer companies should never buy wine companies

On the face of it, there seem to be two arguments here. On the on hand, accountants at brewing companies seem to think to themselves something like this: “Beer has alcohol in it and so does wine, and therefore buying another (currently profitable) alcohol company would create administrative synergies, which would lead to economic efficiencies, which would in turn lead to even bigger profits.”

On the other hand, even Blind Freddie can see that the economics of beer making and the economics of wine making have almost nothing in common, even though one of the ingredients of the end-product is the same. This seems to lead to the conclusion that the accountants at any given brewing company should not be allowed within 10 miles of any wine company, because they will destroy it.

There are, sadly, quite a few examples of the latter (destruction of wine assets), and almost no examples of the former (an efficiently run combined company). One extremely unfortunate example lead to the creation of what is now called Treasury Wine Estates, which has been in the news recently, for having financial problems even as a single wine company. It is a simple story, in principle: a large beer company bought a large wine company, for a lot of money, then systematically destroyed the wine company's assets over only a very few years, subsequently spinning it off as a separate wine company again, and then selling if for only a fraction of what it originally paid.


The issue here is very simple. Beer companies do not usually produce any of their ingredients themselves, but instead buy them from primary producers. All the company needs, in principle, is some brewing equipment, to process the ingredients, and a bottling / canning line to package the output. Yes, this does make them dependent on the grain and hops growers, but there are plenty of them, should any given relationship turn sour (no pun intended). Brewers are thus not primary producers, they are intermediaries between the growers and the drinkers. Moreover, beer does not take long to make, even if one does mature the brew for a while before sale; and it can be made all year long. So, the return on investment is quite fast — they get their money from the buyers not long after they have to pay the growers. Finally, it is not hard to adjust volumes to market conditions, due to high turnover.

Nothing could be more different from being a wine company, could it? These companies are almost always primary producers, as part of their activity. They often own very large tracts of rather expensive land, made even more expensive by having to grow grape-vines on it; and the bigger the company, the more widespread these tracts of land are likely to be. Grape-vines are not fast to establish, not cheap to maintain, and not easy to modify should you decide to change the mix of ingredients (in this case, grape varieties). All of this requires a massive up-front investment, which will not produce much of a return for at lest 5 years, if you start from scratch.

Then, having got the ingredients, the company needs a winery, or two, to process the grapes and bottle / can the output — this can happen only once per year. Furthermore, in between the annual input and the final output there may also be a requirement for a large number of oak barrels, in which the nascent wine will be stored, for one or more years. This requires a large area of controlled storage conditions, which is also somewhat expensive. This all leads to a situation where the company is not likely to get its production money back for at least a year after it spends it, and, for many wine types, several years. And let's not contemplate for too long the nightmare of trying to adjust volumes to prevailing market conditions, or trying to deal with environmental effects, like smoke taint.

So, it should be obvious that you cannot run a wine company the same way you run a beer company. Maybe you could run a spirits company in somewhat the same manner as a beer company, although it often needs some barrels, too. But the economics of wine is another thing altogether.

A specific example

So, why do beer companies sometimes buy wine companies? It cannot possibly turn out well. Let me briefly describe the example mentioned above, although it is perhaps an extreme one. It comes from Australia, so open a beer and settle yourself into a comfy chair.

The beer company involved is (or was) called Foster's Group Limited. While probably known internationally as a particularly Australian brand, Foster's beer is actually quite rare in Australia itself. Its biggest market is the UK, where it is apparently the second highest selling beer. Like all big companies, Foster's has a long history. It started in Australia in 1888, but in 1907 the company merged with five other brewers to form Carlton & United Breweries (CUB). Courage Brewery (from Britain) was acquired by CUB in 1990, which by that time had been re-named Foster's Brewing Group. In 2011, CUB and its products were bought by the conglomerate SABMiller, which in turn was incorporated into the multinational Anheuser-Busch InBev in 2016. CUB is currently being sold to Asahi Breweries.

There are actually two wine conglomerates involved. The first one in our story was called Mildara Blass, a highly profitable business, seen in the industry as a model for return on investment, driven by the big volume Yellowglen, Jamiesons Run and Wolf Blass brands. It was formed in 1991, when Wolf Blass Wines and Mildara merged, each being a large well-run company in its own right. Wolf Blass Wines International had been formed in 1973, and was publicly floated in 1984. Although founded earlier, the Mildara trademark dates from 1937. It remained largely a “sherry” producer until well into the 1960s, but during the 1970s and 1980s it expanded rapidly, acquiring a series of high-profile wineries.

Fosters moved into the wine business in 1996 by acquiring Mildara Blass, which itself acquired other wineries (eg. Rothbury Estates and Saltram). By 1999, the wine company claimed c. 40% of the Australian sparkling wine market and 25% of its premium table wine market. Then, in 2000, California’s Beringer Wine Estates joined Foster’s wine business, and the name changed to Beringer Blass Wine Estates (shortened in 2004 to Beringer Blass). However, by then the difficulty of running an international wine business had become apparent. For example, in the year to June 2004 the wine division returned just 4% on its AU$4.4 billion of assets, compared to the beer division’s 25% on AU$2.2 billion of assets.

The second wine conglomerate in our story was called Southcorp Wines, a name that dated from 1994. It was then the owner of many of Australia’s greatest and oldest wine brands, including Wynns Coonawarra Estate, Penfolds, Seppelt, Lindemans, Leo Buring, Coldstream Hills and Devil’s Lair. In 2001, it merged with what had been the highly successful Rosemount Estate. However, the two entities did not work well together, from the management point of view. Even worse, both their local and their export combined market shares were decimated — retailers were not going to be dictated to by this now enormous supplier — according to Chris Shanahan, they “learned the hard way that they were the tail, not the dog; and the big retailers would wag them, not the other way around.”

So, just 4 years later, in 2005, Foster’s moved in, paying top dollar for Southcorp. Sadly, the downhill movement continued (eg. a 10% slide in wine sales during the first half of 2006–2007). As described by Shanahan:
Foster’s first major blunder after the acquisition was to funnel all sales across it vast beverage portfolio through a single sales force. Friends in the trade at the time said it was farcical. And the loss of market share experienced by the merged Southcorp-Rosemount was repeated by the merged Southcorp-Foster’s.
There were therefore repeated write-downs of assets. David Farmer cites an estimate of around AU$8 billion being used to build Foster’s wine assets, but by 2010 these same assets had an estimated value of just AU$2.5 billion. That is one helluva write down!

In 2010, Foster’s Group finally saw sense, and decided to split its global beer and wine divisions into two separate companies, to be listed on the Australian Stock Exchange. In the process, it changed the name of its wine business from Foster's Wine Estates to Treasury Wine Estates (TWE). This gave TWE control of its own destiny, based on whatever it could salvage of its wine assets. This strategy seemed to work for a decade, based on the strength of its premium holdings, notably the Penfolds and Wynns wines. It also moved strongly into the emerging Chinese wine market, leading the concerted Australian attempt to take over from the French in that market.

As a sad postscript, is Treasury Wine Estates doing particularly well, 10 years later? Obviously not. Its current income is far below previous expectations, for various reasons; and the current pandemic plus the current trade war between China and Australia have made things even worse. As a result, TWE currently has at least two class action suits against it (one; two), for deliberately misleading investors with forecasts of forthcoming riches. Ironically, it has been considering de-merging its portfolio of wines, taking us right back to the 1970s.

Why would anyone want to own a high-profile and expensive wine company? Freddie may not be as blind as his name suggests, but accounts sometimes seem to be.

Monday, September 21, 2020

Risk assessments can be very risky

In the past, the general public has often simply accepted all publicly available information as being okay, at least for practical purposes, although some people are skeptical about social and political biases in the media. However, in the modern world, people have become much more aware that the internet and its social media are major sources of mis-information (eg. Misleading information about Covid-19 spreads through texts and emails), and there are now even books on the topic (eg. Cindy L. Otis: True or False — A CIA Analyst's Guide to Spotting Fake News). These days, fake information from the internet even makes it into the traditional media (eg, see my post on False reports of US women's breast sizes).

Sadly, in the professional world, it sometimes goes way beyond this. For example, there is a thing called Forensic Engineering, which investigates construction mishaps of all types. Such mishaps often involve failures by professional engineers, and this needs to be checked and corrected, to help prevent future events. In this case, 20:20 hindsight is considered to be a valuable thing if you want to read some brief reports of such investigations then the Brady Heywood site has quite a few examples (as podcasts, blog posts, and publications).

The point here is that the human failures are of two different types. There are mis-calculations by professional experts, which go undetected, and there is pig-headedness by supervising bureaucrats, who fail to heed the warning signs. My own interest is in the former, in that my professional experience as a scientist is that things always need to double-checked — no matter how confident your colleagues profess to be in their own work, or how insulted they claim to be that you are checking on them in the first place.

A recent biological example of some relevance to us all involves the original study of the insecticide called Chlorpyrifos, which has been used for treating crops, animals, and buildings. The study that brought this to light is: Flawed analysis of an intentional human dosing study and its impact on chlorpyrifos risk assessments; and there is a more readable interview with the main author here: Data omission in key EPA insecticide study shows need for review of industry analysis.

Here is the authors’ summary of their work:
In March 1972, Coulston and colleagues at the Albany Medical College reported results of an intentional chlorpyrifos dosing study to the study’s sponsor, Dow Chemical Company. Their report concluded that 0.03 mg/kg-day was the chronic no-observed-adverse-effect-level (NOAEL) for chlorpyrifos in humans. We demonstrate here that a proper analysis by the original statistical method should have found a lower NOAEL (0.014 mg/kg-day) ... The original analysis, conducted by Dow-employed statisticians, did not undergo formal peer review; nevertheless, EPA cited the Coulston study as credible research and kept its reported NOAEL as a point of departure for risk assessments throughout much of the 1980s and 1990s ... This work demonstrates that reliance by pesticide regulators on research results that have not been properly peer-reviewed may needlessly endanger the public.
Note that there are actually several different issues here, almost all of which are also repeated themes in other fields, such as Forensic Engineering. It is this diversity of issues that is my main warning about risk assessments:
  • although the actual experiment was done independently, the study design and data analysis were not, but were carried out by an organization with a clear conflict of interest
  • the study design and data analysis were not reviewed by an independent person (or persons), either formally or (apparently) informally
  • the results were not reviewed adequately by any of the government-funded regulatory body responsible for implementing any conclusions (eg. US EPA, WHO's FAO)
  • the results were (apparently) never scrutinized in the professional literature, in spite of being frequently cited
  • the study design was complicated by having measurements taken at inconsistent times
  • the data analyses were then limited by the design complication, and the subsequent attempts to overcome this (including omitting some of the data)
  • the study's conclusion missed the true one by a long way (at least double, in this case)
  • the wrong conclusion was potentially life-threatening for by-standers — the chemical was subsequently (wrongly) approved for use in homes (eg. flea treatments for pets), as well as on crops.

My point here is not to examine the details of this one example, which you can read for yourself if you are interested. However, the original technical issues are worth reviewing: 1) the actual study design had poor ability to detect the true effect of the chemical; and 2) valid data points were omitted from the analysis, which obscured an effect that their study would otherwise have detected.

As an expert in designing biological experiments (I even used to teach this subject to both undergraduate and postgraduate biology students), the Coulston et al. study seems to be inadequate by modern standards (and, incidentally, also unethical). If one of my students had turned up with this design, they would never have passed the exam. Therefore, I think that even a 1971 review by an independent researcher would have severely questioned the practical usefulness of the study.

The data analyses were performed using the tools available at the time, which were (sadly) inadequate compared to what we now have. However, even then, the outcomes were poorly interpreted. Part of the issue here is the perennial failure to distinguish between experimental effects that are “statistically significant” and those that are “biologically significant” (see Biological importance and statistical significance). In this case, the main problem was deciding beforehand what the pattern of biological effect would be, and then statistically analyzing to detect only that effect, rather than finding the effect that actually did occur in the experiment.

Sadly, the US EPA immediately used the study when making regulatory decisions regarding human health; and then subsequently decided not to institute a review, despite growing evidence during the 1980s that the chemical might pose a health hazard in residential environments. Even more bizarrely, even as late as 2017 the US EPA administrator formally continued the existing registration of Chlorpyrifos for use, despite the fact that the year before the EPA’s own scientists had explicitly recommended an official new reference dose that would effectively discontinue all uses of the chemical.


The bottom line here is that the weak link when assessing risks is always humans. As humans, we have only one line of defense: we need to double- and triple-check everything. You'd think that after a few thousand years of recorded history we would have gotten the message; but obviously not. We all make mistakes, but if those mistakes threaten the lives of other humans, then we need to employ our defense, always. Life has enough threats as it is — we don’t need to create extra (unnecessary) ones of our own.

Monday, September 14, 2020

Worldwide patterns of wine consumption

We all know that alcohol consumption varies greatly around the planet, and that wine preference varies along with this. The origin of modern grape-based wine-making is currently credited to the area of what is now the country of Georgia, although there is evidence of an earlier mixed rice and grape fermented drink in ancient China. Wine-making then spread mainly west from Georgia, into the Balkans and the Mediterranean countries (especially by the Phoenicians). Modern preferences for wine still reflect this early history.

Many countries do not encourage the consumption of alcohol (see: Lifetime alcohol abstainers — where in the world are they?), but in those places where alcohol is consumed the preference for wine versus beer versus spirits varies considerably. The following table lists the percent of world consumption accounted for by each of 47 countries for 2018 (data from: Annual Database of Global Wine Markets).

United States
United Kingdom
South Africa
New Zealand
Hong Kong

As you can see, the USA, with 330 million people, easily beats all other countries for wine, but it is China, with slightly more than 1,400 million people, that consumes the most beer and spirits. While the USA is second for beer, it is a poor third for spirits behind India, with slightly less than 1,400 million people. India is also 12th for beer, but is a lowly 41st for wine — needless to say, India is seen as a big potential market by the wine exporters of the world. Similarly, Japan is 4th for spirits and 7th for beer, but 17th for wine, making it another potential future wine market. Russia is the most consistent of the top markets, being 5th for spirits, 6th for beer and 7th for wine.

This leads obviously on to what percentage of each country’s alcohol market consists of wine, which I have briefly covered before (In which countries is wine the greater part of the alcohol market?). The following graph shows the percent of national alcohol consumption for each of the same countries as above (taken from the same source).

Wine makes up >50% of consumption in the countries down as far as Switzerland (ie. nine countries), with the cradle of wine-making (Georgia) at 48%. Obviously, not all of these countries consume much in the way of alcohol in the first place (eg. Morocco). However, six of the nine countries are in Europe, where wine-making got its initial widespread hold, with the remaining two in South America.

These data very much reflect the modern world, as well as tradition. Notably, the Nordic countries have traditionally based their alcohol consumption on spirits, since grapes (in particular) have not been a viable crop for most of history; but there have been concerted efforts to replace binge-drinking of spirits with moderate consumption of wine and beer (see: Why are there wine monopolies in Scandinavia?). Wine now makes up a fair percentage of their consumption: Sweden 44%, Denmark 43%, Norway 31%, and Finland 24%.

In turn, this leads to a consideration of beverage wine consumption per person, within each country. The next graph compares the data for two possible ways to measure this. It shows wine consumption in liters per person (capita) horizontally, and wine consumption in kiloliters per $million of real Gross Domestic Product vertically, for the year 2016. The latter measures consumption per income, rather than per person.*

We would expect these two measures to roughly agree with each other, which they do (67% of the variation between countries matches). The six countries with the biggest per capita consumption are (right to left): Portugal, Croatia, France, Italy, Moldova, and Switzerland. All of these are in Europe, of course, as also are the next six.

Indeed, the variation in wine consumption among continents is pretty obvious, as shown in this summary table:

    Per capita
Per $m of GDP

Wine-making from grapes started on the border of Europe and Asia, but it mainly spread west, not east or south. From there, it was transported by invading Europeans into Africa, the Americas, and Oceania (mainly Australia and New Zealand). Interestingly, Oceania matches Europe in terms of consumption per person but not per income — the Australians and New Zealanders drink as much wine as the Europeans but do not spend as much of their income on it.

Two of the countries in the graph do not fit the correlation between consumption per person and per income, as shown in red. These are Moldova (on the right) and Romania. The denizens of both countries spend a much greater part of their income on wine than does anyone else. Someone needs to look into this!

Finally, it will interesting to keep an eye on how consumption trends vary in the future. It is reported that Millenials are consuming more beers and craft spirits than did their Baby Boomer parents, which would notably change many of the patterns shown here. Of course, the data for 2020 may also be seriously affected by the current pandemic.

* The gross domestic product (GDP) of a nation is an estimate of the total value of all the goods and services it produces during a specific period. GDP can be calculated by adding up all of the money spent by consumers, businesses, and government in that period, or by adding up all of the money received by all of these participants.

Monday, September 7, 2020

Wine packaging in the modern world is not (yet) sustainable

Much of the wine industry is still in a world with traditions that might have made sense back in the 1800s but that was more than a century ago, and is separated from now by two world wars, several pandemics and recessions, plus global climate change. You’d think some things would have changed, and of course they have. However, many of the operating practices seem not to have done so.

Until now. The “upside-down world” created by the current pandemic has lead some of those people who have been thinking about these things to act on their thoughts. Every cloud has a silver lining.

Notably, people in the modern world care about global climate change, as caused by pumping excess carbon into the Earth’s atmosphere. The modern response from the wine industry therefore can be summarized thus:
A comprehensive “cradle to grave” life-cycle analysis of wine’s carbon footprint involves numerous stages, including vineyard planning, viticulture and grape growing, winemaking, packaging, transportation and distribution, storage, consumption, and finally the end of life process.

To this end, in recent years, there have been moves to make grape growing more energy efficient and environmentally less disruptive (How do organics and biodynamics affect a vineyard’s carbon footprint?); and there have been moves to make wineries energy neutral (How winemakers are saving their industry from climate change); but what about the processes after the wine is made?

The packaging and marketing of wine is being changed as I write; but it is solely the packaging that I would like to write about here. On the other hand, much of the media focus has been on the modern way of selling (Covid’s winery wake up call), with a shift away from the on-trade and towards retail, and notably e-commerce and social media. Recent commentary during the pandemic has, of course, been about changes in the main channels used for selling, and whether these changes are likely to continue long-term (Global consumer trends in the short term).

Packaging, on the other hand, has received less media attention.


The basic issue is that we don’t need half of the packaging that we currently use, whether it be for food or drink — most of it is used solely to display marketing material. Most wine is drunk on the day it is purchased, unless it is in a cardboard box, in which case it may last a few extra days. The packaging therefore has a very short useful life, as packaging, and it is thereby mostly part of a “wine image”.

Is it really necessary for the image of fine wine to be so non-sustainable? Even a bag-in-box wine is likely to be more environmentally friendly than a bottled wine. For example, bag-in-box wine is usually packaged at its destination, not its source, which dramatically cuts down on the carbon footprint during transportation; and both the manufacture and recycling of cardboard + plastic has a much smaller footprint than either does for glass.

There are three main topics that seem to be worth addressing when discussing the carbon footprint of wine packaging: material, shape, and closure.

Glass vs plastic or aluminum or cardboard

Several materials have been used for wine, since we stopped using goat skins and clay jars. They differ in their environmental effect is a number of ways:
  • energy efficiency of manufacture
  • energy efficiency of reuse / recycling
  • temperatures needed for making and recycling
  • weight and the cost of shipping
  • tendency to breakage
On each of these criteria, glass comes dead last. Many of the issues are summarized in this article: Trouble with bottles. Most notably, glass requires c. 1,700 ˚C to be made, and c. 1,500 ˚C to be recycled — nothing else requires this massive amount of energy. Even aluminum melts at 660 °C, and it also has other recycling advantages (Aluminum cans get boost from anger over plastic pollution).

Note, incidentally, glass bottles are rarely re-used for wine, but they could be. For example, in a number of wine-producing areas, empty wine flagons are returned to the winery in exchange for full ones — this is a bit harder to do in cities!

Not unexpectedly, then, alternatives to glass packaging are increasing in use in the modern world, as shown by this graph from a couple of years ago.

Notably, cans are no longer used just for the cheap stuff (How good is canned wine?), and it has been that way for a while now (The evolution of premium canned wine). Sales are booming (Canned wine sales are bursting at the seams), although the current pandemic is apparently creating supply problems (US producers face wine can shortage). The current global situation seems to be advantageous for can use to continue (Canned wine company grows exponentially during pandemic).

In the matter of recycling, plastic is actually a good idea, if you can manage to collect all of the used stuff (and the various plastics are recycling compatible). In the European Union, recycling centers are compulsory, and people do regularly use them; but elsewhere ... well, you just have to look at the roadsides, rivers and oceans (plastic is not biodegradable). We can definitely do better.

PET bottles are used for drinks because most other plastics are not really airtight. PET is actually a plastic resin, which reduces air inflow, although it does not eliminate it; and thus PET has a limited shelf life as a wine container. It can be recycled as food-grade PET, but is often made into fibers instead (for clothing, carpet, etc) (Recycling polyethylene terephthalate).

The classic bag-in-box wine had its 50th birthday a few years ago (The wine cask turns 50), having been pioneered in Australia in 1965 (1965 — Cask wine invented). As a recycling proposition it has a number of advantages, being cardboard and plastic (The wine innovation that deserves more attention).

More recently, the idea of making “bottles” out of paper products has moved over to the alcohol industry, for eons having been used for dairy products and fruit juices. The wine people seem to be more surprised than over-joyed (eg. Paper beer, wine and spirits bottles are becoming a reality; Paper wine bottle launched: what is it like?), although premium wines were first marketed a decade ago (Time could be right for tetra pak wine). The main advantage is the massively reduced carbon footprint (Paper wine bottle launched with 84% lower carbon footprint) — paper is also biodegradable, even if it is not recycled, unlike glass, aluminum, or plastic.

Round vs flat

Bottles can be manufactured in almost any shape you like, but cylindrical is the most common one for wine bottles (Why are wine bottles round in shape?). This is inefficient in at least two ways:
  • spatial use for storage (warehouse / home)
  • energy efficiency of delivery.
Put simply, stacking cylinders wastes space, and creating and using that extra space requires energy. I need to have a bigger storage space in my cellar, and transportation methods need to be larger. Making bottles flatter rather than round, means that they can be stacked much more efficiently. I could have a much smaller storage space; and trucks, boats and planes would all be transporting more wine per dollar of cost.

Irrespective of what they are made out of, a cylindrical shape is an unnecessary hang-over from previous times. Let's face it, a flat bottle will even fit through most letterboxes (In an upside-down world, is America ready for flat bottles?).

Obviously, bag-in-box wine stacks far more efficiently than does even a flattish bottle; and a Mateus Rosé glass bottle has the worst shape of all (which originally had to be filled by hand, because there were no suitable bottling lines).

Cork vs screw cap

For some people, it will always be a cork or nothing, as far as wine bottles are concerned. Cork is certainly better than an oily rag, which was used up until the 1600s; but our descendants may not be so enamored of continuing to use cork.

Environmentally, corks are generally neither reused nor recycled, although they actually can be recycled (Wine trash new uses for old garbage). That sounds bad, in itself. This means that the Portuguese farmers who grow the trees need to keep producing new corks, indefinitely. This maintains the trees, of course, because the farmers would have to replace them with some other crop, if the cork trees cease to be economic. Most cork trees are on farms; and they would presumably become an endangered species if we completely stop using their bark (apparently, two-third of all cork usage is for wine bottles).

The main alternative to a cork closure is a screw cap, developed in France in the 1960s, but they were commissioned to do so by an Australian company (Who invented the screwcap?). There were commercial trials in Australia in the late 1970s, but these were abandoned by the winemakers, because the caps were not popular with wine drinkers.

However, by the end of the 1990s screw caps were widely championed in Australia and New Zealand, as the winemakers had gotten sick of the poor quality of the corks they usually ended up with (see: Everything you ever wanted to know about cork taint).* The dumping of poor corks in the southern hemisphere was denied, of course; but the quality of corks has allegedly been addressed since then, anyway (Cork Supply comes close to eliminating TCA), and everyone should now have access to the good ones. [Note: many of the complaints are actually about premature oxidation, not TCA taint.]

Anyway, it seems unlikely that the Australians and New Zealanders, in particular, will have much future need for those corks. The majority of their wines continue to do very well under a screw cap, in terms of both freshness and the ability to age for decades (eg. Trinity Hill Homage switches to screwcap).** So, why change back? The ceremony of using a corkscrew may be romantic, but it is very 1800s, not 2000s.

Barriers to change

These have been summed up simply by Wine Intelligence:
Despite the increasing environmental consciousness of consumers driving the purchase of alternative packaging, the main barrier to purchasing alternative packaging formats is the underlying preference for standard glass bottles. Smaller format bottles are seen as delivering comparatively poor value for money, whilst bag-in-box is considered to not keep wine as fresh. Additionally, the alternative packaging formats are strongly associated with specific wine drinking occasions standard glass bottles and magnums for formal occasions, canned wine for on-the-go and bag-in-box for informal social events.
These barriers are psychological, and need to be changed by social pressure.

Concluding comments

We all care about our personal environment, because we have to live in it; and when we don't like that environment we complain about it. However, some people are more aware than others about what makes our environment the way it is, and what we might do to change it, if we don't like it that way. So, the distinction between our own environment and The Environment is purely semantic — thinking about The Environment is one way to improve our own environment.

For a wine consumer, the wine industry is part of both The Environment and our own environment is it surprising that I sometimes wonder about the future of the wine business? Packaging needs to reflect this issue, just as it does in both the vineyard and the winery. It seems a bit sad that we would need an “upside-down world” created by a pandemic, to motivate a lot more thinking seriously about changes to the wine world.

* As an example, in 2017 Chris Shanahan reported on a 60-vintage vertical tasting of Wynns Coonawarra Estate Cabernet Sauvignon (Australia): there was “wide variability in the condition of the wines we tasted” due to “cork-related oxidation”. He had noted the same thing about a comparative tasting of 27 rieslings from the Canberra region (Australia) in 2013: “The adoption of screw cap by Australian winemakers is one of the great quality breakthroughs of modern times.” Variation in storage conditions also has less of an impact on wines with screw caps, making cellaring more reliable.

** As a counter-point, in 2015 Chris Shanahan reported receiving this note from Bowen Estate, my favorite Coonawarra winery;
We have been bottling our red wines with cork or screw cap closures for at least the last ten years. Members of our mailing list and cellar door tasters can purchase their preference — and to date cork closure sales are winning. We also have found that the cork closure has stood above the screw cap in all of our tastings; that is not just our preference, but with trade and consumers tasters.
The once seemingly inherent and prolific problems with cork are being addressed in earnest by cork producers, and as the quality of cork improves we feel that the prevalence of ‘cork taint’ is decreasing. Cork producers are very conscious of their market share loss and are actively pursuing a ‘clean green and best’ closure.