Malu Lambert: Is South Africa ready for the lightweight bottle revolution?

By , 1 March 2024



“Unnecessarily heavy bottle”, begins the review. Well, many reviews. Particularly if you’re scrolling through Jancis The world-renowned Ronbinson is not alone in her condemnation of the heavy weights, many others have taken up her battle cry and are refusing to critique such bottlings.

Biodynamic front-runner and premium Stellenbosch wine producer Reyneke Wines has been subject to a few damning “unnecessarily heavy bottle” prefaces.

“It’s absolutely fair criticism,” says Johan Reyneke. “I’m a farmer, my focus was on the vineyard. I didn’t even think of the bottles… I was grateful that someone had the guts to point it out and say, ‘hey, you guys are leaders in sustainability, what about your bottles?’

“After we saw the tasting notes, we took it to heart to improve what we do.”

They started at the carbon footprint up, and brought on-board African Data Technologies (ADTech), a sustainability consulting company which looked at the entire structure of the business. “They pointed out that the bottle-weight wasn’t the only issue, we also needed to look at the percentage of recycled glass as well as the type of energy used in the production.”

Obsidian and glossy, and yes, heavy, the Reyneke Reserve range is distinct for its sandblasted front bearing the estate’s name. Reyneke was surprised to discover that the Biodynamic tier was by far the bigger carbon villain with its screen-printed labels. This, as the bottles need to be heated twice in the application process. “We will now be sandblasting all the wines as it’s a much more sustainable alternative. We have plans to make it even greener by setting up space and equipment to do it ourselves on the farm. With the added plus of job creation,” says Reyneke.

And the bottle? “We need to balance the three legs of sustainability: people, nature, and money. Our fear was that if we put our premium wines in lightweight entry level bottles, we could lose market share,” explains Reyneke. To solve this predicament the winery approached Ardagh Glass Packaging–Africa, who were able to produce a bottle with the same premium look at 450g, its predecessor weighed in at 580g. Additionally 40% of the material per bottle is recycled glass. Reyneke says the company is transitioning to renewable energy by 2030.

The new bottles will debut from the 2025 vintage, while Reyneke’s new ‘super-sustainable cellar’ is billed to be operational early 2026. “It’s a fantastic opportunity to design a cellar from the ground up, we’re not simply slapping a solar panel on the roof, absolutely everything will be considered.”

Reyneke is not alone in this quest. Swartland concern Lammershoek was purchased by the Johannes family in late 2022. They will release just two wines from the 2024 vintage (a red as well as a white blend), which will be available from mid-2025.

“We are keeping the name Lammershoek but we are changing what it stands for,” says Stefan Johannes, CEO and winemaker. “The name means ‘safe haven’. We asked ourselves how can we as an estate be this for the current and future generations?

“By being sustainable on every level. The rebranding we are doing presents us with an opportunity to choose a bottle which resonates with our vision.”

Johannes says that through his research he has noted that consumers react positively to lightweight bottles. “However, the moment they are asked to spend more than a certain amount they want reassurance. For some reason a heavy bottle still offers this.”

Johannes is asking himself the question: will the consumer demand lighter bottles before the supplier uses them? Or will the supplier take the leap? “For us it’s not such a huge risk as the brand is currently not in the highest esteem. As we re-establish ourselves in the market we have the perfect opportunity to start with a light bottle.”

Not just scribes but global markets are putting the squeeze on weighty bottles too. As an example, Johannes details how Scandinavian countries set specific requirements to some of their tenders, with the majority he says freezing the scale at 420g per empty bottle.

Perceptions need to change across the board. Johannes ruefully shares how he spoke to a sales rep at a large glass manufacturing company on the topic of producing a bottle lower than 450g and was told “We only produce premium wine bottles”.

That being said, speaking to Bruce Jack, he tends to take an holistic view.  “When it comes to under-developed markets, you’re not going to get away with charging super premium prices for wine in a lightweight bottle.” This is in reference to his top end Heritage “Epic Journey” Coombsville Bordeaux style blend, which indeed comes in a bottle with a bit of ‘heft’. Jack believes a producer’s entire range should be taken into consideration, and an average carbon footprint determined off of that. Of the five million bottles his wine company produces each year, he asserts they are in the bottom 3% of weighty bottles overall. “There’s got to be context.”

With wine consumption being widely reported as being in decline across all markets, isn’t it time to tap into the current zeitgeist?  Overall wine will need to shed its literal old-fashioned carapace and get with the planet saving programme.

As Jancis Robinson urges: “With production and transport of bottles being responsible for wine’s biggest carbon footprint, for the sake of the planet it’s imperative that we demonstrate that there is no connection between bottle weight and wine quality.”

She presses the point: “Consumers are already ahead of many wine producers in this respect.”

If producers are brave enough to convert their bottles to the magic weight of 450g…who knows? They may just be gifted with the much more distinguished “sensibly light bottle” in their next review.

Vote in our X (previously Twitter) poll on the subject:

  • Malu Lambert is freelance wine journalist and wine judge who has written for numerous local and international titles. She is a WSET Diploma student and won the title of Louis Roederer Emerging Wine Writer of the Year 2019. She sits on various tasting panels and has judged in competitions abroad. Follow her on Twitter: @MaluLambert


2 comment(s)

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    Dieter Gugelmann | 22 March 2024

    Dear Gareth
    I accept your opinion but the trend is in the other direction. Bottled wine imported into Switzerland is cleared based on weight. Lighter bottles not only protect the environment, but also reduce customs fees.
    Furthermore, I don’t drink the bottle but rather its contents. The weight of the bottle doesn’t matter to me.

    By the way: The EU is discussing a corresponding law on the weight of bottles. One day all producers will have to switch to lighter bottles. If not, they will no longer be able to export to Europe. This is as certain as amen in church.

    Gareth | 1 March 2024

    Call me old-fashioned, but I do like a heavy bottle with a deep punt for a premium wine. I do understand why there is a need and a want to move to lighter bottles, but it just somehow would feel wrong to have a Columella or Paul Sauer in a lightweight bottle..

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