Paper wine bottle - where did it come from? - WineUncorked: Wine Reviews and Tips

Wines, spirits, beer, fizzy drinks, water, fruit-infused drinks and milk can all be poured from paper bottles. Recent advances in packaging technology now means that single-use plastic containers are being replaced by single-use containers made from a paper or wood pulp outer shell with a plastic film inner lining that holds the all-important liquid.

Not all of these products are out of the concept stage - wine is the first alcoholic drink to be sold commercially in a paper bottle. The Frugal Bottle, launched on 30 June 2020 by British company Frugalpac is the size and shape of a standard 750ml Bordeaux glass wine bottle and is designed to fit on a standard wine-filling bottling line. Made from two basic parts, the Frugal Bottle has an outer layer made of  94% recycled paperboard (a very thick single-layer of paper) and a food-grade plastic film liner inside to hold the wine - in this instance 3Q Sangiovese 2017 made at the Italian vineyard Cantina Goccia.

It's not on sale everywhere - buy direct from the Cantina Goccia website for £77.94 for a case of 6 (equivalent to £12.99 a bottle then add on £15 delivery charge to the UK) or from the Scottish vintner Woodwinters Wines and Whiskies. Note though that what is currently available from Woodwinters is the 3Q 2016 in a glass bottle (£17) and the 2017, in the paper Frugal Bottle, is promised to be available soon. UK distribution will be through wine importer Hallgarten.

The Frugal Bottle trail actually starts in 2005 as a paper bottle milk carton. Designed by British serial inventor Martin Myerscough and his company Greenbottle, these were trialled at a regional Asda store in 2007 and the East Anglian Co-operative Society in 2009. Asda then started selling them throughout the UK in 2011. Although Asda now says that "we do not have this in our history" it was widely reported by local and national newspapers at the time, as well as industry magazines and shows.

Myerscough followed with a paper fruit juice carton in 2012, but also finding time to announce a paper wine bottle design in 2011 with its retail launch in 2013. Manchester-based British company Kingsland Drinks filling the wine bottle with their Thirsty Earth range - a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc and an Australian Shiraz selling at £8.49.

Then comes the end of the line for the first paper wine bottle - Bottlegreen is dissolved in 2015. But Myerscough has already founded Frugalpac in 2011 and the wine-filled Frugal Bottle was launched under the leadership of Martin Waugh as CEO.

But there may be yet more to come from Myerscough as he is named as the Director of Splyt-Pak Limited formed in 2019, which Companies House (register of UK limited companies) classifies as a manufacturer of other paper and paperboard containers.

Frugalpac say that their Frugal Bottle could just as easily hold gin, rum or vodka but there is no sign of any take-up by spirits manufacturers on this suggestion yet.

There is sign of beer in paper bottles though. Carlsberg unveiled two concept designs of their Green Fibre Bottle at the C40 World Mayor Summit in Copenhagen, Denmark during October 2019. Made with an outer of sustainably sourced wood fibre and an inner plastic film liner, the Green Fibre Bottle is topped with a traditional crown cap used on many glass beer bottles. It has the shape of the more usual 330ml glass bottles found in supermarket drinks aisles but as the wood-fibre outer is coloured white its appearance is more like a dumpy milk bottle. This design has aroused interest from Coca-Cola and the spirits firm Absolut.

The two Green Fibre prototypes each use a slightly different plastic film liner - both of which need to be tested to ensure they provide a barrier against oxygen penetration. And that's the tricky part - keeping the air out and stopping the contents from oxidising. This is the point where previous designs of paper bottle technology have failed - rather spectacularly in some cases.

Frugal Bottle's predecessor, PaperBoy, was launched in September 2013 in the United States by American winemaker Truett-Hurst. The paper bottle, made from 80% recycled paper with a plastic film inner, again had the same shape as a standard 750ml glass wine bottle complete with an alumnium screwcap lid.

Although the PaperBoy Californian red wine blend at $14.99 and a Chardonnay at $13.99 sold a quarter of a million bottles in their first 60 days on sale through the American supermarket chain Safeway, winemaker Truett-Hurst reported almost a $0.5million loss in 2015 and $800,000 in 'loss contingencies' (as reported in the Santa Rosa Democrat newspaper on 11 February 2015). Faults with the plastic film liner were the probable cause of the wines oxidising and becoming past their shelf life.

Yes shelf life. This was a product with a best before date - just as bag-in-box wines show now. These successful products, also known as wineboxes (see Why choose a winebox?), hold 2.25 or 3-litres of wine. Based around a cardboard (box shaped) outer with a plastic-film liner to hold the wine, they will show a best before date (usually printed on the top cardboard outer surface). Plastic film is not totally resistant to oxygen ingress and so any wine within it will eventually start to oxidise - but very slowly - and will remain drinkable in a bag-in-box for a couple of years. The PaperBoy product wasn't that successful.

PaperBoy, being smaller in volume than bag-in-box wines and having a more complex shape, allows a greater proportion of the wine's surface area to touch the plastic liner of the bottle - and as the plastic is permeable to oxygen then the greater the potential damage to oxidisation of the wine.

This was also a potential when bag-in-box wines moved from the larger 3-litre size to the now more usual 2.25-litre volume. But fortunately the shelf life of these products is long enough that the wine consumer doesn't notice the problem. The new Frugal Bottle shelf life has been tested up to a 12 month duration.

And there were other issues with PaperBoy. The British company that designed and supplied the paper wine bottles, Greenbottle (of the milk cartons), had filed for bankcruptcy and eventually disappeared with its assets bought by Ecologic Brands in 2017. This Californian-based company is now making 'the world's only commercially-viable paper bottles made from recycled materials'. Their Eco.Bottle design (launched April 2018) made from recycled paper and newspaper with a rigid plastic liner, also has the potential to be used for wines and spirits but so far has been used for shampoo and moisturiser.

There are other companies selling paper bottles with plastic liners: Paper Water Bottle of Kentucky, USA has the Eco1White and Eco1Green which offers 'a sustainable packaging solution for liquids (including beverages)'', the Scottish firm Choose Packaging sells them with washing liquid and liquid soap and a fill of Scottish still drinking water 'available soon', while 3EPak and Just Water's containers come with an extra plasticfilm shrink wrapped outer - this extra layer of plastic protects the uncoated paper body from water and humidity.

But what of the future of the paper wine bottle? It's environmentally-friendly credentials (light weight, just 83grams, and easy disassembly of the paper outer and plastic liner for recycling) make it an obvious choice for the UK supermarket chain Co-op.

Known for their ethical stance (their stores run on 100% renewable electricity and they are commiting to 'net-zero' greenhouse gas emmissions by 2050) the Co-op also showed their acceptance with the paper bottle technology when they trialled the concept milk bottles back in 2009. Saying that they would "consider introducing alternative packaging for our wines", a paper bottle range would sit comfortably alongside their extensive Fairtrade selection and sustainably-sourced wines.


stranger paperboy duo f 01

Image of PaperBoy supplied by Stranger and Stranger

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