What's flat, full of wine, and fits through a mail slot? A 750ml wine bottle – at least, if it’s the one created by Santiago Navarro, co-founder and CEO of Garçon Wines.
“I was surprised by how little the wine bottle had changed in the last 200 years,” said Navarro, whose company has created and brought to market a revolutionary wine bottle design made from 100% recycled PET plastic. The bottle is lightweight, and environmentally friendly. It fits through a standard mailbox slot. And it doesn’t break when dropped 127cm onto a tiled floor during a Skype call (tried and tested).
Navarro didn’t create the bottle to save the world from environmental collapse or people from virtual embarrassment. “It came from wanting to make a success of home wine delivery in the UK,” says Navarro. He also wanted to engage younger consumers and do that, he felt he needed a package that would match the performance of a bag-in-box while retaining the emotional connection of glass. “For us it was about creating a 21st century wine bottle.”
Navarro and Joe Revell founded Garçon Wines in 2016 as an online consumer wine club, but it became a packaging company when Navarro realized the potential of his flat bottle idea. His first prototypes were made in 2017 from a polycarbonate plastic but were changed to 100% recycled PET plastic and officially released onto the market in 2018. “I decided that if I was going to become a packaging company, I wanted to ensure I created the best product from a better class of material,” said Navarro.
The bottle’s most striking feature is, naturally, its shape. Although on first impression it is a bit odd, it doesn’t take long to accept that the shape might not be such a bad thing. It is comfortable to hold and to pour. It fits conveniently in the fridge—and if lying on the bottom shelf, it doesn’t roll around as soon as you move the lettuce.
At 63 grams, it significantly reduces the weight of a case of wine, lowering both shipping costs and carbon emissions. It is more impact-resistant than glass, meaning less breakage during transit and storage. The shape means more bottles can fit onto a shelf and because they are designed to maximize packing space in a box, flat bottles can fit up to twice as much wine on a shipping pallet compared to conventional bottles.
There are challenges, however. To convert a regular bottle filling line to work with flat bottles is expensive. It costs “tens of thousands of euros to change a bottling line to run flat bottles,” said Navarro. Unfortunately, his company can’t yet offer wineries a way to fill them, meaning that wineries interested in using the flat bottles will have a difficult time doing so.
To counter this, Navarro is collaborating with Accolade Wines, to create a flat bottling line in their facility in Bristol, one of Europe’s biggest wine bottling plants. Accolade is currently offering several wines in the flat bottle, including their blockbuster Hardy’s brand.
Another potential issue with the flat bottle is the question of how the wine will age. Navarro does say that his invention is meant for wine to be consumed within a year of bottling, and that over that time, wine in the flat bottle has shown no signs of deterioration.
The wine industry is often slow to change and accept new ideas. In the last 200 years, Navarro said, the two biggest innovations in wine packaging have been the screw cap closure, and the bag-in-box. “Both took 50 years to get to scale.”
Navarro is optimistic,however, as he believes the pressures of global warming and the need to cut costs may win his flat bottle quicker than usual acceptance.
“Once Greta Thunberg’s generation are of drinking age,” he said, “they probably won’t want to drink their wine from a bottle that has a grotesque and unnecessary carbon footprint.”