The wine growler

Argentina promotes reusable, refillable wine bottles

The reusable Wine growler
The reusable Wine growler

Wine drinkers who reasonably imagined that a ‘growler’ was another name for a bear, rather than a refillable wine bottle, may be about to hear that word being used a lot more frequently, following a new, environmentally focused initiative in Argentina.

The Minister of Agriculture and the president of INV (National Institute of Viticulture) of Argentina have signed a resolution that allows wineries to sell wine in reusable ‘growlers’. 

The president of INV, Martín Hinojosa, together with the Minister of Agriculture, Julián Domínguez have jointly launched “Vino Cercano” (Nearby Wine) as a project that not only cuts both costs and carbon footprints for both wineries and their customers, but also neatly helps to solve the bottle shortage from which the industry is suffering. The additional savings on labels and transportation merely add to the appeal of the concept

The idea of reusing containers of wine is not new in Argentina. Throughout the 20th century, consumers used to buy 4.75-litre (1.25 US gallon) directly from wineries, which they would return to have refilled once they had drunk the contents.

The new program will involve wineries and shops selling glass or glazed ceramic 1.9 to 2.5 litre containers. The name ‘growler’ is one traditionally used for craft beer in the US, and more recently for kombucha and – far more rarely - wine.

The theme behind Vino Cercano incorporates the concept of the three Rs (Reuse, Recycle and Reduce) in line with the objectives of the national environmental policy Law 25675. Wineries that want to participate must register and be accredited for the program by the INV.

On behalf of INV, Martín Hinojosa said: “this is a [response to the] desire and request from many small artisan producers, commercial chambers and wineries linked to wine tourism that will allow consumers to approach wine directly. [It will]  reduce costs, reaching the consumer directly, as well as the social environment where the wine is produced. It will also contribute to reducing environmental impacts.” 

He continued “Under the umbrella of the Nearby Wine project, we will advance on several strategic axes, including the promotion of lower-alcohol and dealcoholized wine.”

To be able to offer this service, wineries will need to be equipped to sell ‘take-away’ or ‘direct-to-consumer’ wines which will have to have a Free Circulation Analysis certificate granted by the INV and a label carrying the legally-required information.

Europeans are used to buying wine in this way informally – in bonbonnes – from cooperatives, but the concept has been little known in the US, until South African-born winemaker Lowell Jooste introduced the concept at his, and his wife Anne’s LJ Crafted Wines business in La Jolla in California.

So, why is a bottle called a growler? According to the US Merriam Webster dictionary, the term dates back to the 19th century when large jugs or buckets of beer were collected from bars, taverns or public house, often by children. One explanation for the name is that it refers to the growling noise of the beer as it sloshed around in the bucket and of the escaping carbon dioxide against its cover. Other explanations include the grumbling of the youth sent to collect the beer, or of the thirstily impatient adult waiting for him to return with it.

Today, growlers of beer generally contain two quarts or 2.25 litres. Half-size versions are known as ‘howlers’.  Whether anyone will launch howlers of wine remains to be seen.

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