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'Fantasy' shapes; stronger glass for bottling linesVintners now have more options for lighter-weight glass to save money on purchasing and bottling and exotic bottle shapes for attention-grabbing packaging.

Some producers of higher end wines are starting to invest again in innovative packaging for attention-catching flagship or secondary labels after a steep slowdown in sales for many expensive brands last year, according to Erica Harrop of Global Package in Napa.

"There's been a real lull, with many, many wineries that have reduced bottling in the last eight months," Ms. Harrop said. "Now, there seems to be a rebirth, with people wanting to look at products that are unique and not the lowest common denominator."

[caption id="attachment_19018" align="alignright" width="288" caption="Oded Shakked used an innovative 500-milliliter bottle for a dessert wine under his Longboard brand. (Global Package photo)"][/caption]

A global shortage of wine bottles in 2007 has turned into a surplus as wineries cut production, so small-scale makers of novel bottles in Europe are looking to attract customers by offering more novel, or "fantasy," bottle shapes as standard molds, according to Ms. Harrop.

Exotic bottles still can be expensive, she noted. A case of 12 empty bottles from a small-production plant might cost $20 to $30.

However, more lower-cost shapes are coming from Asian and North American plants. As global supply of bottles has increased in the past few years, buyers of glass have become more selective for the quality of the glass itself, according to packaging designers and suppliers.

Bottles that are slightly less massive yet retain certain design cues for quality such as a punt have been becoming increasingly available, particularly from lower-cost, high-volume domestic suppliers, according to Greg Windisch, president of Trilogy Glass & Packaging in Santa Rosa. The company carries the VinoLight line of bottles from Mexico-based Vitro Packaging, and a minipunt version is set to come on the market later this year.

"Most are choosing the middle of the range, because ultralights can have such thin walls that they are more susceptible for breakage on equipment that is not ready for them," Mr. Windisch said. "Wineries are finding mid-range minipunts a good compromise because they have structural integrity to run on many lines."

Many large wineries have already prepared their bottling lines to go easy on the lighter bottles, which can have thinner walls and could break as the bottles bump into each other or transition from one part of the line to another, according to Mr. Windisch. However, making bottles lighter but more durable will save smaller wineries from having to upgrade their existing lines.

Reducing bottle weight can save a winery quite a bit. For example, Trilogy is working with a producer of about 130,000 cases of wine a year to transition to lighter-weight bottles at a savings of 40 to 50 cents a case, or up to $65,000.

"That's quite a savings," Mr. Windisch said.

Yet wineries also are saving precious cash by purchasing less packaging at a time, cutting spending on storing wine and packaging, and buying glass in bulk, when possible.

As a result, packaging suppliers are acquiring equipment to repack bulk glass and some are expanding their warehousing to keep inventory on hand for quick turnaround on customer orders.

For that purpose, Trilogy just acquired 28,000 square feet of additional warehouse space in Santa Rosa, bringing its total North Coast storage to 56,000 square feet and 300,000 square feet total, including a Lodi warehouse to receive shipments from domestic and Asian plants.