Sparkling Wine without Foil at the Bottle Neck
The design of sparkling wine bottles could change in the future: A new EU regulation allows sparkling wine manufacturers to produce their bottles without a foil cap. Opinions in the industry are divided.
Parsifal, Richard Wagner’s last stage work, was the central piece at this year’s Bayreuth Festival. Sparkling wine producer Geldermann had composed an exceptional Bayreuth Festival cuvée for the new production of the opera. And each bottle was accompanied by the popular opera booklet from the Reclam publishing house, not with the usual yellow cover, but as a Geldermann Parsifal special edition, printed with the motif of the cuvée label. Geldermann has thus shown in an exemplary manner that packaging and labeling play a central role in the beverage industry. To stay with the image: they are the stage of the brand. Opulence on the one hand, sustainability on the other: numerous winemakers would like to see less packaging. However, the topic is not a matter of taste, but currently a political issue.
According to a new EU regulation, sparkling wine may be sold without a foil capsule at the neck of the bottle. Winemaker Florian Lauer from the Peter Lauer winery would have liked this regulation to arrive two years earlier, then he would have been spared a legal dispute. His plan to sell sparkling wine without foil capsules was defeated by the courts at the time. Lauer is glad about the EU regulation and an application from Italy, “which has brought movement into the matter.” The issue, he says, was whether the foil could be omitted when exporting to countries outside the EU.
“Environmentally Harmful Accessory”
Lauer’s concerns were already shared by several German winemakers at the time; he went to court on behalf of them and filed a lawsuit against the state of Rhineland-Palatinate in matters of wine law. His arguments: The film is an environmentally harmful accessory. It has no technical function whatsoever but is purely decorative. The cork, which is stuck on the high-pressure champagne bottle, is already held on the bottle by the “fastening device” so that it cannot come off unintentionally. Since it has to be a “foil”, a mere paper closure is not permissible. Rather, it is usually aluminum or aluminum composite material. This material cannot be reasonably recycled.
However, the Trier Administrative Court dismissed the complaint, citing applicable regulations that had to be complied with. An appeal to the Higher Administrative Court in Koblenz has been allowed and Lauer was prepared to go all the way to the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg – but the legal action is now superfluous.
Protection of Sparkling Wine
Unlike Florian Lauer, many large sparkling wine producers view the new EU regulation skeptically. “Consumers can immediately recognize a sparkling wine from the outside by the characteristic sparkling wine glass bottle and the covering of the bottle neck with foil,” notes Oliver Hennes of the Association of German Sparkling Wine Producers. This could change with the new EU regulation. The association, which says it represents 95 percent of the sparkling wine production in Germany, states that it is important “that the traditional sparkling wine outfit, which has been learned as a sign of quality by consumers,” remains a guide. “The sparkling wine capsule has always been part of the visual characteristic of quality sparkling wines,” says Henkell & Co Sektkellerei in Wiesbaden. The EU Commission’s decision now offers additional possibilities in the design – a factor that is also welcomed in the industry.
Volker Raumland from the VDP sparkling wine estate of the same name in Flörsheim-Dalsheim calls the decision “timely.” He says that the regulation helps with being able to react more flexibly in the future. “The obligation to attach a sparkling wine capsule made perfect sense in the past, in order to be able to distinguish sparkling wines in traditional bottle fermentation from other products – to protect sparkling wine in opposition to cheaper sparkling wines.”
In the past, however, Raumland has sometimes had to wait up to two years for his champagne capsules, for example due to supply bottlenecks for materials. For reasons of sustainability alone, his company will omit the capsule from some products, Raumland announces. Now it can be thought about which other sparkling wines no longer carry a capsule in the future. “However, it remains important: the closure of the sparkling wine bottle must ensure that there is no ‘danger’ during storage or opening of the bottle,” he emphasizes.
The German Wine Institute (DWI) welcomes the EU regulation. “It makes sense to be able to dispense with the use of capsule foils for sparkling wine bottles in the future for operational reasons, to save costs and avoid waste, if the member states and producers so determine,” says DWI spokesman Ernst Büscher.
Anne Schmidt of Rotkäppchen-Mumm Sektkellereien in Eltville emphasizes, “Irrespective of the EU regulations on sparkling wine décor, we are constantly working on optimizing the décor and packaging of our products, which includes the capsule.”