Sustainability spotlight: wax seals on wine bottles
Some Oregon Wine growers and makers are choosing to wax seal their bottles.
Oregon wine growers and makers are actively looking for ways to be more sustainable. The focus is usually at the top of the funnel: farming techniques to retain and regenerate soil health, reducing pesticides and adopting new processes that reduce impact on the environment. Which is why we’re excited to talk about the final touch for some bottles of Oregon wine: the method of wax sealing.
So why are a handful of Oregon Wine producers using wax? Aluminum and other plastics that create foil seals have their own impacts, namely material sourcing and recycling. Using a natural wax is both an aesthetic choice and one that can reduce impact on the environment.
On pouring out the last drop of Oregon wine, responsible consumers will dispose of the bottle into their recycling bin. Before the glass is recycled, waste management companies will remove foil and metal collars and screw caps. Those pieces of tin or aluminum are ‘extracted’ after the bottle glass is crushed. You can check details on the best way to recycle your glass wine bottles in London here. Just remember, corks can’t be recycled. However, natural cork can be composted!
In comparison, there’s one less step to recycle bottles that have a wax seal as the wax residue melts and evaporates during the recycling process.
Using aluminum and metal caps can increase supply chain mileage. Oregon Winemaker, Rachel Rose of Bryn Mwar Vineyards spoke to Liquor.com about this revelation during lockdown: “We had a hard time getting tin capsules, and I started thinking about what those caps are made from and where they’re mined. I figured it was a third-world country. While investigating that, I found out that ours were molded in Canada, sent to France for embossing, then shipped back to us. I started to imagine the carbon footprint we were creating by air-freighting capsules.”
Which led the Bryn Mwar team to explore a domestically sourced wax blend to seal their bottles with.
Winemaker Pray Tell earmarks particular blends to seal with a colourful wax dip. ““I have always been drawn to wax dipped bottles as the aesthetic has given me the impression of "artisanal" scale wine production,” Pray Tell founder, Tom Caruso tells Oregon Wine UK.
Based in the Oregon town of McMinnville, Pray Tell works with growers in Willamette Valley to create unique blends and small batch wines. While using wax is one way Pray Tell wines have taken ‘deliberate steps towards sustainability’, the maker has also looked at using lighter weight glass and responsibly sourcing cork. “We source agglomerated cork closures with a negative carbon footprint so as to reduce non-essential packaging.”
Pray Tell’s bright coloured waxes are as jaunty as their owner-designed labels too. “I typically try to blend the [wax] colours to suit the label…I design all of my labels by cutting out paper shapes.”
So does Caruso have any tips for removing the wax on wine bottles? “I would say that universally one should be able to push a traditional pull-tap corkscrew directly through any wax and remove the cork. But! You may have noticed that some wax is difficult to peel off or break through and can shatter into a mess when opening the bottle. I tried to steer away from that particular style of wax by sourcing either natural beeswax or a more gelatinous wax that peels rather easily.” the winemaker explains.
“Anecdotally, the feedback has been positive regarding the aesthetic of the bottles and ease of opening with the particular wax that I use.”
When asked about the future of metal caps and wax seals, Caruso is optimistic about an eventual ‘naked’ bottle top: “With cleaner cellars across the world, safer shipping conditions, and typically shortened consumer aging periods, the practical use of foil or wax has been made largely redundant. Broadly speaking, wax seems to be a happy medium for folks looking to move away from foils before going with no bottle top coverings all together.”
Across the way on the Eola-Amity Hills, Hundred Suns vineyard and winemakers are dipping their bottles in wax to seal over the cork. The bright red wax has become a Hundred Suns signature. Each batch is hand dipped, using a nifty ‘jig’ Grant and the team created. They’re joined by 00 Wines, a members-only wine maker, who also seal their bottles with red wax.
It’s great to see a variety of innovations and old-school ways Oregon winemakers are doing their bit for the environment. The next time you see a wax sealed bottle from Oregon, you’ll now know it’s just one of the many amazing ways wine growers in the region are trying to reduce their impact.