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Where have all the bottles gone?

The bumper harvests throughout Europe and the switch back to glass instead of plastic because of concerns for the environment have led to unexpected repercussions in the vineyard: it has been a struggle to find enough bottles for the 2018 wines!

Initially, it all started with the excellent news that there had been a bumper 2018 harvest, in stark contrast to the previous two years which had been far less generous. However, when it came to bottling these wines, there was a surprise in store for some winemakers. “We had ordered bottles in October, but they were only delivered to us at the start of May,” explains Ben Schram (Domaine Schram et fils, in Bech-Kleinmacher). “This meant that we had to completely reschedule our bottling. The bottles we most struggled to obtain were white glass magnums, which we use for our rosé – this is a size that’s really popular with restaurants,” the young winemaker adds. “Fortunately, we only started selling them this year, so we didn’t have to cancel any orders.”

It’s mostly the smaller estates which have come up against this scarcity of bottles. As they don’t have an enormous amount of space to store the bulky palettes, they can’t build up a reserve to tide them over if there’s a problem.

There are several explanations for the shortfall. The first is that the bumper 2018 harvest right across Europe meant that glass manufacturers have been working flat out in all European countries. Normally there’s always a region where not so much is harvested and so it’s possible to get bottles from there; however, this wasn’t the case this time.

The second reason is the recent trend for using glass bottles rather than plastic ones – a trend that can be explained by environmental considerations. In Germany, in particular, the market for water in glass bottles has exploded, whereas there’s slump in plastic water bottles. There’s the exact same trend for beer in bottles rather than in metal cans. And each time, there are major customers who order huge quantities of identical bottles (up to several tens of millions): the glass manufacturers are overjoyed and so prioritize their orders.

There was a one- to two-month delay with special formats such as magnums or tinted bottles.

The third reason is the increasing concentration in this sector: in Europe, there are now only three manufacturing groups left. To gain greater control over markets and determine prices, they don’t bat an eyelid about closing the factories they take over. So without any real competition, customers are forced to go along with the laws of a market that’s deliberately skewed.

At Bernard-Massard, this situation meant that a bottling schedule had to be worked out: “There have been major problems since the end of 2018,” states Antoine Clasen, the Estate’s General Manager. “Luckily, we always put our orders in relatively early and the delivery dates are fixed for the year, so we haven’t had any problems with deliveries.”

The Domaines Vinsmoselle wineries have adopted the same strategy: “We plan ahead for the whole year and maintain a buffer stock, which allowed us to produce according to plan,” says Josy Gloden, Director.

In Remich, Marc Desom (Domaine Caves Desom) has felt the effects of this dearth: “Although we didn’t really have any difficulties getting supplies of standard bottles, there was a one- to two-month delay with special formats such as magnums or tinted bottles.”

Finally, another winemaker who got it right is Jean-Marie Vesque (Domaine Cep d’Or, in Hëttermillen): “I could see that the price of glass was going to increase by 8% on January 1st 2019,” he declares. “So I placed a large order just beforehand to have bottles in stock. By doing that I was better off than if I had put my savings in a savings account!”

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