You may have noticed that many of our freshly rebranded Society range wines – and an increasing number from other producers and other wine retailers – are missing the traditional capsule covering the cork. Historically, these capsules served multiple purposes, such as protecting cork from the ravages of cork moth when stored in cellars and on occasion, hiding variation in fill levels between bottles, but with the advent of sustainable practices and technological advancements, their necessity has been questioned. What are our reasons for doing away with the metal or plastic coverings on the tops of bottles?
As we outlined in our 2022 carbon footprint report, we are accelerating our efforts to reduce the environmental impacts of packaging. Capsules, typically made from non-biodegradable materials such as PVC or polylaminate, contribute to pollution and waste. Even where potentially recyclable materials such as metal are used for capsules, energy is required to produce and recycle them – and in many cases they end up as landfill rather than being recycled.
When we relaunched our own label Society range, we took the decision to remove all unnecessary packaging, and this included capsules where possible. This alone won’t get us to our target of reaching carbon net zero by 2040 but, when removing the plastic capsule from our Society Claret alone will save in the region of 435kg of plastic per year, we think the change is worthwhile.
A cost-effective change
A further benefit is that capsules, although small, add to the overall production cost of wine and also to our business costs under the new Extended Producer Responsibility packaging regulations where producers (or importers into the UK) are liable for the full cost of dealing with product packaging. Given recent inflation around the dry goods (glass, closures and labels) associated with wine, eliminating capsules represents a practical approach to cost reduction, allowing winemakers to invest resources in more critical areas, such as vineyard management and winemaking techniques. This cost-effectiveness can help us in our ambition of holding prices for members.
Experience and enjoyment
Of course, wine packaging plays a role in our overall enjoyment of a wine and some people worry the removal of capsules from bottles may impact that experience. The same was said when screwcap wines were first made available but, over time, these have become widely accepted, indeed welcomed. While capsules have historical significance, it could be argued that the absence of capsules can convey a message of authenticity and transparency; some wine enthusiasts say that the lack of a capsule allows for a direct connection with the cork, enabling them to assess the cork's appearance and condition first hand.
With the UK government this year announcing reforms to wine regulations, including doing away for the need for a foil wrap on sparkling wines, the move away from capsules is gathering pace. Of course, we recognise that some members will still prefer a wine with a capsule, particularly if wines are destined for long-term ageing, and they are not likely to disappear completely any time soon. To help members make an informed choice, we have added a “no capsule” designation to the relevant wine characteristics section on each product page: