More Wine was created by Rich Hamblin, a Vintners’ Cup-winning wine buyer and sommelier. They import and supply low intervention, high quality wine, from small vineyards. With a focus on sustainability and low-impact transport logistics, they sell wine in eco-friendly formats; a range of bag-in-box sizes, pouches, and the only can of wine in the UK. Locavore spoke with Rich about wine, the UK resurgence of bag-in-box, and the need for waste prevention over recycling.
What are your experiences, your passions, and what was the path that led to More Wine?
I spent 20 years working in the on-trade with wine in top-end London restaurants, and then more latterly in Bristol and Somerset. During this time one of my employers kindly allowed me the time to take the Wine Spirit and Education Trust diploma. I was delighted simply to pass, and remain in mild disbelief that I was awarded the Vintners’ Cup as the top graduate of the year – previous winners include Jancis Robinson, no less. I now have a young family, so this, and the ever onerous hours of the on-trade, led me to set up More Wine.
What do you do at More Wine?
We sample wine! As a retailer and wholesaler of quality wines, in bag-in-box (BIB), in pouches, and in cans, we want to continue to enlighten consumers, and the trade, as to the many benefits of the import of BIB wine. We do our bit to prevent the unnecessary use of packaging for the wholesale and retail of wine. We also sample wine…
Bag-in-box wine seems to be making a resurgence, with articles in the Guardian, the Times, and on the BBC. Why do you think this change in perception has come about? In France, for instance, bag-in-box never really went away, but became ‘frowned upon’ somewhat in the UK. Why do you think this is?
There are some ethically-minded small and independent producers who have done an absolutely incredible job in making the BIB, and the pouch, a very desirable product in the UK. Think Du Grappin (the pioneers of the Bagnum, a magnum of low-sulphite wine in an easy to carry bag), VinNaturo, and When in Rome.
I think most consumers are keen to minimise packaging waste. This, allied with a more desirable product containing much better quality wine, has in part led to the resurgence. You are right in your assertion that in France BIB never went away. About 30% of wine sales in France are now made in BIB, whereas in the UK it is a paltry 1.5%. The economics of bottling are perhaps just more obvious in countries of origin. Why bother shipping the empty bottles to the winery, to fill a relatively small vessel, to increase the weight of the end goods, to then have to recycle the glass? Especially when the wine is made for early consumption, within say 18 months of harvest.
The UK, London in particular, is a global centre of the wine trade. The UK tends to drink a far broader range of wines than other European wine-producing countries, who produce much more wine than we ever probably will. Part of the lack of uptake of BIB wine in the UK is, I think, due to the predominance of bulk wine imports from countries such as Chile, Australia, and South Africa, which are then bottled in the UK.
Stowells have definitely upped their game, however you only have to remember wine on tap in a pub 20 – 30 years ago to understand why a stigma persists. I think it is a complex question as to whether culturally the UK is reticent to engage with BIB wine. It is probably fair to say that most UK consumers either have a lack of knowledge regarding wine, or remain mildly intimidated by it. I know that I still suffer from a paralysis of choice when confronted with a wall of wine in specialist wine shop. Consequently I think that many consumers seek relatively safe, non-threatening wines, and are also reluctant to be adventurous with their choice of formats. More Wine is setting out to make a whole range of different formats of wine accessible.
You are working with TerraCycle to ensure everything in your packaging can be recycled. How does this work?
TerraCycle specialise in dealing with waste that others can’t recycle. Recycling the non-recyclables if you like. We’re delighted to engage with TerraCycle, as this provides even more validation for the import of wine in BIB and pouch. The case without TerraCycle is compelling enough due to very real monetary and environmental savings made by preventing the unnecessary import of 1000s of glass bottles each month, and the consequent need for these to be recycled. It remains the case that only 60% of glass bottles and jars get recycled in this country and, further, that we then export some of the ‘cullet’, the base recycled glass.
We prevent the unnecessary import of thousands of glass bottles each month. Our refillable scheme supports this, as not everyone wants to buy a 10 litre BIB for their own personal use. We save up to 80% of the carbon footprint of the wine import compared to the same volume imported in glass bottles. The recycling scheme additionally prevents the end business or consumer from having to place any item of More Wine packaging into landfill.
You also provide a refillable glass bottle, that can be taken to a participating outlet and filled with wine. Do you think this, and your recycling model, is something that could be scaled up across the industry?
I very much hope so! The EU (of which we are still, just about, part) has a Waste Hierarchy, which ranks waste management options according to what is best for the environment. Number one in this hierarchy is to prevent. If you can’t prevent the waste being formed, then the next best option is to re-use. Recycling comes in at number three, not quite as worthy as we all may think. It is much cheaper to sterilise and reuse a glass bottle than to break the glass down and reform a new one. Much less energy will also be used.
The refillable scheme works tremendously well in the retail outlets that provide it. I think most people will, on most occasions now, remember their own bag prior to going to a shop. I don’t think it is a leap of faith to hope that the refillable bottle is simply an extension of this.
Have you met with any resistance, either from consumers or from within the industry, to your ideas?
There remains a tremendous amount of snobbery and a somewhat misguided sense of tradition toward what, in essence, are low or mid-priced wines of recent vintage. This is in equal measure from consumers and within the industry. However, I think there is now a groundswell that will mean that in 5 – 10 years time wine in BIB, pouches, and in cans will be far more commonplace at home and in the on-trade.
From where do you source your wines? And how do you go about selecting them?
All wines are European. We discover them mainly by word-of-mouth and via small specialist trade events. We select by sampling, to ensure that each and every More Wine gives excellent value for money.
The majority of your wines are organic, biodynamic, natural, or low intervention. What do these terms mean?
Well, it’s complicated. Organic wine will be certified as such, and the certification confirms that there have been no man-made additions to the grapes and vines in the vineyards.
Biodynamic will be organic and more. Using herbal and mineral additives only in the vineyard, championing the biodiversity of the vineyard and the surrounding land, encouraging the soil and vines to be as naturally strong as possible, and, finally, carrying out work in the vineyard and winery according to the lunar cycle. These wines may be certified by Demeter or the winery may simply state that they farm according to biodynamic principles.
Natural wines are not certified. However, they are normally organic (though confusingly they may not be certified as such) and possibly biodynamic. Most importantly, they champion minimum intervention in the winery itself. Only wild yeasts are permitted, no additives are permitted, and the levels of sulphur dioxide are far far lower, at about 20% of the level actually permitted under current EU law.
Finally, low-intervention is a broad term covering these types of wines and suggests that the wines listed are not sourced from more commercially minded wineries.
What are your plans for the future?
We’ll be increasing our portfolio to offer even better value entry level wines from Spring 2018. These will be our first import under our own label – More House White, More House Red, More Organic White, etc. We will continue to work with TerraCycle, and our supply chain, to further minimise the impact of wine packaging and transport on the environment.
Finally, why do you do what you do?
I’m a glutton at heart. Whenever I drink wine, I always need a morsel, or a plate, of delicious food with which to match it. Setting up More Wine means I get to sample wine on a daily basis…
Visit More Wine’s website here.
For more on glass recycling, click here.