20 July 2010 by Robyn Campbell

SA wine Treads Lightly

Tread Lightly is an inaugural range of certified natural wines packaged in PET bottles. Released by Backsberg Estate Cellars, these were the first upmarket wines in South Africa to retailed in plastic bottles.

The initiative is touted as a step towards a greener, more earth-friendly solution to current wine manufacturing and transportation practices.

Local wine drinkers have hailed the move as a ‘brilliant! the best idea since the screw cap’, or they’ve howled with outrage, decrying the soft bottles as ‘cheap’,  ‘preposterous’, and ‘the end of civilised wine drinking.’

PET, which stands for polyethylene terephthalate (try saying that after a few glasses of vino), isn’t new in South Africa. Milk, water, and virtually all commercial soft drinks are sold in PET bottles.

The packaging and transport of wine contributes significantly to its carbon footprint, and Backsberg proprietor, Michael Back says that recyclable wine packaging was the next logical step in their journey to become a more responsible wine producer.

The first wine producer in South Africa to gain Carbon Neutral status (in 2006), and a BWI (Biodiversity Wine Initiative) champion for over a decade, Backsberg has the green credentials to back their product, and by ‘treading lightly’, seeks to stay true to their philosophy of putting the environment first.

The new Tread Lightly range consists of a Merlot and Sauvignon Blanc. Backsberg is keen to assure consumers that the soft bottle will have no negative effect on the wine when stored for up to 2 years, but concedes that if you intend to cellar your wines, glass bottles are preferable.

Health and regulatory agencies around the world that have cleared PET as safe for food and beverage contact include the EU’s Food Safety Authority, and US Food and Drug Administration (the same folks that consider cheese in a can fit for human consumption), and the South African Wine and Spirit Board.

I’m behind Backsberg’s bold move. The wine’s delicious and imminently portable, and I suspect there are a large number of local and foreign wine drinkers who don’t necessarily believe glass-equals-class.

Wine drinkers faced with hefty shipping charges, overweight baggage fees, or broken bottles at a bush picnic, will be very glad that Backsberg’s gone soft.

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