In the late ’90s, whenever I visited my parents, I always took my own wine along.
It wasn’t that they didn’t appreciate good wine, but my mother, who was frugal and enjoyed a big helping of wine every night, had, to my horror, discovered Almadén-flavored chardonnay, which she kept on tap in her fridge, packaged in a 3-liter box. Yes, I did say “flavored” chardonnay, and if you are asking yourself why anyone would need to flavor chardonnay, you can understand how deeply disturbing I found that, too.
Back then, wines like Mom’s Almadén, packaged in collapsible plastic bags, supported by a cardboard box with a plastic spigot, were predictably inferior. They contained what the trade considered “beverage alcohol,” intended to deliver alcohol in a cheap, predictable format.
Now, times and attitudes have changed, and forward thinking wine producers understand that in the expanding market for wine without pretense, consumers expect better wines. Even in boxes.
At Lieb Cellars in Cutchogue, a reorganization of the company has taken a close look at the changing face of its own customers and decided that the time has come to redefine its brand with distinctive, innovative packaging, separating its wines into two brands: the super-premium Lieb Cellars, and the more casual Bridge Lane brand.
So while the Lieb Cellars brand wines will continue to be bottled in 750 milliliter glass, the Bridge Lane wines will be offered in a variety of packages, giving customers a choice. The entire line of Bridge Lane wines, including the Rosé, Merlot Blanc, Chardonnay, Merlot, and both red and white blends will be sold in lighter weight, eco-friendly glass with screw-cap closures.
Lieb has already implemented screw caps on most of its wines, but the real news is that, beginning with the 2013 vintage, the Bridge Lane Rosé, Chardonnay and Merlot will now also be sold in 20-liter kegs, equivalent to 26 bottles, for a price of $260—that’s only $10 a bottle for premium, estate-grown Long Island wine.
Bridge Lane wines had already been sold to restaurants in stainless-steel kegs but these are expensive and they had to be returned, cleaned and inventoried. The new kegs are made of food-grade disposable plastic. Once tapped, they can be easily recycled. For parties, weddings, or catered events, these are perfect.
Two of the Bridge Lane wines, the red and white blends, will also be sold in 6-liter boxes. In 750 milliliter bottles, these wines are priced at $20. But the boxed wine (equivalent to six bottles), will sell for $46, a savings of $34.
This technology is basically the same used for my mother’s flavored Almadén, but the big difference is in the quality of the wine.
The white Bridge Lane is a blend of chardonnay, pinot blanc, riesling, viognier, sauvignon blanc and Gewürztraminer. The red is made from merlot, malbec, cabernet sauvignon and petit verdot, all grown on Lieb’s Bridge Lane estate in Cutchogue.
These are low-yielding, premium grapes, tended sustainably. The wines are made by Lieb’s winemaker and partner, Russell Hearn, a much-lauded vintner who has decades of experience.
The old expectation of boxed wines was that they were finished sweet, to appeal to a less-sophisticated consumer. To me, that was a strike against them, because sugar can be used to cover up all sorts of flaws in wine. But as Lieb Cellars’ production manager Ami Opisso told me, all of the Lieb and Bridge Lane wines are finished dry, to show the purity of the fruit. There is no need for added sugar or grape juice in them because they have plenty of fresh, aromatic flavors.
“We put a lot of thought into making them dry. We know there would be nay-sayers [to the boxed packaging] so we decided, if we were going there, to do it in a serious way,” she said. “It’s not a cheap wine product; we aren’t sacrificing quality.”
Because the boxed wine retains a vacuum as it is emptied, it stays fresh for up to 30 days. This is welcome news for those of us who can’t finish a whole bottle at a time. It’s a great solution for everyday wine drinkers who live alone, or have mates who don’t drink wine. The cost makes it accessible, too.
“Everybody says, thank God [for this well-priced wine]. We all want to enjoy and support local wine and now we can afford it,” Ami said.
And I agree.