July 28, 2021
The standard size for wine bottles is currently 750 milliliters (ml). It’s an unusual size, yet one that most people don’t think too much about. The interesting thing is that there’s no clear answer as to why this size became the standard bearer. Perhaps more interesting is the reality that the reason most winemakers continue using 750 ml bottles has nothing to do with the wine and, instead, everything to do with marketing.
Why the 750 ml Bottle?
While there are a number of theories, no one seems to know for sure why 750 ml became the preferred size for wine bottles. The use of glass bottles for wine dates back to as early as the 17th century. However, during this period when there was less travel from region to region, each area developed their own style, size, and shape of bottle.
It wasn’t until the 1970s that there became a more uniform type of wine bottle. As exporting and importing wine became more common in Europe and the United States, different sized bottles became increasingly problematic for customs and taxing. To make the importation and taxation process more efficient, a standard size was needed.
As a result, in 1975 European legislation required that wine could only be sold in certain sized containers, and of those, the 750 ml became the preferred size. In 1979, to help with the process and seemingly as part of the United States’ efforts to move towards the metric system, there was a mandate that wine bottles must contain 750 ml of wine. Not surprisingly, this quickly became the global standard because it made exporting to the United States easier.
This history helps to understand how the 750 ml bottle became the standard size, but it still doesn’t explain why. There are a number of theories attempting to explain this unusual size:
- Some people believe that this size has Roman origins and was selected because it’s one-fifth of a gallon, which was an ideal size for people to transport.
- Others suggest that the size has to do with the lung capacity of glass blowers. Before glass became industrialized, it was made by artisans who personally blew the glass. The lung capacity of a glass blower was around 600-800 ml, so one theory is that this size originally developed based on the lung capacity of these artisans.
- Another theory is that the wine bottle was historically based on how much wine people would consume at a meal, so it was intended as a serving size for a single sitting.
Despite various theories, the reality is that no one knows for sure why the 750 ml glass bottle, an unusual size, became the accepted standard for storing and distributing wine.
Why Winemakers Continue to Use the 750 ml Bottles
Despite the seemingly arbitrary selection of the 750 ml glass bottle, the wine industry continues to use it today. While it seems like this decision must be focused on the wine itself and the best way to store, age, and preserve it, the reality is that it’s based on only one thing: marketing.
Because of the long history of storing wine in glass bottles, many consumers associate the bottle with good wine. As Curtis Phillips, a senior editor of Wine Business Monthly, notes, “the bottle shape says, ‘my wine is identified with that great wine back in the Old World.’”
Perhaps more significant is Phillips' explanation of how wine companies spend their marketing money. He notes that they “don’t spend a fraction of the dollars other beverage producers spend on print and broadcast advertising.” Instead, “they grab the customers from the shelf. The packaging—bottle, label, foil—is a significant chunk of the marketing spend for wine.”
Most wine companies use the 750 ml bottle and their label as the central component of their marketing efforts. As a result, they are hesitant to move away from this out of fear of losing market share. Stephen Rannekleiv, a global beverage strategist, puts it simply, “[m]any brand owners are reluctant to put premium brands into a bag-in-box or can format for fear of downgrading the brand’s value in the eye of the consumer.”
Drawbacks to the 750 ml Wine Bottle
While wine labels are afraid to move away from the standard glass bottle, there are a number of reasons why this isn’t the ideal way to package wine. Broadly speaking, the size of the storage container matters. The larger the container, the more slowly the wine matures. At the same time, however, wine bottles and corks don’t offer an ideal way to preserve wine once it’s open.
Rannekleiv notes that “at a time when the size of the average household is shrinking and consumers are generally seeking to drink ‘less, but better,’ consumers often have to think about whether or not to open a bottle, knowing that much of it will go to waste.”
The result is that the 750 ml glass bottle offers neither the ideal size nor the ideal way to store wine. A larger size would be better for maturing the wine, yet given the limitations of preserving an opened bottle of wine, a smaller size would be better for most consumers. Despite its inherent problems, wine labels continue to utilize the 750 ml glass bottle solely because of the role that it plays in marketing.
A Better Way to Store Wine
At Gratsi, we’re not focused on marketing but instead on what will give consumers the best experience. We chose packaging that would help preserve wine, making it easy for consumers to use. Plus, we wanted to find a way to achieve those goals while also finding a packaging solution that is more affordable and sustainable.
Our boxes are not only light, portable, and easy to use, but they also help to preserve wine longer. This means we can give consumers larger quantities without concerns that any will go to waste. We’re also proud to share that our packaging has a carbon footprint that is 80% less than that of glass.