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Wine Notes

Smaller Bottles Could Aid Sales Slump

August 24, 1989|DAN BERGER | Times Wine Writer

Sixty-five wineries have signed a petition seeking approval to ship, in interstate commerce, a 500-milliliter-size bottle of wine.

The petition to the Treasury Department's Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (BATF) was drawn up and submitted by Merlion Winery of Napa and sent to the beer and wine branch of the bureau.

George Viera, president of Merlion, said the petition also had the signatures of 35 distributor-marketing people, and he added, "Within the last week I've been in contact with BATF and they are considering the proposal."

Viera believes the 500-ml bottle, which is two-thirds of the standard 750-ml bottle, will be an excellent size for restaurants owners who now say that people are drinking less wine and who see sales slumping because couples cannot finish a standard-size bottle, which contains about 25 1/2 ounces. The 500-ml bottle holds about 17 ounces.

Example of Moderation

"It isn't only moderation that makes this size appropriate," Viera said, "think about this nation's balance of trade." He said that in the last few months, his company has had inquiries about the 500-ml size bottles of wine from Singapore, Hong Kong and Norway.

"But we can't afford to do it (the 500-ml size bottle) for such small markets. The glass is very expensive when we buy (bottles) in small quantities. But we could compete on an even playing field against the competition overseas if this size were permitted in the United States."

At present, the bureau has Standards of Fill regulations that were instituted primarily to prevent a winery from putting out a 720-ml bottle, with an ounce less than a 750 ml, but that appears to be the same size. The regulations apply to wines sold across state lines.

Wines sold within California may now be marketed in any size the winery wants. Dehlinger Winery in Sonoma County tested the 500-ml bottle three years ago with excellent results, notably in restaurants.

At present, the regulations permit wine for interstate commerce to be bottled in sizes 187 ml, (the so-called split), 375 ml (half-bottle), 750 ml and one liter. Said Viera, "Why not the half-liter?"

No 'Standard Sizes'

He added: "Actually, I'd like to see all the Standards of Fill regulations eliminated. There are no 'standard sizes' for peanut butter and mayonnaise, and there should be equal protection of the law for all products. Wine should have the same protection that any product has."

Addressing the question of consumer protection, Viera added, "Why is the consumer who buys wine considered more stupid than the person who buys mayonnaise?"

He said a major reason he likes the 500-ml size is that it will "encourage people to drink moderate amounts of wine instead of greater amounts."

Viera said the bureau has encouraged public comment on this proposal, and he suggests that letters be sent to Richard Mascolo, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, P.O. Box 385, Washington, D.C. 20044.

Nicholas Scouffas, acting chief of the wine and beer branch of the bureau, in a letter to Viera, said all comments would be given careful consideration.

The Kunde family, one of the largest grape growers in Sonoma County, has broken ground and hopes to begin construction soon for a winery on Highway 12 in Kenwood.

The winery will be operated by Martin Adams, formerly with Sebastiani and Kendall-Jackson. Kunde Vineyards are some of the most respected in Sonoma County, and grapes from them have been sold to Sebastiani, Chateau St. Jean and numerous other wineries.

Another branch of the Kunde family also owns and operates Sonoma Grapevines Inc., the state's largest grapevine bench grafting company.

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