Coca-Cola, wine harvest cause bottleneck in Germany

Coca-Cola and a good wine harvest are no doubt two completely different things. But in Germany, they merge when it comes to explaining an unparalleled shortage of glass for wine bottles. DW's Natalia Smolentceva reports.

Oliver Schell owns a family winery in Germany's Ahr region. He was ready to fill his first bottles with 2018 vintage wine as early as last week. Sadly, he found out that schlegelflaschen — the elegant long bottles made of white glass that he normally uses for his wine — are not available anymore. He had to settle for alternative, shorter bottles.

Business | 19.09.2018

But there isn't an alternative for everything. Bottling at the Schell Winery has to be postponed. "We have the wine ready in the cellar, but we can't get it to our clients," says Schell. In the 10 years that he has been in the wine business, he's never faced that problem before.

For many winemakers in Germany, now is the time to finally put the wine in bottles. But the glassmakers cannot produce enough bottles, says Andreas Köhl, spokesman of the Farmers and Winegrowers' Association in Rhineland-Palatinate. "Especially the green 1-liter bottles are in short supply as well as bottles for white wine and rose."  In Rhineland-Palatinate alone there are 4,900 wineries that bottle wine.

Employees at a Rhineland-Palatinate vineyard harvesting grapes in August 2018

Last year was a very good year not only in Germany: The production of wine increased by nearly 20 percent across Europe. 14 percent more grapes were harvested in Italy last year and 17 percent more in France, says Ernst Büscher from the German Wine Institute. "It means 20 to 27 million hectares more than in 2017. So there is higher demand for wine bottles all across Europe." 

Normally, German wine producers would be able to get bottles from suppliers in other European countries. But not this year.

Not enough capacities

On any wine shelf in a supermarket you will find a great variety of shapes and colors wine bottles can have - they come in different shades of green, with straight sides or a wider base, with distinct shoulders or gently sloping shoulders, you name it.

"The winemaker wants a bottle in a certain color, with a certain weight with a cork or screw, whatever. And if now this certain form is no longer offered by glassmaker A, then I can not necessarily assume that this form is offered by glassmaker B," says Ralf Striegnitz from a big German bottle dealer, Reis Flaschengroßhändler. It supplies clients ranging from family wineries to big producers. 

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The consolidation in the industry of glass bottle producers is an added issue, says Büscher. There used to be more small glass producers. Few big international glassmakers are dominating the market now, and they are more interested in producing only one specific type of bottle.

According to data from the The Federal Association of the German Glass Industry (BV Glas), there are 10 big glass producers in Germany that operate 31 sites. They generate around 20 percent of the whole glass industry revenue.

"Production in a glass manufactory is very rigid. It operates throughout the year in a 24/7 mode. When there is considerable additional demand, it cannot simply be increasing working hours, because working more is not possible," explains Nikolaus Wiegand, the managing director of the Wiegand-Glas glass manufacturer.

This year it has received more orders than usually, but they could not satisfy everyone. Their glassworks cannot produce more than 2.8 billion bottles a year.

Limited capacities add to the problem. Three glass-melting tanks in the south and east of Germany are out of work. They have to be repaired. It is a standard procedure, explains Wiegand: "A glass-melting tank is worn out after 10-11 years.  And then it's turned off and repaired or rebuilt."

Back from plastic to good old glass

The demand for glass products has increased substantially in recent years, says Striegnitz. Not only for wine bottles, but bottles for spirits and jars. "The customers have become more ecologically oriented," he says. "There is a trend away from plastic packaging."

Not to forget, another reason for increasing demand are orders from a big soft drink company. 

"The main problem is that one big soft drink producer shifts from PET [polyethylene terephthalate] bottles back to glass bottles and therefore it needs huge amounts of glass bottles," says Büscher. "So the glass producers do not have reserve capacities for making wine bottles."

Striegnitz confirmed that a big soft drink manufacturer in the Mannheim area in Germany switched from PET bottles to glass. "And they are making millions of bottles. They need a some 50,000 - 60,000 bottles per hour."

Coca-Cola beverages in German supermarkets more often than not come in plastic bottles, but there may be a lot more glass bottles soon

One name that insiders mention in this context is Coca-Cola.

The company is investing around €50 million ($56.8 million) in 2019 in two new glass production lines in Mannheim and Lüneburg that are expected to start operating in the fall.

A spokesperson for Coca-Cola Germany confirmed that they had started a big marketing program for traditional Coca-Cola bottles and would additionally sell 1-liter Coca-Cola glass bottles. "There is a trend to [produce more] glass bottles, but our objective is to give clients a choice between  PET bottles or a glass bottles."

Even though Wiegand-Glas does not produce bottles for soft drink producers, it's also heard about Coca-Cola's plans to use more glass bottles.

"The glassmaking machine doesn't care whehter the end product is a Coca-Cola bottle, a wine bottle or a beer bottle. In the end, it's just about going for a different shape or color of the bottle; the machine can do it all."

Along the German Wine Route

Breathtakingly beautiful

With over 23,0000 hectares, the Palatinate - known locally as the Pfalz - is the second largest wine-growing region in Germany. There are about 4000 wine growers, most of whom work in family-run businesses. Their special knowhow has long made Palatinate wine famous. Indeed, wines from the region were served at the opening of the Suez Canal, and were favorites on the decks of luxury ocean liners.

Along the German Wine Route

Riesling rules!

The king of German wines: Riesling. Nowhere else in the world does the white wine variety thrive as well as in Germany. And Pfalz is the main producer. Here riesling wines are cultivated on nearly 6000 hectares and are available at all levels of quality and style, from table to premium, from very dry to rather sweet.

Along the German Wine Route

Her Majesty the Wine Queen

Every autumn, the German Wine Queen is elected in Neustadt on Wine Street. For one year she represents German wine at home and abroad. One of her first official acts is to participate in Germany's largest wine festival, the Weinlesefest in Neustadt. The queen waves and 100,000 spectators wave back.

Along the German Wine Route

Wine from the vintner

This area is also home to a kind of pop-up wine bar - known as a Straußwirtschaft. On certain days in the year, usually between April and November, vintners open their farms and serve their own wine - and only their wine. In addition they offer small, simple snacks. You can recognize these temporary wine bars by a sign like this - or by a broom attached to the facade.

Along the German Wine Route

Through forest and vines

The Pfälzer Weinsteig hiking trail runs parallel to the wine route. The hiking trail features forests and vineyards, castles and vantage points, wine-growing estates and romantic villages. With its detours, it is much longer than the Wine Route - it measures 172 kilometers. You should be able to complete them in 11 daily stages. Provided you don't make too many stops at the wineries.

Along the German Wine Route

Steeped in German history

If you walk the Pfälzer Weinsteig, you will pass the cradle of German democracy, Hambach Castle. The Hambach Festival took place there in 1832, a protest march for democracy and a united Germany. It is regarded as the beginning of the democracy movement in Germany. The black-red-gold flag was waved at the castle for the first time in history before it later became the German flag.

Along the German Wine Route

From castle to castle

On the hilltops of the Palatinate Forest, the foothills of which border the wine route to the west, there are several castle ruins. Most of them date back to the time of the Salians and Staufers who ruled there. The most famous is Trifels Castle, where the imperial jewels of the German emperors were kept for centuries - and King Richard I, known as Richard the Lionheart, was imprisoned.

Along the German Wine Route

Like Tuscany

The Palatinate belonged to Bavaria between 1816 and 1956. Dating from this time is the Villa Ludwigshöhe, the summer residence of King Ludwig I. Perhaps he thought to himself: Why travel to Tuscany when I have the Palatinate on my front doorstep! And he created a heavenly idyll that the public can visit today.

Along the German Wine Route

In the realm of gourmets

The people of the Palatinate are considered to be people of pleasure. And so there are also delicious treats for tourists. Whether as part a culinary vineyard walk (pictured), or wine tastings at vineyards or in vinotheques. Even in the woods, no one has to forego enjoyment. Numerous managed cabins also invite you to take a hearty break.

Along the German Wine Route

Sausage and wine

The Dürkheimer Wurstmarkt in Bad Dürkheim attracts 600,000 visitors and is regarded as the largest wine festival in the world. It has its roots in the 12th century, when the people of Dürkheim had the idea to provide pilgrims with food and drink. This developed into a medieval consumer market, which eventually grew into a folk festival. The name refers to the Palatinate's second passion - sausage.

Along the German Wine Route

German Wine Gate

The wine gate marks the beginning or the end of the German wine route, depending on where one starts. It is located in Schweigen-Rechtenbach, directly on the French border. It was built in 1935 by Hitler's National Socialists, just as the wine route can be traced back to them. It was invented to market the region to tourists.

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