Glass bottles have been the standard for storing wine since the 17th century. But where does the glass come from, and what happens to the bottle after you’re done?
“Glass is really simple,” says Scott DeFife, president of the Glass Packaging Institute. “It’s silica sand—which is not necessarily the same as beach sand—limestone and either soda ash or some other kind of binding element.”
Winemakers in the U.S. often source these raw materials from Canada or states in the Southwest or Great Lakes region. They’re then transported by rail or truck to glass production plants, most of which are located close to either the raw materials or their end market. For wine, many bottle manufacturers are located on the West Coast, where the majority of wine production happens.
“The vast majority of the glass used in the United States is made [in the U.S.],” says DeFife. “Glass is a little heavier, so it tends not to travel as far and as often.” He estimates that 25–30% of food and beverage glass is imported into the US.
The complicated journey from barrel to bottle
Glass manufacturing plants operate 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Larger wineries purchase directly from manufacturers. Smaller wineries usually go through wholesalers.
Once glass is produced, bottles get shipped either directly to the winery or may be repackaged by an intermediary and distributed in smaller portions. For wineries, a logistical dance follows.
“I don’t have any place to store glass when it shows up, so it’s got to show up several days in front of bottling, and it’s got to show up in a certain order to fit the bottling schedule,” says Marty Clubb, managing director at L’Ecole No. 41 in Lowden, Washington. “It all has to be highly coordinated.”