Thinking Outside the Cardboard
By BRENDAN I. KOERNER
January 14, 2007
WINEMAKERS say that today’s boxed wines are markedly better than the thin, acidic plonk of yore. And American consumers seem to agree, judging by their growing thirst for merlots and chardonnays encased in cardboard. According to Information Resources, a retail data firm, dollar sales of wine in three-liter boxes tripled from 2004 to 2006.
Yet many drinkers still won’t deign to sip wine from a spigot, no matter how many times they’re told that the quality has improved. It’s the packaging that turns them off, they say. For some, the boxes are hopelessly tacky — fit more for sorority parties than sophisticated get-togethers. For others, the boxes are too reminiscent of youthful misadventures: legion are the tales of epic hangovers caused by imbibing too much boxed swill.
Patrik Svanberg, a product designer in Stockholm, is among those who previously equated boxed wine with cheap, regrettable excesses; he recalls getting drunk on the stuff during a high-school trip to France. “But then maybe five years ago, boxed wine started to become really popular in Sweden,” Mr. Svanberg said.
Indeed, according to the market research company ACNielsen, 65 percent of the wine consumed in Sweden now comes in boxes. (The figure for the United States is around 20 percent.)
Though relatively impressed with the taste of these wines, Mr. Svanberg couldn’t quite overcome his aversion to the boxes themselves. “We went to lots of dinner parties, and there would be this ugly thing, this box of wine,” he said. “That made me think about making something beautiful to put on the table.”
In early 2003, Mr. Svanberg began developing his Bag-in-Box Wine Dispenser, a metal contraption that resembles a cross between an Italian coffeemaker and a “Star Wars” droid. To use it, a drinker must first open the boxed wine’s carton and remove the three-liter plastic pouch inside. The pouch is then placed inside the dispenser and attached to a simple push-button tap.
At first, Mr. Svanberg thought of giving the dispenser a more spartan look — essentially that of an aluminum box. But he was disappointed in his first prototype, which he found to be boring, not sleek. “It looked better in my mind than it did in reality,” he said.
But as he brooded over his failure over breakfast one morning, he found inspiration on his kitchen counter. “I actually had an orange-juice press in my kitchen,” he said, “and I saw that it had very nice curves in the legs.”
After adding similar legs to his dispenser, Mr. Svanberg entered the testing phase, which required buying dozens of boxes of wine. He discovered that while the interior bags were more or less of uniform size, winemakers used about 10 different types of outflow holes. Months of tweaking were required to ensure that the dispenser’s tap could accommodate every version.
A longtime client of Mr. Svanberg’s, the P.O.M. housewares company of Stockholm, started manufacturing the dispenser in late 2003. It is now available from the online Dutch design shop POAA.nl, and is priced at 39 euros, or about $50.
Mr. Svanberg says a few customers have complained about the length of the dispenser’s legs, contending that they’re not high enough to allow for a fully upright glass to be placed underneath. He counters that longer legs would make the dispenser look ungainly, and that a drinker can compensate by tilting the glass while pressing the tap.
Drinkers who want to recreate the low-brow boxed-wine experiences of their youth, however, can still go for the method preferred by soused tailgaters: bring the dispenser to the edge of a table, and place one’s mouth directly under the spout.
Not classy by any means, but certainly effective.
Sunday, January 14, 2007
A while back I posted about the bag-in-box wine dispenser from the Swedish designer, Patrik Svanberg. I still find the appearance of this dispenser a little stark, and there is no way to identify the contents. The New York Times has picked up on this item, and today's business section features this article.