half wine bottlesAustralians, as a nation, are drinking less alcohol overall than at any time in the previous 50 years, according to figures released in May 2015 by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS). At the same time wine has increased its share of all alcohol consumed up from 12% 50 years ago to 38% today.

This national shift in alcohol consumption levels, which indicates a move towards restraint rather than over-indulgence, is reflected in a growing consumer demand for good quality Australian wines to be bottled in smaller quantities. Australian wine producers and sellers are reporting an increasing demand for more varieties, and better qualities of wine to be bottled at 375ml as opposed to the standard 750ml. A 750ml bottle of wine yields roughly four 175ml glasses and a 375ml just two 187ml glasses, meaning with a half bottle an individual can enjoy two glasses, or a couple a glass each.

"Over the last two years the online market for half bottles has grown strongly," says Gabe McCauley, a growth hacker and digital media strategist for halfbottles.com.au. "We are tripling our figures every year".

Halfbottles.com.au, which, as the name suggests, specialises in selling 375ml bottles of wine, is a side venture of Australian liqueur retail chain Bellevue Hill Bottle Shop, which operates primarily in Sydney’s affluent eastern suburbs. The idea for the website was born when the owner of the Bellevue Hill Bottle Shop’s wife was pregnant and he no longer had someone to share a 750ml bottle of wine with at night. A half bottle enabled him to drink a few glasses without wasting the remainder of the bottle, or leaving it to go beyond its best.

Now in its third year, the website sells over 1,000 varieties of half bottles of wine ranging in price from AUD$3.75 for a piccolo (187ml bottle) to AUD$1300 for a half bottle of vintage port. Sales of half bottles of wine now makes up around 12 – 15 % of Bellevue Hill Bottle Shop’s overall liquor retailing operations.

New Discerning Young Drinkers: Half Bottle Production

The demand for half bottles in Continental European countries, such as France and Italy, where the drinking culture is dominated by a ‘quality over quantity’ attitude, has been well established for many years.

"Australian wine producers and sellers are reporting an increasing demand for more varieties, and better qualities of wine to be bottled at 375ml."

However, in Australia, until recently not many winemakers opted to add half bottles to their production lines. But McCauley says the number of local winemakers now producing half bottles is growing considerably.

Leading winemakers, such as Treasury Wine Estates, Wolf Blass, De Bortoli, Yalumba, Voyager Estate, McGuigan, and Wild Oats now all make some of their key wines available in half bottles. Most recently William Downie has started making its Pinot Noir available in half bottles.

But what and who is driving the half bottles trend in Australia? "Initially we hypothesized that our clientele would be a bit older, from 55-65, but the statistics show that website users are aged from 26 to 45 years old" says McCauley."They’re drinking already and are already into wine and are just keen to try something new, or just have a glass of wine with dinner every night."

Craig Philips, sales manager at Rusden Wines, which makes its Black Guts shiraz available in half bottle size, says the 375ml bottle market is ‘limited’ compared to 750ml bottle market, however the company decided to start making the smaller size due to demand from high-end restaurants.

"90% of our half bottles are sold to high end restaurants around Australia, although there has been some strong interest lately from Independent retailers," says Philips. The first vintage Rusden made available in a half size bottle was its 2007 release."In my opinion the clientele for our half bottles is a more discerning drinker who prefers quality over quantity, and doesn’t mind spending the money as long as the product delivers" he adds.

Paying for the Privilege: Luxury at a Premium

Ultimately half bottles enable drinkers to try new and more expensive wine without paying the price for a full bottle, while also allowing them to better manage the quantity of wine they are drinking.

However, this luxury comes at a premium. Half bottles cost more per ml – around 60% of the cost of a 750ml bottle – because they are more expensive for winemakers to produce. Winemakers have to produce bottles especially and due to the smaller size, they’re harder to control on the production line and therefore more susceptible to breakages and losses. Wine also ages faster in half bottles due to the wine to oxygen ratio.

McCauley says halfbottles.com.au tries to sell half bottles for half the price of the 750ml equivalent ‘where possible’ meaning the mark-up on each bottle can often be less than a 750ml bottle. "That is the symptom of an early growth start up, you have to really endeavour to get people involved in your company before you can make as much money as you’d like off it," says McCauley.
He adds that sometimes you can buy a particular brand of wine in a full bottle at big brand competitors such as Dan Murphy’s and Coles for the same price as a half bottle, so the company chooses not to stock these wines.

Longevity of the Trend: Is it here to stay?

Is the half bottle trend one that is set to continue and grow? "Yes, in my opinion," says Philips. "As Australian society becomes more health conscious, I think we’ll see customers drinking better, but drinking less."

McCauley agrees. "We have gathered a lot of interest and I think the more and more awareness that is out there about half bottles the more people will buy them because there are a lot of uses for them.

"People are looking to drink less and less in Australia, they realise we have a problem with our drinking culture and I think a lot of people just really want to enjoy wine with dinner and not have it go off by leaving the bottle open."