- A shipping crisis and global shortages of products key to bottling wine has winemakers scrambling.
- Without bottles, wine often sits in barrels for longer, which can make it taste "like a sawmill."
- The shortage is so severe that one winery resorted to buying bottles with another vineyard's name on it.
The supply-chain issues snaring container ships in traffic jams and emptying store shelves are also threatening one of California's most famous products – wine.
A dire shortage in glass bottles is forcing some winemakers to let wine age in wooden barrels for too long, which can lead to the drink tasting "like a sawmill," Phil Long, the owner of Longevity Wines in Livermore, California, told Insider.
With prices of nearly every good needed to bottle wine soaring, Long said vineyards may eventually be compelled to raise the price of wine as well. The cost of glass has skyrocketed by 45% compared to 2019, but Long said he has resisted raising prices so far.
"But I'm not sure how long we can hold prices where they are," Long said. "Glass is a main ingredient to bottling wine. Imagine you're a cookie company and there was no flour."
The pandemic has also fed an uptick in drinking and a hike in retail alcohol sales, which winemakers like Long have scrambled to find the supplies to meet. Long has cobbled together a supply of bottles by purchasing extra glass from wineries with some to spare, and has even resorted to buying bottles bearing another vineyard's name.
But with too much wine and not enough bottles, Long has had to let wine stay in tanks, which can slow the maturation process and result in a bland flavor. Even worse, however, is keeping the wine in oak barrels, which can infuse the drink with an unpleasant aroma.
"Too much oak throws the wine out of balance," Long said. "When oak becomes the dominant element in wine, it overshadows characteristic fruit flavors and tastes overwhelmingly woodsy."
But bottles aren't the only item in short supply - when asked which goods are most scarce right now, Lloyd Davis, the owner of Corner 103 winery, responded saying "they all are."
Paper items like labels and bags, as well as bottles and corks, often remain in limbo on the water for weeks, caught in the massive container ship traffic jams at American ports that are only expected to worsen.
"Wait time used to be measured in hours, but now it's measured in weeks," Long said.
Once the items are offloaded, they're confronted with a massive labor shortage in the trucking industry and a sluggish journey to their final destination.
Chris Wachira, owner of Wachira Wines, said her business hasn't been able to send wine to members of their wine club because they don't have enough glass bottles to pour the wine into. Without being able to ship her product, her business's ability to grow has also been stymied.
"This is the wine business," Long said. "As an owner, I always tell my staff, 'If something isn't going wrong, something is wrong.'"