Cork Buzz

Canned Wine is the Drink of Summer 2017

Sales of canned wine have been increasing over the last few years and the category is poised to go mainstream.

In the past year, Hong Lieu Tada, a San Francisco stay-at-home mom, has found a slew of unexpected places to drink wine: She has snuck her favorite vino into hotel rooms and sipped it on the beach in Hawaii.

Her secret? Tada’s libation of choice is canned wine. Last year, she discovered Sofia Blanc de Blancs, bubbly made by the Academy Award-winning filmmakers-turned-winemakers Francis Ford Coppola and his daughter, Sofia. Tada not only loves how it tastes but also the convenience of the diminutive pink can, which comes with a straw and fits unobtrusively in her purse.

“The best part is you can take it to the movie theater,” said Tada, who adores Champagne but who is loathe to open a full bottle because it generally goes flat before she can finish it.

Tada is part of the growing number of drinkers who have made canned wine an unexpected best-seller. From 2015 to 2016, according to Nielson, sales have more than doubled and last year alone consumers bought $14.5 million worth of the stuff. As a result, more wineries, both small and gigantic, are getting into this category.

One wine industry veteran, Grant Hemingway, estimated that there will be between 20 and 40 new canned wines introduced in the next few months, much of it coming from California. That list includes Ruza, a sparkling rosé from Lodi, and Essentially Geared Wine Company’s new chardonnay, red wine, and rosé. Sofia Coppola also recently added a Sparkling Brut Rosé to her line.

Even Trader Joe’s has gotten on the bandwagon. At the end of April, the company came out with a four-pack of Italian vino frizzante (bubbly) from Simpler Wines at the bargain price of $4.

While canned wine may be the hot thing to drink this summer, this trend actually stretches back to 2004, when Niebaum Coppola put its Sofia Blanc de Blancs in cans. The winery made the unorthodox decision after Francis Ford Coppola admired the soda packaging in Japanese vending machines and decided to replicate it. Ball Manufacturing, which makes those ubiquitous glass canning jars, assisted Niebaum Coppola and now does a brisk business in manufacturing single-serve wine cans for a number of other wineries.

It took a bit of time to win over drinkers but during the last five years canned wines have really taken off. Craft beer’s adoption of cans has no doubt helped pave the way. Field Recording, a winery in Paso Robles on California’s Central Coast, has certainly benefited from this uptick in interest. The company first put its everyday wine, Fiction, in cans back in 2013. It was an unexpected success.

“My first run of cans took off on us,” said the company’s owner Andrew Jones. “I sold out in about four weeks. I tripled production and we sold out our second run in 10 days.”

Jones now sells chardonnay, pinot noir, and grenache rosé in 500-milliliter silver cans, which make up nearly half his company’s production.

What has definitely allowed small wineries join this movement is that the technology to can wine has become more accessible in recent years. That’s one reason why Andrew Mariani, the co-owner of Scribe Winery in Sonoma, decided last year to make a couple of hundred cases of canned wine. Mariani had always admired Francis Ford Coppola, not the least because he named a wine after his daughter. When Mariani and his wife had a daughter, Una Lou, during the 2016 harvest, he decided to make a canned wine named after his progeny. It was easy to do, he said.

The wine Mariani put in cans is a rosé, but not a sparkling one. While fizzy wines originally counted for the bulk of the canned market, since 2015 consumer tastes have shifted toward table wines, which are now more popular, according to Nielsen.

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That may be a reflection of the growing quality of table wines. Mariani made his UnaLou Rosé with the same attention to detail as the wines he sells under the more expensive Scribe label. The wine was pressed from whole clusters of pinot noir grapes from the Kiser-Sangiacomo vineyard in the Carneros district, which straddles Napa and Sonoma counties. The wine was fermented for 36 days in stainless steel tanks and was packaged on January 25. Not bad for a canned wine!