MOG Blog

Wine in cans, not the next Moscato

Last year the Denver, Colo., based wine company Integrated Beverage Group (IBG) made headlines with its line of Replica wines. The company touts its “cutting edge scientific methodology” to analyze the taste and aroma profiles of popular brands (perhaps gas chromatography-mass spectrometry and tannin/phenolic analysis?) and produce wines that taste similar but cost far less.

IBG now has its sights set on a share of the emerging canned wine market and is using a major investment in Oregon’s wine industry to support the new program. In 2015, IBG purchased Stone Wolf Vineyards in McMinnville. Ari Walker, CEO of IBG, is a former owner of Baroness Wines, which is the winery’s Colorado distributor.

Walker and IBG bought the winery from founder and owner Linda Lindsay in the company's first major brick-and-mortar acquisition. The winery came with a successful second-brand Rascal, which Stone Wolf had launched in the midst of the Recession as a way to clear out some excess inventory.

Winemaker and general manager Matt Cechovic, who joined Stone Wolf in 2005 as a harvest intern, said Rascal went on the market for $5.99 per bottle and the initial release sold out quickly. Since then the program has grown from 5,000 cases to nearly 60,000 and the wine is distributed in 42 states.

Cechovic stopped by the Wines & Vines office recently to talk about IBG’s new wine programs when he was in California visiting with distributors and sales reps. He said the Stone Wolf purchase also included the Great Oregon Wine Company, which has since launched with a Pinot Noir and rosé in 750 ml bottles and an Oregon rosé and Pinot Noir and Washington Pinot Gris packaged in four packs of 187 ml cans. Cechovic said he personally likes the slightly smaller can because it offers just the right amount for a single serving of wine.

IBG worked with San Francisco, Calif.-based Can Van to use the smaller cans. Cechovic said the wines are completely still, but each can is dosed with nitrogen to give them a solid feel as well as add that “psst” sound everyone expects to hear when cracking open a canned beverage. “We’ve been doing a lot of work internally on this,” Cechovic said. “It’s been very rewarding now that we’re finished we can let the cat out of the bag.”

The Great Oregon Wine Company’s canned wines are some of the best of the latest crop of canned wines I’ve tried. Some new wine in can products seem to have been developed with the priority being getting wine — any wine — in a can with quality being less important. Those wines that didn’t taste well had metallic notes, muted or even “skunked” flavors and were generally way too sweet.

Another Oregon wine company, Underwood, was an early adopter of cans and their wines are quite well made too. Infinite Monkey Theorem in Denver, Colo., puts some pretty good wine in cans as well.

As more canned wines hit the market, quality will play more of a factor of which brands will stay on retail shelves. Wineries that do sell canned wines tell me you can't push the margins on the format because it is inherently such a casual package. A good, consistent source of supply to ensure quality plus an attractive brand design looks to be the best way to stay in the canned wine segment over the long haul. 

In recent weeks, I’ve received press releases on new canned wines developed by Trader Joes, Backpack Wine, Guarachi Wine Partners, Barefoot, House Wine and Winesellers is importing organic wines from Europe in cans. There’s probably several others hitting the market I haven’t heard of as the canned wine market is doubling. That huge growth is coming from a miniscule base, but this is a trend with huge growth potential. The wine in keg experts, Free Flow Wines recently installed a canning line at its Napa, Calif., facility and I hear they are scrambling to meet demand.

Mike Dunne with The Sacramento Bee has some interesting historical context in his recent column on wine in cans and contends the Millennial generation is helping to fuel the trend. I think the younger consumers got it started but this trend has too wide-ranging appeal for all kinds of wine consumers just to be limited to 20-somethings. I wouldn't be surprised if fickle millennial consumers lose interest in the format, especially if all the marketing continues to be targeted at them. Instead, long-term growth will come from traditional consumers who see the benefits of easily enjoying wine while camping, at the beach or on the golf course. 

“It’s game changing on where you can take it and enjoy wine,” Cechovic said, adding he enjoyed taking a can of the Pinot Gris with him when he hit the ski slopes this past winter and that there’s nothing wrong with sipping directly from the can.

Taking into account the obvious benefits of it will be interesting to see how the format continues to grow in coming years. Myself and the rest of the editorial team are also now working on content for Wines & Vines Packaging Conference that will take place Aug. 16 in Yountville, Calif. While traditional packaging is always a focus at this show, we also explore the latest trends and packaging innovations. Wine in can, is definitely one of the more noteworthy recent trends.

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