Sometimes, drinking a bottle of Chardonnay can be a real bummer.
For one thing, wine isn’t very portable. It’s not easy to bring with you on, say, a picnic or a trip to the beach, since you need to bring glasses and sometimes a corkscrew with you as well.
Then there is the whole culture of wine drinking. You wonder if you’re tasting the right flavors: what if your palate cannot detect the notes of oak, plum, leather or chocolate? Does it mean you are drinking it wrong? What if you don’t have the right wine gear? Are you allowed to drink Burgundy from a Bordeaux glass? It’s enough to make you throw in the towel and pick up a six-pack of beer.
Oregon-based Union Wine Co., founded in 2005, is on a mission to make wine a lot less complicated. While the company sells regular bottles of wine, about a year ago it also started selling a range of wines in cans. A four-pack of rosé, Pinot Noir, or Pinot Gris costs $24, while a full bottle goes for $12. “There are so many places where glass is not an ideal thing to carry with you,” Ryan Harms, the owner of Union Wine Co., tells Fast Company. “For our own selfish reasons, we wanted to find a way to bring wine with us when we are backpacking.”
The canned wines were a big hit in the market, with preorders selling out in a matter of days. This year, Harms projects that 20% of the 135,000 cases of wine that Union sells will be in can form. Besides the novelty factor and the portability, Harms hopes that canned wines will appeal to drinkers who are more comfortable with the culture of beer and may be put off by the complexity of wine. Harms points out that you can’t stick your nose in a can to smell the bouquet, nor can you swirl the wine around for optimal flavor.
“Maybe the wine industry needs to beerify a little bit,” Harms says. “I’m always envious of how the beer industry creates a casual, comfortable relationship with the product, so consumers aren’t worried about whether they are holding the glass correctly, smelling it right or generally looking like they know what they are doing.”
Union’s timing is good. Culturally, we are in a moment when craft beer’s hold on our imaginations and wallets is starting to share more market space with wine. A recent magazine article noted a considerable uptick of male wine drinkers in general and of rosé specifically–and coined the Internet-ready term “Brosé” along the way.
Of course, Union isn’t the first winery to put their wine in a can. Francis Ford Coppola Winery in Sonoma launched little cans of sparkling blanc de blanc called the Sofia Mini in the early 2000s, which was quickly followed by other brands like Neowines and Infinite Monkey. Now, it seems that the canned wine phenomenon is gaining momentum, and more wineries are likely to start offering their wines this way.
In Union’s case, the cans are part of a larger strategy to demystify wine. The brand’s motto is “pinkies down,” signaling a rejection of the classic wine-drinking pose of holding up a glass of wine with one’s smallest digit in the air. Earlier this year, Union released a series of hilarious YouTube videos poking fun at the ridiculous things that people do when they are tasting wine, from elaborately swirling it to gargling it to spitting it out. The videos end with the emphatic statement that “wine doesn’t have to be this hard.” (We’ve included some of these videos in our slideshow above.)
While this campaign is meant to target people of any age who find wine intimidating and foreign, Harms says that younger drinkers are inherently part of this category, since they tend to be exposed to beer before they learn about wine. To attract twentysomethings and thirtysomethings who are excited about the craft cocktail movement, Union encourages bartenders and mixologists at home to use the wines in mixed drinks and cocktails. Wine cocktails immediately call to mind the tacky wine spritzers of the 1980s, which consisted of a very cheap, low-quality white wine mixed with Sprite or some other soda. Harms thinks it’s time to rebrand the wine cocktail by using high-quality ingredients, the way you might put an expensive scotch in a Rob Roy or a Penicillin cocktail.
Harms believes that being based in Oregon allows his company to veer away from the traditions of wine culture that tends to show up in other more established wine centers in France and California. He thinks that being outsiders in the wine industry, particularly in a part of the country that is known for being casual and fuss-free (not to mention deep into its craft beers), allows the company to try new approaches and reach new consumers.
“We’re trying to take away some of the ceremony that tends to get wrapped up in wine and allows you to focus on what you’re doing,” Harms says, “whether it’s having dinner with your friends or watching a sunset.”