Canned wine continues to be one of the most rapidly growing wine categories in the United States. Volume sales in Nielsen-tracked channels reached $253 million in the 52 weeks ending March 20, 2021, up 62 percent over the previous 12 months.
And according to Market Watch, a sister publication of Wine Spectator, more wineries are getting into the game with a broader range of wines. There are now at least 580 wineries offering more than 1,450 canned wine SKUs. In addition, many big-name wineries are adding cans to existing brands, including Michael David, with its already popular Freakshow label, and Ste. Michelle Wine Estates with its 14 Hands brand.
As the category grows, many winemakers are trying to raise the bar for what consumers expect from canned wine. In the past, the message was simple: You can take it with you.
But these vintners believe their canned wines offer a lot more. Will wine drinkers hear their message?
Breaking with tradition
For some, the benefit of cans is being able to have fun with wine, taking away some of the formality and rules people tend to associate with a bottle.
"When my husband and I founded Archer Roose seven years ago, our idea was to build a consciously crafted wine brand that was consumer first," explained co-founder and CEO Marian Leitner-Waldman. "Our mission is to understand better the way consumers are drinking, and make wine more accessible and democratic."
Based out of Boston, Leitner-Waldman and Archer Roose do not have vineyards. Instead of buying bulk wine, she and her husband, David Waldman, partner with winemakers in various regions throughout the world to produce their wines, such as Sauvignon Blanc from Chile, Malbec from Argentina and rosé from Provence. Sold in four-packs of 250ml cans for $15, their non-vintage Sauvignon Blanc Casablanca Valley earned 86 points in a recent tasting, showing quince paste and ripe citrus flavors. At the equivalent of $4 for one-and-a-half glasses, it's a solid summertime refresher.
Leitner-Waldman recognizes that they don't have a traditional wine narrative, but for the people they're marketing to, the wine has to be good or the branding doesn't matter. "It's a careful line, balancing how to be both fun and accessible, while also serious," she said.
Part of the fun? Packaging featuring a woman in a Victorian riding habit astride a moose (not to mention the recent addition of film and TV star Elizabeth Banks as co-owner and chief creative officer). Leitner-Waldman admits that they're poking fun at the self-seriousness of wine, but also putting premium wine in the can with the intent to make the wine journey less scary. "Our core DNA is about bringing more people into wine," she said. "We want to democratize wine, whether through packaging or language."
Try something new
For Sarah Hoffman, co-founder of Maker, putting the consumer first means promoting high quality. For her, cans are a way to grab attention for great winemakers while offering the consumer an easy way to try those wines. "Our passion came from love for small producers and getting their names out there," said Hoffman, noting that she loved exploring small wineries in Napa and Sonoma but wondered why it was so hard to find those bottles on retail shelves.
The San Francisco–based canned wine company partners with boutique wineries to can wines under the Maker brand, but each wine displays the winery's and winemaker's name and other pertinent wine details. Best of all, the quality is on par with what consumers can expect from the bottles made by those winemakers. "They're putting the same wine in their bottle. It's not dumbed down or different wine," said Hoffman.
Hoffman thinks that wineries should continue to push for better-quality wine in the can, and be willing to charge its value. "We sold out our Alexander Valley Cabernet last year, which sells for $15 a can. That's a $45 bottle equivalent." That Cabernet, made by Alice Sutro of Sutro Wine Co., scored 87 points and is ripe, with a soft, mocha-edged plum and blackberry core backed by a second wave of warm, toasty vanilla on the finish.
Recent tastings of more than 40 canned wines show comparable quality to previous years, with roughly half scoring 85 to 89 points, or very good, on Wine Spectator’s 100-point scale.
Where there was a noticeable shift was in pricing. Some producers are offering higher-priced wines in cans, trying to dispel the idea that a can of wine should be cheap, forgettable wine. They're having mixed success.
Napa-based Erosion Wine Co.'s current releases are Cabernet-based, using Napa Valley grapes, priced as high as $59 for an artfully packaged three-pack of 250ml cans. Because he's based in Napa, founder Patrick Rue says it makes sense to use Napa grapes, but he'll be moving away from high-ticket grapes and regions soon because the price of canned wine can't support it. "The margins were awful. Economically, I learned my lesson. Lower prices are more in line with people's expectations."
Rue says consumers have a hard time imagining good wine coming from a can. "When it comes to beer, you expect it, yet it doesn't fit the romance of wine." So Rue takes a cue from his background in the craft beer industry. "I love the approachability of craft beer because it's never standoffish," said Rue. He wants to bring some of that attitude to wine. As a result, his wines are not intended to be repeated vintage after vintage and instead are unique blends, with fun names and labels like The Floor Is Lava and Afraid of Clowns.
Rue believes the wine industry could benefit from both serious and fun takes on winemaking. "The nice thing about cans is you can have low minimum [volume productions], which allows more variety and one-offs," he said. While he loves the traditional wine models, he'd like to make his mark differently.
The lion’s share of canned wine sales are in the white and rosé sector. Alcohol subscription service Drizly reported that rosé accounts for nearly 32 percent of sales, with sparkling and white wines accounting for 45 percent, and red wine just 6 percent. Wine spritzers make up up the balance.
Yet, Maker has been expanding the number of winemakers they work with since launching in 2019, including numerous red wines, like an Anderson Valley Pinot Noir from Handley Cellars and a Napa Valley Merlot from Smith Devereux. "Constantly bringing on new wines and people, and that's the magic of what we do," said Hoffmann. She says they have ambitious goals for 2022. "We're looking to Oregon and Washington and will be canning our first wine from Paso Robles this year."
Eco-conscious and pushing the envelope
For many canned wine producers, the environment is also a consideration. After discovering that 70 percent of wine's carbon footprint comes from the supply chain, Archer Roose's Leitner-Waldman opted to embrace sustainability, reducing packaging wherever possible. Cans are lighter to ship, they produce a much smaller carbon footprint, and are more regularly recycled than glass bottles.
All the vineyards Archer Roose works with are sustainably farmed, producing wine from organically grown grapes. After production, the wines are shipped in 24,000-gallon flexitanks and stored in a warehouse where they can be canned every six to eight weeks for optimal freshness in fully recyclable packaging. "I like to say we're trying to drink our way to a cleaner planet," laughs Leitner-Waldman.
Several brands included in recent tastings embraced the eco-consciousness of canned wine. West + Wilder, whose fragrant and stylish white blend of Sauvignon Blanc, Chenin Blanc, Chardonnay and Muscat was the highest scoring among recently tasted canned wines (88 points, $17 for a three-pack of 250ml cans), partners with 1% for the Planet, and 1 percent of their sales goes to supporting the preservation of wild spaces. Protector Cellars partnered with Trees for the Future to plant one tree for each can purchased. It also became the first winery in the world to join the Climate Pledge, joining 100 other companies from various industries worldwide, in a commitment to net zero carbon emissions by 2040 or sooner.
Perhaps above all, canned wine is pushing the wine industry to evolve. "Cans are a secret weapon that the industry has to bring more people into wine when the industry is desperate to lure them in," said Hoffman.
Recent modifications to packaging regulations by the TTB are helping. Cans of wine can now be sold individually, rather than in three, four or six-packs, and a variety of sizes are now legal, including 355ml and 250ml cans. Previously only 375ml cans were permitted to be sold individually.
"750ml has been a marker for integrity, but it doesn't necessarily speak to the quality," said Rue. He knows that consumers used to ultra-premium wines may not have as good of an experience with cans, but for those new to wine, cans are a blank slate. He says education is key. His tasting room in St. Helena provides him an opportunity to discuss how cans have no oxygen permeability and that canned wine is for drinkers, not collectors. "Most importantly, if it's not drinking well off the line, then it shouldn't be in a can."
Hoffman echoes Rue. "You have to can when it's ready to drink because canning freezes the wine in time." She recommends drinking within 18 months of canning.
Of course, portability continues to be a big draw. It's one reason canned wines are increasingly offered at large venues. In June, the L.A.–based canned wine brand Bev became the official canned wine of the Rose Bowl Stadium and will be served at all events, from concerts to sporting events, and even the monthly Rose Bowl Flea Market.
In past years, Constellation began putting its Woodbridge by Robert Mondavi Cabernet Sauvignon in cans in partnership with select NFL teams. And Anheuser-Busch's Babe brand became the official wine sponsor of the NFL.
For many, canned wine's portability is crucial, but it's not just for events, boats or beaches. In fact, most winemakers who use cans suggest the wine should be poured into a wineglass for best enjoyment.
"We're not snobs. If you're taking it somewhere where portability is essential [then drink from the can]. But if at home, pour in a glass," said Hoffman, noting that the 250ml can they use is more about serving size and portion control than drinking straight from a can.
At the end of the day, Hoffman wants her wines to shine, no matter where and how they're consumed. Leitner-Waldman agrees. "This is about bringing a better glass no matter where you are."
Recent Reviews of Wine in Cans
WEST + WILDER
White American NV
Score: 88 | $17 for three 250ml cans
WS review: Fragrant and stylish, with an appealing touch of butterscotch to the peach, pear and orange marmalade flavors on a smooth and supple frame. Ends with a fresh thread of acidity on the finish. Sauvignon Blanc, Chenin Blanc, Viognier and Muscat. Sold as a three-pack of 250ml cans for $17. Drink now. 2,200 cases made.—MaryAnn Worobiec
Sauvignon Blanc California The Daydreamer 2020
Score: 87 | $7 / 250ml
WS review: Peach blossom, honeysuckle and dried mango flavors mingle with juicy citrus notes, showing good intensity and focus on the intense finish. Sold as 250ml can. Drink now. 1,000 cases made.—M.W.
Cabernet Sauvignon Alexander Valley 2018
Score: 87 | $15 / 250ml
WS review: Frankly ripe, with a soft, mocha-edged plum and blackberry core backed by a second wave of warm toasty vanilla on the finish. This gets its structure more from the toast than anything else, with the fruit trying to keep pace on the finish. Sold as a 250ml can. Drink now through 2023. 112 cases made.—James Molesworth
Pinot Gris Anderson Valley 2020
Score: 87 | $9 / 250ml
WS review: Bosc pear, citrus and melon flavors are fresh and ripe in this white, with a touch of lemon verbena on the refreshing finish. Sold as a 250ml can. Drink now. 483 cases made.—M.W.
SANS WINE CO.
Carignan Mendocino County Carbonic Poor Ranch Vineyards Coyote Rock Block NV
Score: 87 | $12 / 375ml
WS review: Appealing dense blackberry and black cherry flavors mingle with notes of bittersweet black chocolate and black pepper, along with chewy tannins, showing plenty of harmony on the finish. Sold as a 375ml can. Drink now. 600 cases made.—M.W.
EROSION WINE CO.
Afraid of Clowns Napa Valley NV
Score: 86 | $45 for three 250ml cans
WS review: There's a freshness to the ripe black and red fruit flavors in this spicy red, showing off milk chocolate and tobacco notes, with firm but integrated tannins. Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel, Merlot, Malbec and Cabernet Franc. Sold as a three-pack of 250ml cans for $45. Drink now. 335 cases made.—M.W.
Sauvignon Blanc Casablanca Valley NV
Score: 86 | $15 for four 250ml cans
WS review: Quince paste and ripe citrus flavors show lots of toasty notes, with beeswax accents lingering on the finish. Sold as a four-pack of 250ml cans for $15. Drink now. 4,483 cases made.—Kim Marcus
EROSION WINE CO.
How Big? Napa Valley NV
Score: 86 | $59 for three 250ml cans
WS review: Spicy, with star anise, black pepper and black licorice accents on a dense frame, with a touch of black tea to the cassis and blackberry core, firming up on the finish. Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Petite Sirah, Cabernet Franc and Zinfandel. Sold as a three-pack of 250ml cans for $59. Drink now. 103 cases made.—M.W.
Rosé Bubbly Napa Valley NV
Score: 86 | $29 for four 250ml cans
WS review: There's a pretty floral overtone to this red, with restrained notes of apple, citrus and berry giving way to a gush of fizzy refreshment on the finish. Sold as a four-pack of 250ml cans for $29. Drink now. 900 cases made.—M.W.
Hot To Trot Red Columbia Valley NV
Score: 85 | $6 / 375ml
WS review: A juicy quaff, with fruit-forward cherry flavors. Merlot and Syrah. Sold as 375ml can. Drink now. 6,000 cases made.—Tim Fish
Provence Rosé NV
Score: 85 | $15 for four 250ml cans
WS review: This rosé shows zip, with brisk acidity cutting through the white raspberry and melon flavors, ending with an herb-laced finish. Grenache Noir, Syrah, Carignan and Grenache Blanc. Sold as a four-pack of 250ml cans for $15. Drink now. 5,942 cases made.—Gillian Sciaretta
The Wild One California NV
Score: 85 | $7 / 250ml
WS review: Fresh red fruit flavors are smooth in this red, with a touch of blood orange, showing notes of apricot preserves, spice and mocha on the finish. Mission, Tempranillo and Mourvèdre. Sold as a 250ml can. Drink now. 1,000 cases made.—M.W.
Brut Rosé Columbia Valley Estate Vineyard NV
Score: 84 | $12 / 375ml
WS review: Appealing for its easygoing and perfumed strawberry and spice flavors. Sold as a 375ml can. Drink now. 280 cases made.—T.F.
FRANCIS COPPOLA DIAMOND COLLECTION
Sauvignon Blanc California NV
Score: 84 | $20 for four 250ml cans
WS review: There's an appealing zing of fresh grated ginger to the lemon-lime flavors, on a sleek frame. Sold as a four-pack of 250ml cans for $20. Drink now. 1,032 cases made.—M.W.
ORIGINAL HOUSE WINE
Brut American Bubbles NV
Score: 84 | $6 / 375ml
WS review: Snappy and user-friendly, with appealing lime, sweet anise and spiced nut flavors. Sold as a 375ml can. Drink now. 31,000 cases made.—T.F.
White Central Coast NV
Score: 84 | $8 / 350ml
WS review: A touch of green tea and toasted herbal notes add a savory thread to the floral-framed lemon flavors at the core. Juicy on the finish, where a note of almond skin lingers. Sold as a 350ml can. Drink now. 198 cases made.—M.W.