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These Winemakers Are Raising the Bar for Canned Wines

A small but growing group of winemakers are determined to elevate the canned wine industry by producing quality wines that are delicious, convenient and not too serious.

Wine in a can — wait, keep reading! — has been around since the mid-1930s, and the variety on store shelves has been growing in recent years. Yet there is an abundance of distrust and unease among many seasoned wine drinkers when you mention the concept.

But consumer acceptance is growing thanks to winemakers like William Allen, who produces three canned wines under his label Two Shepherds in Windsor, including Bucking Luna, a sparkling red blend of old vine cinsault and carignan.

“Consumers are right to have a mediocre opinion about canned wine, because a lot of canned wine has been mediocre,” Allen said. “It’s up to small wineries like us to help change that. So we’re canning some of the best juice we have.”

Allen is among a small but growing group of winemakers and sellers determined to elevate the canned wine industry by producing quality, limited-production wines that are delicious, convenient and not too serious. These winemakers choose quality over quantity, and their wines often sell out quickly.

Waves, a canned wine label from Las Jaras Wines. (Courtesy of Las Jaras Wines)

At Sans Wine Company, which produces single-varietal, single-vineyard wines in cans, co-founder Gina Schober said the acceptance of canned wines continues to evolve and has accelerated over the past few years.

“From a sales perspective, things are very different now than when we first began making canned wine,” she said. “People are finally starting to understand you can get quality wines in cans. There will always be people who we’ll never convince because they are traditionalists, and that’s fine. But we try our best by offering high-quality wines that make people say, ‘Oh wow, these are really good.’”

Schober, who co-founded Sans Wine Company in 2016 with her husband, winemaker Jake Stover, was inspired to make canned wine when she noticed people floating down the Russian River in inner tubes. Both she and Jake have a background in the wine industry, so it was important to both of them to make a quality product. All of their wines are produced with organically grown fruit from old vine vineyards in Lake, Mendocino and Napa counties, with no sulfites or filtering. The resulting wines include a juicy carbonic carignan and a dry riesling from McGill Vineyard in Rutherford, Napa Valley.

Maker Wine Company sells premium canned wines from small producers throughout California. (Courtesy of Maker Wine Company)

At Novato-based Maker Wine Company, which sells premium canned wines from small producers throughout California, co-founder Sarah Hoffman said their mission is “to make wine more approachable and inclusive in a lighthearted way,” while keeping quality top of mind. The company focuses on single-vineyard, single-variety, small-batch wines and depends on a staff of sommeliers and industry experts to help taste and choose the wines.

“We want to highlight our winemakers and the wines they love, and those tend to be wines with a story and place,” Hoffman said. “That’s why we’re called ‘Maker.’ If you can’t figure out who the winemaker is on a canned wine website, that’s a really bad sign.”

Maker, which gained industry recognition for earning a gold medal and 96 points for its 2019 Mendocino Viognier in a can at the 2020 North Coast Wine Challenge, has been at the forefront of the most recent canned wine evolution. Millennial co-founders Hoffman, Kendra Kawala and Zoe Victor saw a significant lack in the quality canned wine market and were not impressed by the industry’s marketing efforts.

“Wine is an incredible product, but it doesn’t always present itself in the most customer-friendly way,” Hoffman said. “People really appreciate the fact our wines come in a single-serving package, especially those who live alone. Instead of opening an entire bottle of wine and risking spoilage, they can open a can and have a glass of quality Anderson Valley pinot noir.”

For Allen of Two Shepherds, who has a loyal following among natural wine drinkers who covet his Old World-style small-lot wines, one of the biggest hurdles in selling canned wine is changing consumer mindset about cost. Allen, whose wines are among the most fairly priced in Sonoma County, said some consumers “balk at the price of an $8 can of wine.”

“They don’t understand that a 250-milliliter can is one-third of a $24 bottle of wine. And that’s a pretty good price for carignan from 75-year-old vines,” he said. “Some people are still used to bulk wines being sold at $4 a can.”

Drink now

With no oxygen transfer due to the absence of a cork, wine in cans isn’t designed to age, so they won’t get any better with time. While the science is still uncertain on the shelf life of canned wines, we recommend you enjoy them within one year of purchase. And for best results, keep the cans chilled or store them in a cool, dark place.

“Our canned wine from 2019 still tastes as fresh as a daisy,” said winemaker Joel Burt, who co-founded Las Jaras Wines in Sebastopol with Eric Wareheim. Waves, a sub-label of Las Jaras, focuses on playful wines in sparkly packaging, including a juicy zinfandel and petite sirah blend; a zinfandel carignan rosé; and a white blend with grüner veltliner, chenin blanc and chardonnay.

“I’m a fine-wine guy, so canned wines really didn’t make sense to me in the beginning,” Burt said. “But now, I think it’s really fun to explore making casual, delicious, low-alcohol wines. And I couldn’t be more excited.”

A can of “Bucking Luna” sparkling Cinsault-Carignan at Two Shepherds in Windsor. (Beth Schlanker/The Press Democrat)

Here are some of our favorite canned wine picks:

Two Shepherds — 2021 Bucking Luna, sparkling cinsault-carignan, $8 per can, twoshepherds.com

Maker Wine — Sparkling Sauvignon Blanc from Bodkin Wines, six cans for $48, makerwine.com/products/bodkin-sparkling-sauvignon-blanc

Waves from Las Jaras Wines — White Blend, $12 per can, bit.ly/3m02wXl

Sans Wine Company — Rosé of Carignan “Poor Ranch,” six cans for $60, sanswineco.com/product/rose

You can reach Staff Writer Sarah Doyle at 707-521-5478 or sarah.doyle@pressdemocrat.com.

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