In summer 2016, wine lovers have a smart new slogan: Yes, we can.
Which is to say that wine in a can, an idea that has been attempted in the States since at least the 1980s, when soda companies tried their hand in the wine game, is back. In the past, the idea never achieved escape velocity, probably because cans represent everything that wine in that era — with its raised pinkies and gauzy “Morning in America”-esque Gallo ads — wasn’t supposed to be.
This time, it might be different, for one big reason: rosé, which has deflated some of the snobbery and generally made wine more user-friendly. Canned rosé is one of those perfect summer ideas, and a handful of choices have appeared in various markets across the country. In the Washington area, the easiest to find is the Underwood pinot noir rosé from Oregon’s Union Wine, which has been turning out affordable pinot-based wines for years. Union also has a canned red pinot noir — perhaps a less-smart idea, because cheaper versions of that grape can sometimes evoke a sardine-tin flavor — plus a pinot gris and a sparkling wine. The rosé is the smart call.
The roster is growing. Crucially, cans are coming not from Coca-Cola (which divested itself of wine in the early 1980s) or large wine companies such as Constellation Brands, although the very large Wine Group, based in Livermore, Calif., which sells brands such as Cupcake, offers its FlipFlop wines in cans. Put your money on big guys canning dry rosé before long.
Today’s wine-can era was arguably pioneered by the larger Francis Ford Coppola Winery (nee Niebaum-Coppola), which in 2004 released its popular Sofia sparkling blanc de blancs, named for the director’s daughter, in 187-milliliter cans. Sofia might have been ahead of its time; this being before the “brosé” era, it clearly targeted female customers who may not have loved the slender fuschia-colored package. But it continues to be featured on supermarket shelves.
For the moment, most efforts are from small, high-quality wineries, which makes a difference when your target audience is millennial drinkers who have zero memory of 30-year-old trends and don’t love large corporations. In Paso Robles, Calif., Field Recordings winery owner Andrew Jones launched Alloy Wine Works to focus on cans; his Fiction rosé made a splash last summer. So did the Infinite Monkey Theorem, a Denver winery that markets cans in Colorado.
Those inspired one of the more novel efforts this year: a slightly fizzy rosé from Dos Cabezas Wineworks in Sonoita, Ariz., made mostly of grenache from the Cimarron Vineyard, high in the desert plains in nearby Cochise County. Winemaker Todd Bostock created his own, which will be sold in New York and Arizona for $12.50 in a decorative tallboy can with a rose on the front, after taking cans of Infinite Monkey on a Colorado camping trip.
“There’s all these places that beer gets to go that wine should get to go, too,” Bostock says, which brings us to the obvious inspiration for these efforts. The craft beer world has learned how to can better beer, such as El Hefe Speaks from local DC Brau and Dale’s Pale Ale from Oskar Blues Brewery in Colorado. With canning technology becoming less expensive and winemakers occasionally borrowing their brewer friends’ equipment, it makes sense that small-production wine would follow suit.
The concern is that canned wine’s grass-roots revival will be overtaken by more cynical efforts and turned into just another momentary trend. Already, a handful of projects have appeared that seem born more out of the marketing department than the barrel room. Consider the Drop, a canned rosé devised by a recent business-school graduate and canned by a custom-bottling facility in Lodi, Calif. It’s named for a surfing term and destined for New York this summer, particularly the Hamptons, although it seems equally likely to show up in the free fridge of a tech startup.
It’s not that momentary fads don’t work. The Drop follows in the spirit of White Girl Rosé, a huge hit last year even after its co-creator, Instagram wonder Josh Ostrovsky, a.k.a. the Fat Jew, had his career summarily dismantled for “unauthorized use” of other comedians’ jokes. It’s more that we don’t need the Axe body spray of pink wine. And wine in a can is too good an idea to fall to fad.
That hardly means it has to be serious. Perhaps the season’s best idea has been from Hoxie Spritzer, a Los Angeles company that makes what we’ll call an artisan wine cooler. Hoxie founder Joshua Rosenstein has begun to sell its cans in California and New York. The spritzers, made mostly from hybrid grapes, are fermented and blended in Missouri — as if Arizona rosé wasn’t novel enough — with natural flavorings of lemon, ginger and linden blossom. What’s most surprising? It’s fully dry, the flavors subtly blended rather than obvious.
Hoxie offers further evidence that we can, so to speak, enjoy canned wine thoughtfully. That might be why Bostock is already devising his next project: a can containing a full liter of champagne-style wine. “The can magnum,” he says. And why not?
Bonné, a former wine columnist for the San Francisco Chronicle, is a senior editor at Punch and the author of “The New California Wine: A Guide to the Producers and Wines Behind a Revolution in Taste” (Ten Speed Press, 2013). He’ll join Wednesday’s Free Range chat at noon: live.washingtonpost.com. Dave McIntyre will return next week.