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Can wine be enjoyed from a can?

No cork. No corkscrew. And, if you prefer, no glass.

While canned wines have been available for several years from the West Coast and Europe, they’re just starting to spring from the vines in the Finger Lakes region.

Bellangelo on Seneca Lake is trying out its rose and Moscato wines in cans.
Bellangelo on Seneca Lake is trying out its rose and Moscato wines in cans.

Bellangelo, overlooking Seneca Lake  in Dundee, Yates County, started canning wine in its Can Do line two or three months ago and became the first winery in the Finger Lakes to use cans. Others, including Lakewood Vineyards  near Watkins Glen, and Fox Run Vineyards in Penn Yan, are about to release some of their 2017 vintages in cans, looking to capitalize on a niche market.

Wineries say cans offers a wine experience that‘s more portable, fitting more easily into a picnic basket or a golf bag than does a glass bottle with the necessary accoutrements. Besides providing a container that goes places a wine bottle cannot—namely beaches and outdoor musical venues where glass is prohibited—canned wine may also appeal to a different customer than the one who reveres the experience of being able to sniff the cork.

“We wanted to develop a brand that could reach a younger wine drinking audience,” said Christopher Missick, winemaker at Bellangelo.  Having lived for years in Huntington Beach, Calif., with its year-round access to the beach, Missick said he was aware of canned wines and the potential they could offer for active lifestyles. But his winery also wanted to try something new to attract younger wine drinkers. Among the restaurants the winery has targeted for debuting its canned wine is Radio Social, the dining and entertainment venue that attracts a mostly millennial crowd.

Indeed, Bob Powell, store manager of Century Liquors in Pittsford, said it seems to be younger people who comes into the store asking for a canned wine.

“I get the sense they are folks headed to concerts or parks or parties. We tend to sell a lot of cans the day before a concert at Canandaigua,” Powell said, referencing the Constellation Brands Marvin Sands Performing Arts Center.

But cans are still few and far between on local shelves. It’s nothing like the experience Gary Carr, co-owner of BNA Wine Group in Napa Valley, Calif., had recently when visiting stores in Colorado.

“These stores have full sections dedicated to cans. They’re clearing out eight-foot sections,” Carr said.

Yet when he did tastings in Florida stores recently, customers were shocked to find wine is available in a can, he said.  “I don’t think the consumer is 100 percent aware of the category or is aware of putting wine in a can right now,” Carr said.

That’s about to change. Nielsen data released in January of this year showed that canned wine makes up a tiny percentage of wine sold in the United States—about two-tenths of a percent. But cans are the fastest-growing container, with a 59.5 percent increase in dollars spent on canned wine since the previous year.

“We’re on our third canning right now to keep up with it. It’s really taking off for us,” Carr said.

A few brands of wines in cans (none local) are available in larger wine and liquor stores in Rochester.

“We carry over 500 New York wines here,” said Century’s Powell. “We’re very supportive of the New York wine industry. I have not yet seen any of those (canned varieties from New York) arrive in our store, Powell said.

Whitehouse Liquor & Wine in Henrietta last week was carrying wine in cans by Underwood from Oregon, Sofia from Italy, and Lila from both Italy and France.  Century is carrying similar brands. Nielsen has identified Underwood as the market leader in canned wines.

Bellangelo and Butternut both are offering their wines in 375-milliliter cans. Those are just slightly larger than the standard 350 ml. can for beer, and they hold an amount equivalent to half a standard wine bottle or two glasses of wine.

Pricing at about $7 a can of that size is on par with bottles of wine selling for $14 to $15.

Whitehouse Liquor was selling Lila wine four-packs of 185 ml, or close to 8.5 ounces each. The pricing correlated with a bottle of wine selling for less than $10.

Despite the value pricing, consumers should not believe that canned wine is plonk.

“I relax on a boat. I know people who golf. All of these people like chardonnay. … They want to see real good wine in a can. I think of the can as similar to what screw caps used to be,” said Scott Osborn, president and co-owner of Fox Run Vineyard.

“Some people who are traditionalists will look at cans as strictly a gimmick,” Missick said, but several wine experts agreed that cans will be welcomed eventually just as screw-top wine bottles have been.

Century’s Powell said he tasted some canned wines in anticipation of being interviewed for this article and found they all stood up well to bottled counterparts, especially the Underwood Pinot Noir.

BNA WIne group in Napa Valley has launched three varieties of wine in cans under its Butternut label
BNA Wine group in Napa Valley has launched three varieties of wine in cans under its Butternut label.

Butternut’s Carr said he wouldn’t risk his winery’s reputation by putting something lesser in a can.

Cans have some advantages over glass—they’re lighter for one thing. That saves the backs of winery workers who carry cases up from the cellar of the winery to the tasting room.

Missick said a case of bottled wine weighs about 35 pounds. A similar volume of canned wine weighs slight more than half of that or18 pounds.

“It’s just one of the things that attracted me to cans as a packaging material alternative,” Missick said.

Unlike bottles, cans let in no light or oxygen, which both can damage the wine. While both cans and glass bottles are recyclable, it may be easier for consumers to recycle lightweight cans made of more valuable aluminum.

In terms of can cons, if you’re in a situation where you don’t have a glass and must drink out of the can, you can’t smell the wine very well.

“So much of the wine-drinking experience is the nose—the aroma,” Powell said. But wine drinkers can reclaim it by pouring the wine out of the can and into a glass.

Also, the cans only come in small sizes, designed to serve one or two people, not a full table.

Still, while cans may save waste in restaurants when diners would prefer to buy wine by the glass, they might be eschewed in places where the wine service is a big deal, from the display of the unopened bottle, to the uncorking and presentation of the cork, to that first taste before the buyer nods that it’s OK to serve the wine to the table. That wouldn’t work with a single-serving can.

“There are probably certain restaurants out there that might carry wine in a can. Others, it might not fit into the ambiance. We wouldn’t actively approach those restaurants unless they called us,” Osborn said.

Cans will never replace bottles to any significant extent, winemakers said. They see them sharing shelves with wine, without knocking too many bottles off the shelves.

Said Osborn, who expects a mobile canning operation to visit his winery in August to can three varieties of wine, “It just gives another way of drinking wine.  I don’t see it replacing anything. It’s just an addition.”

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