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Posted: Monday, 17 August 2020 19:10

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WIC: Wines in Cans have 85-year old History

Aug 17: Sula in India introducing Wine-in-Can (WIC) at SulaFest 2019, to be followed soon by Fratelli might give the impression that it is a relatively new concept but it was first experimented 85 years ago, according to Allan Green, Competition Director of the International Canned Wine Competition, who traces the history and evolution of WIC since 1935, writes Subhash Arora who believes that the current entry level wine quality notwithstanding, canned wines might have a good market in India because of the convenience and lower costs of imported cans

Allan Green is the Competition Director for the International Canned Wine Competition held last month for which the Results were announced last Friday.  He helped organize the first Mendocino County Fair Wine Competition in 1979, and the Canned Wine Competition last year, where Dr. Robert Williams Jr. is a Lead Judge. Allan became interested in the history of canned wines and since 1980 he has had a collection of more than 1,700 different wine cans going back as far as the 1930’s.

History of Canned Wines

Contrary to the general impression that Wines in Cans (WIC) is a recent phenomenon, experiments with canned wine had started at the same time when first beer cans were introduced in 1935, though it has become very popular since 2012With a small sales base of $2 million in 2012, the global WIC segment has jumped over 90 times in 8 years with sales of about 1.8 million cases in 2019 recording a jump of 68% over previous year alone. About 450 wineries in 22 countries including India are now using cans for packaging.

Early Days

Acampa Brand California Muscatel from Acampa Winery in Lodi, California was one of the first wines packaged in cans. These were flat-top steel cans that required an opener, ‘church key’ to punch holes in the top.  Smile with Vin-tin-age California Muscatel, Port, Sherry and Tokay, canned in Elk Grove, California introduced in 1936 depicted a man in bow- tie and wing collar, lifting his glass in salute.

About the same time Bear Creek Vineyards canned four wines: Muscatel, Angelica, Port, and Sherry.  Roma Wine Company, also in Lodi, came out with Muscatel. These were all fortified wines containing about 20% alcohol. Many of these wines were inherently unstable, but the cans were blamed for spoiling the wine, and few fresh attempts were made for almost 20 years.

In the 1940s Wine Packaging Corporation of Stockton, California released Sweet Adeline California Port Wine. The cans were crown-capped with low profile cone-shaped tops and paper labels. In 1954 three wines were introduced in high profile cone top cans. Yosemite Winery in Madera, California sold Carina Kan-o-wine California White Port, Port and Sherry (also 20% abv). Imperial Wine Company in Hartford, Connecticut, canned Kosher Mother Goldstein New York State with Concord Grapes, sweetened with excess sugar and in three sizes, including a quart (slightly less than a liter) can.  None of these products were successful and were discontinued. During the next 10 years, wine canning attempts were limited and the market tests were all short-lived.

Cans outside the US

The first wine canned outside the United States was perhaps from Australia, a 13 oz. (385 mL) flat-top steel can with a paper label. About the same time a French 350 mL steel can of Bordeaux Superieur from Bernard Caillan appeared.

A few years later Courtivin Wine Merchants of Macon, France, exported 12 oz. (360 mL) cans of 1964 Château de Charmes Beaujolais Superieur to the United States. This trial was soon discontinued, but in around 1971 the French again tried selling canned wine in the U.S., specifically a 12 oz. can that contained a red wine labelled Beaujolais. This product sold for some time before being discontinued.

The first extended marketing of white wine in cans came about in the late 1970s courtesy of producers in Australia. Venezuela and Argentina also joined the race. From Argentina came Peñaflor Vino Tinto, a red wine in a striking modern punch top steel can.

The French abandoned the U.S. market for canned wine in 1981 but test- marketed a pair of 330 mL Aluminium cans in England.  The brand name of this matched pair, vin blanc and vin rouge, was La Sonelle, a French vin-de- table specially selected for the can.

E Tu England

These wines were released again in England in 1982, in a redesigned tall 250 mL can. English producers followed suit, importing European wines either in bulk to be canned in England or in cans expressly designed and filled for the producer.  These included St. Michael Hock (German Table Wine), Italian Red and White Table Wine as well as Nicolas French Red and French White Wine, imported by Grants of St. James. It wasn’t long before every major supermarket chain in England had a complete line of imported wine in cans bearing their logo.

A special mention needs to be made of The Uncommon winery near London, that was started only in 2018 and cans all its wines- 11.5% alcohol for wines and bubblies and 5.5% alcohol for Spritzers. Designed mainly for the young millennials, the Cans are all very attractively packaged. They had sent 4 samples to the Competition and all of them won Gold Medals. They also won the packaging prize. It sends the right signals for the future of canned wines though at over £5 a Can for an 8 or 16 pack online at the winery, they are not cheap; perhaps the most expensive wines in the pack.

Italy joins in

The Italian wine industry jumped into the bandwagon in 1983, marketing Giacobazzi Red, White and Rosé table wine as well as Cavicchiolo Vino Frizzante Bianco and Rosso, along with many other brands, in short and squat 250 mL cans, with 3 cans as the equivalent of a regular bottle.

In 2007, Paris Hilton created an uproar by posing nude for the Can that had Paris Hilton Prosecco from a producer Rich Prosecco. Considered as sheer sensationalism to wine a product, the Prosecco producers had raised a strong note of dissent. Nevertheless, it was a nice packaging, and the brand created flutters till the excitement lasted.

Resurgence through Wine Coolers

WIn 2006, Paris Hilton created an uproar by posing nude for the Can that had Paris Hilton Prosecco from a producer Rich Prosecco. Considered as sheer sensationalism to wine a product, the Prosecco producers had raised a strong in ve widespread distribution were 12 oz. cans of Lite Red and Lite White Wine Coolers, produced by Villa Bianchi Winery in Kernan, California.  The original design was replaced but the cans were distributed nationally with good success.  Other wine coolers began to appear and the cooler craze was on.  Other notable canned coolers were Steidl’s Red and White Wine Cooler (produced by Canada Dry) and Canada Cooler from Casabello Wines, British Columbia, Canada, introduced in 1984.

Wine Cans in the Air

In 1980, Taylor California Cellars joined hands with United Airlines for an in-flight test of 6.3 oz. (187 mL) cans of Burgundy and Chablis. The cans had obvious functional advantages: they were lighter and more compact than bottles, so they cost less to carry aboard. In early 1982 Delta Air Lines decided to serve canned wines on all their flights. But passengers did not care much for the cans and it was not long before both airlines discontinued them and were back to serving wine in bottles. 

Fits and Starts

Shortly thereafter Taylor California Cellars began test marketing their Burgundy and Chablis as well as a Rosé in cans in supermarkets in a few areas. Eventually they were sold in many parts of the U.S., accounting for 1% of Taylor’s sales. Another winery to test 6.3 oz. cans on store shelves was Geyser Peak Winery in Geyserville, California. Their Summit brand Burgundy and Chablis were marketed extensively in Sacramento, California starting in 1981 with 100,000 cases sold, but the project was dropped after the winery was sold.

In 1982 Villa Bianchi Winery followed its successful wine coolers with 6.3 oz. (187 mL) cans of Chablis, Burgundy and Vin Rosé d’Casa. These cans were sold in 45 states, giving Villa Bianchi the widest distribution of canned wine to that point.

Innovative Australian vintners focused on canned wines. Greg Stokes sold 30,000 cans of Iron Bridge Cabernet Shiraz in Australia in 1998. He then teamed up with Steve Barics to form Barokes Wines based in South Melbourne. They spent nine years developing and patenting the Vinsafe canning technology, which assures stability of premium varietal wines and a shelf life of at least five years. Their 250 ml. cans are distributed in Asia, Europe, Canada, New Zealand and Australia.

Current Era of Portable Canning

The release of Niebaum-Coppola’s Sofia Mini Blanc de Blancs sparkling wine in 2004, in a stylish pink aluminium can complete with an attached straw, brought out the current wave of canned wines in the United States.  Since then literally hundreds of producers have brought out wine in cans (WIC). The availability of portable canning lines made it possible for boutique wineries to can small batches, breaking the domination of the market by the large producers with in-house canning lines.  

The Infinite Monkey Theorem Urban Winery in Denver, Colorado introduced a line of canned wine in 2011, modestly described as "ridiculously good wine in a can."  Since the release of the original line they have redesigned the fronts of their cans and added two Bubble Universe sparkling wines, Sauvignon Blanc and a Peach Bellini.

Some of the earliest vintage dated varietal wines of the recent wave came from Field Recordings Winery in Paso Robles California, which tested their first cans in October 2014. The Underwood line of canned wines from the Union Wine Company in Oregon has become a leader in the field, achieving extensive distribution nationally.

Second International Canned Wine Competition

70 producers from all over the world sent in a total of 226 entries for the second edition that took place on 21-23 July 2020, maintaining Social Distancing, with Allan Green as the Competition Director and Dr. William as the Lead Judge. Wines were submitted from Argentina, Australia, Austria, Brazil, Canada, Chile, England, France, Germany, Hungary, Italy, New Zealand, Portugal, South Africa, and Spain and several parts of the U.S.A. 

The third edition will be held on July 20-22, 2021 at the Mendocino County Fairgrounds in Boonville, California. Entry fee is $40 per label before June 20 and $50 after June 20, 2021. Registration opens on January 12 and closes on July 10, 2021. For any query or details, contact directly competitions@parkstreet.com

For earlier related Articles, visit

Fratelli may soon lead Wine-in Can (WIC) Segment in India

SulaFest 2020: Sula introduces Dia Wine-in-Can (WIC) bubblies

Subhash Arora

For the uninitiated wine lovers, Burgundy, Chablis, Chianti, Port, Sherry Tokay, Beaujolais etc. were the type of wines that were ubiquitous in those days-till EU took stern steps and had the use banned with Geographic Indications in place. Today it is illegal to use those terms anywhere in the world except where the areas have been defined and registered. In fact, even production of wine in Friuli Venezia Giulia, Italy and Alsace in France using Tokai grapes was also banned by the European Union in 2007 as the GI was awarded to Tokay in Hungary. DelWine acknowledges the efforts of Allan Green for the wonderful nuggets of history of WIC he has collected and disseminated the information, and sharing the pictures of various cans-editor

 

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