HENRIETTA — Cracking open a can of wine might seem like a criminal offense to many traditional wine enthusiasts, but its growth is not being ignored in New York.
That was evidenced by an afternoon session on both the potential and the pitfalls of canned wines during B.E.V. NY, the state’s annual conference for the grape and wine industry, held last week at the Rochester Inn and Convention Center. The event was organized by the Cornell University’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.
Two Finger Lakes winery representatives, Christopher Missick, winemaker at Villa Bellangelo and Peter Bell winemaker at Fox Run Vineyards, as well as Rootstock Cider cidermaker Alex Robb, talked about their forays — some good, some not-so-good — into canned wine products before a packed crowd of wine industry professionals who may themselves be pondering a future in something other than bottles.
While the canned wine market is just a fraction of the overall U.S. wine industry, Nielsen data indicates it’s now a $45 million business, thanks to millennial drinkers.
Canned wine sales grew 43 percent from 2017 to 2018, according to BW 166, a firm that researches alcoholic beverage trends.
Along with Fox Run, Bellangelo is one of the first in the Finger Lakes region to give canned wine a shot, and they’re doing it with a different marketing focus, including “places where people (traditionally) drink beer,” such as golf courses and music and social events.
The wine is loved by many for its convenience and portability, but skeptics remain over the ability to maintain quality in such packaging.
And then there’s the labeling question, said Missick. It may be worth creating canned products with new branding. In Bellangelo’s case, they created the Can Do line of bottled wines in 375 ml sizes.
Another question is the limited price points. Missick said it’s difficult to put more expensive wines such as chardonnay in a can and expect to get a decent return.
Instead, he said, they’ve come up with some “value-conscious alternatives” to serve a market that includes younger people and non-traditional wine drinkers.
“Pick your budget wine,” advised Fox Run’s Bell, who explained that in that winery’s case, that is Cayuga.
While they’ve been in the canned wine business just a short time, said Missick, “demand was a lot higher than we ever expected.”
Taste quality appears to be a concern for some, and Missick noted a “perception of drying out” of product in cans. Others sipping canned wine samples at the gathering noted “bitter components” in some varieties.
Missick said the industry has some work to do in identifying the best wine types for cans, noting that “consumers are drinking these differently than they do bottled wine.”
That means, said Fox Run’s Bell, people drinking from straws straight out of the cans, which have about two traditional servings.
“They may not get those aeromatics (from drinking out of a wine glass) and (we) might need to go for sweeter (varieties),” said Missick.
Meanwhile, Rootstock Cider’s Robb said the Williamson cidermaker has gone exclusively to cans.
With shelf life a concern for winemakers, Robb said his ciders should be good for about 180 days, but noted that “dry products do not last as long in a can.”