Just a decade ago, it was almost unheard of to consider drinking wine without a proper cork. But the economics (and convenience) of screwtops has challenged thousands of years of tradition. Even gourmet magazines have gotten comfortable with the occasional suggestion of a boxed *gasp* wine for parties.
But now, Oregon’s Union Wine Company is taking the budget bottling trend to its logical conclusion. They’ve put Pinot Noir and a Pinot Gris in a 12-ounce can (just like Pabst, Budweiser, or Miller Light). And while it will save the company an impressive 40% on its packaging costs versus bottles, the decision was as much about rebranding the wine drinking experience.
“We wanted to come up with a product that embodied our company’s philosophy of making great craft wine minus all the fuss,” explains Ryan Harms, owner of Union Wine Co. “There is a ‘winification’ of beer trend going on and Union Wine Co. is at the forefront of a new trend, the ‘beerification’ of wine.”
What Harms calls “winification” of beer is really the rise of craft brew as a beverage worthy of gourmet pomp and circumstance (and beer pairings). So how could wine possibly steal back from beer? It’s not just about adopting their iconic 12-ounce can; it’s about adopting that can without diluting the snobbery of the product within. While we consider cans anything but novel for beer, when it comes to craft beer, it’s only within the last few years that small breweries have adopted the cheaper packaging for its pricier, hop-laden brews. In the name of championing the little guy (and the practical benefits, like the fact that skunkifying light can’t penetrate aluminum like glass), craft beer has made the transition without alienating its fan base. There’s also an interesting psychological effect: Sipping saison from a can is an ironically plebeian luxury, much like ordering a gourmet burger or wearing a $200 pair of high tops.
“We want to be a part of those everyday celebrations,” Harms says. “That is a big part of our idea of ‘bringing Oregon to your table,’ thus these wines are more about immediacy, and the can is certainly an extension of that thinking.”
As for the wine’s aroma and flavor, how does that fare in a can?
That’s probably a topic better suited for a sommelier debate. But given that corks and screw tops both allow bottled wine to breathe (and thereby age beyond the bottling process), it would seem that wine in a can would miss out on much of that process. Despite our prodding, Harms would make no major claims either way, but he feels strongly that his young, fruit-forward wines are excellent candidates for the casual wine drinker, and that these wines will still benefit from a bit of extra time on the shelf, wrapped in aluminum or glass.
Union Wine Co. will be releasing the cans next year for $5 apiece. (In terms of milliliters, that’s about the equivalent of a $10 bottle.)