The Industry's Latest Controversy: Canned Wine
Updated: Apr 29
First came the screw cap, and smelly old wine dudes lost their mind. Some forty years later, canned wine is introduced and the same chaotic energy of wine snobs losing their mind resurfaced. You may have heard that canned wine is lower in quality, not as delicious, and cheaply made. It's a drink that should be enjoyed poolside but shouldn't be taken seriously beyond that.
Even the Washington Post published an article in 2017 that belittled the canned wine industry, stating that it was a perfect vessel for "non-pretentious wine like Rosé." Ouch?? Don't even get me started on how much that personally hurts my feelings.
But not even four years after that article published, sales for canned wine went from $15 million dollars in 2016 to $183.6 million in 2020 and continues to be one of the fastest-growing packaging types. It's not only cheaper for the winemaker to produce canned wine, but consumers are able to drink more wine in one session. Canned wines clock in at roughly two glasses of wine per can. Plus, you type in "canned wine" into Google, and you'll run into article after article stating "15 of the Best Canned Wines you Have to Try this Summer!"
So if this is an industry that only continues to grow and succeed, why is it regarded as "lower-tier" among it's more traditional, bottled competition?
History of Wine in a Can
The novel idea of serving wine in a can as we know it today emerged in the early 2000's. The first can was technically introduced to the U.S by the Francis Ford Coppola Winery in 2004, although it has been noted that wine in a can has been around since the prohibition era. During the 1920's, the industry was going through a lot more trials and tribulations than we are today. A lot of customers were complaining that it tasted metallic and tainted, which later led to its decline.
Some 60 years later, canned wine sees a resurgence. A guy named Wayne R. Downey wanted to jazz up the wine industry and make it fun (which, like same so I feel you). Coca-Cola even got in on the action, buying out one of the largest wine producers in the country at the time. Instead of marketing direct to consumer, Coke went after the airline industry, making the argument that cans are more economical, more space-friendly, and overall a better option for those settling in to long flights. Unfortunately, America was still like, nah, these don't taste good. So the can was canned.
The industry went back to the drawing board and looked to our canned wine pioneer kings and queens to learn from their prototypes. After restructuring the cans to get rid of the taste of metal and taint, the industry began to take off. It truly wasn't until 2019 that we saw a spike in popularity, when the amount of winemakers canning their wine jumped 180 percent.
The Argument for Canned Wine
So the winemakers were able to clean up the idea and present the public with a great tasting product. But, the wine itself is only one piece of the puzzle. A major contributor to canned wine's success is, say it with me, Millennials. Through the ages, drinking wine has become less of a spectacle in itself, making the vessel in which we drink it in less important.
Essentially, a lot of the joy of drinking canned wine comes down to the experience you want to have. Those that are looking to sit back and enjoy everything that an amazing wine has to offer might want to opt into putting it in a glass. It's much harder to extract certain flavors, smells, and sensations (such as acidity or tannin), since the aluminum can tends to mute these impressions.
However, canned wine was largely invented as a means of making life easier, rather than producing the World's Greatest Glass of Wine.
As we've learned, the up and coming wine drinking generation (AKA Millennials and Gen Z) are more interested in having a good time than spending a ton of money on material things. Canned wine solves that problem. We are now able to go to a picnic, plan a beach day, or hang out by the pool without having to lug around a glass bottle and vessels to pour them in. They are easy to pack in your bag and to well, conceal, if it comes down to it.
The Bottom Line
It's interesting to look back at the history of canned wine and compare it to its rising success in today's market. It feels like canned wine has gone through its own series of waves, becoming extremely popular in certain eras only to die out in others.
So what do you all think? It's clear that we are currently experiencing a resurgence. But is it here to stay, or is it destined to lie in the wine-graveyard alongside it's predecessor, the elusive wine-cooler?