Over the past five years, more producers have been putting wine in cans. You can find a wide range of quality from cheap, mass produced swill to high-end boutique wines, all in cans similar to energy drinks or beer. This summer will be the biggest year to date for canned wine. You can find it at big box stores, grocery stores, and even local wine shops.
Articles are popping up about the future of canned wine and how it’s a huge growth opportunity. Yes, it’s fun to drink wine from a can, but that alone won’t make canned wine a major market force. The biggest thing that sets canned wine apart is the introduction of alternative sizes.
It’s the Format that Counts
What canned wine does best is change the volume of wine per serving. Right now, the majority of wine comes in a 750ml bottle. This volume size is a real problem because 750ml of wine is way too much for the average person to drink in one sitting, especially on a week night. Even splitting a bottle of California or Argentinian wine (non-European wines tend to be higher in alcohol) is a lot for two people.
Let’s Do the Math
750ml bottle of California wine at 15% alcohol is the equivalent to 10 oz of vodka, gin, or whiskey. That’s about 5 stiff gin and tonics. In beer it comes to 7 Bud Lights or 5 bottles of Lagunitas IPA. Very few among us can drink that much on a Tuesday and then wake up at 6:30am to do yoga.
Canned wine comes in three main sizes; 250ml (Red Bull), 375ml (beer can), and 500ml (tall boy).
You Have to Drink the Wine in One Sitting
The flavor of wine starts changing dramatically when it interacts with oxygen. From the time you open a bottle of under $20 wine you only have a couple hours before the flavors are going to significantly fall apart. Yes, there are exceptions but there are not many.
For those of us that drink wine because we appreciate the flavor, drinking a day old bottle is disappointing. The flavors are just not the same.
There is even a famous French saying, “le vin est tiré il faut le boire,” which means, if you open the bottle, you have to drink it.
Why is a Wine Bottle 750mL?
Historians believe the only reason glass bottles are 750mL is because that is one full breath of a master glass blower. The first glass wine bottles ranged between 700mL and 800mL but the US standardized them in 1976.
It wasn’t even until the 1730s that wines were regularly stored in glass bottles. Before this, glass was too thin and delicate to effectively transport and store wine. The invention of coal burning ovens allowed glass blowers to create thicker, darker glass.
Only in the last 50 years did wineries start putting inexpensive wine in glass bottles. Traditionally, wine was sold in large vats. Every day, people would walk down to the corner store, buy some bread and fill up their wine. In restaurants, house wine came in carafes, which were filled from large, open containers. Only the most expensive, age-worth wines came in glass bottles.
Two Buck Chuck at Trader Joe’s helped push cheap wine into glass bottles. The founder of Branco Wine Co, the manufacturer of Two Buck Chuck, is Fred Franzia. Yes, Fred is related to that Franzia. He is also the nephew of Ernest Gallo, the founder of the largest wine company in the United States. Fred discovered that if he took his family’s cheap jug wine and put it in a glass 750mL wine bottle with a real cork, yuppies would go crazy for it.
Today, due to the decrease in bottling costs and standardization of wine storage at retail, almost all wines, regardless of price, quality, or age-worthiness, are packaged in 750mL bottles.
Another major factor is regulations. In the US it would be illegal to make a 850mL bottle of wine. There are very specific sizes producers are allowed to use. 50mL, 100mL, 187mL, 375mL, 500mL, 1L, 1.5L, and 3L. You can see the TTB regulations here. The only reason canned wine gets away with 250mL is because they sell them in 4-packs, which make 1L. You will never see 250mL cans sold individually.
High Quality Boxed Wine is Too Expensive
Boxed wine tried to solve the volume problem. Boxes are great because anyone that went to college quickly found out inside the box is a plastic bag (slap the bag!). That bag and spigot prevents oxygen from touching the wine, preventing oxidation. A “open” box of wine will remain unspoiled for over a month.
However, the big problem is a box of wine is 3L, which is 4 standard 750mL bottles. Many companies have tried putting high quality wine in boxes but there is a math problem; $25 per bottle x 4 bottles per box = $100 box of wine. Even if you save a few bucks with the packaging it’s still a $90 box of wine. They didn’t sell because it was too expensive and boxes just don’t look classy.
Canned Wine’s Value is the Unique Volume
In conclusion, canned wine is great because you can have 1.5 glasses of wine on a Tuesday without opening a whole bottle. You can split a 375mL wine with your significant other over dinner. You can go to town on a 500mL tall boy while binge watching Netflix.
It gives consumer more choices and helps make wine less stuffy. Will you ever see a Grand Cru Burgundy in a can? Probably not. But you will see a lot more Rosé, Sauvignon Blanc, and Pinot Griggio.
So grab a few cans of wine and bring them to your next picnic, house party, or my personal favorite, sneak them into the movie theater!