Canned wine receives unexpected praise at North Coast Wine Challenge
At the recent North Coast Wine Challenge (NCWC) there was an unexpected victor — a canned wine that won a gold medal with 96 points.
The Maker 2019 Mendocino, California Viognier, produced by Campovida Wines, surprised the judges when they sipped through a flight of canned wines.
“The score was because the wine was that good,” said judge and vintner Nick Goldschmidt. “I hope buyers stand behind this wine.”
Judge and wine writer Chris Sawyer agreed. Like Goldschmidt, Sawyer not only has an exceptional palate, but he’s brutally honest in his assessments about wine.
“It tasted better than 90% of the bottled viogniers that are currently available in the marketplace,” he said.
This viognier, Sawyer said, is one of the finest examples of the potential of canned wines.
The beauty of a blind tasting is that it tells the unmitigated truth. It has the ability to disrupt assumptions with a paradigm shift.
The high score and the judges’ sentiments made me curious. Could the rating signify a tipping point in canned wines? Are premium wineries and consumers no longer turning their noses up to a can format? And just who is behind this 96-point rating?
Cofounders Sarah Hoffman and Kendra Kawala, two upstart millennials, are behind Maker, a new company that cans premium wine and entered the viognier in the competition. They joined forces to instigate a canned wine revolution of sorts.
“The high score is incredible validation for us and our little company, but we want this (canned wine) to become a movement that’s much larger than ourselves,” said Hoffman, CEO of Maker.
Baby Boomers will be driving the wine market for roughly four more years, said COO Kawala. But, she explained, there’s a slow, generational changing of the guard to tech-driven millennials and Gen Z, those 21 and younger.
“They want something local, small-batch and something that has a human story,” Kawala said.
That echoes Maker’s motto on its website, makerwine.com: “Under-the-radar wine. Over-the-top stories. Small-batch wine made by unconventional people — in a can.”
The story Maker tells about the producer of the winning viognier — Campovida — is that its vintners are renegades of sorts. Husband-and-wife team Anna Beuselinck and Gary Breen quit their corporate jobs and cashed out their 401ks. In 2010 the couple bought Brown-Forman’s old Fetzer Valley Oaks property, a 50-acre overgrown farm and vineyard in Hopland, and took a chance on making viognier. The wine highlights the winery’s approach to terroir-driven, sustainable farming.
The viognier has won accolades in the past in the bottle format, but this is the first year a canned version has won awards.
“We’re thrilled to hear of the high score and the gold medal and also not surprised,” Beuselinck said. “We have such confidence in this beautiful wine and its expression. The award is a clear example that the quality of the wine is not limited by the container.”
Matt Hughes is the winemaker and the viognier is sourced from a single vineyard that has been farmed organically for more than two decades on the estate at Campovida.
“It’s a wine in its purest form without distractions such as new oak — just the grapes and their voice,” Beuselinck said.
Hoffman said the 96-point score is an “amazing data point. We’re putting our wines in prestigious wine competitions to show that cans as well as bottles can be a great format for premium wine.”
At this year’s Sunset International Wine Competition, this viognier also won a gold medal, with Maker’s 2019 Sparkling Sauvignon Blanc snagging a gold medal as well. At the International Women’s Wine Competition this year, Maker reeled in a gold for its 2018 Chenin Blanc.
This is the first year the North Coast Wine Challenge accepted canned wine entries, with three producers entering seven wines. Organizers expect to reel in more canned entries next year and plan to integrate them into the competition rather than keep them in a separate category.
“I think the correct observation here is that producers are stepping up and realizing there’s a demand for quality wine in a can,” said Daryl Groom, chief wine judge and partner of the competition. “My experience before was that most were California appellation and aimed at a cheaper price. With these it’s great to see a higher appellation.”
The quality in canned wine has markedly improved, according to Corey Beck, CEO of Geyserville’s Francis Ford Coppola Winery.
“Canned wine has gotten a lot better over the last few years and it’s because our industry is working together to share best practices,” he said. “One of them is using no to little oak and low SO2 (sulphur dioxide) levels.”