A new wave of innovative wine brands are shaking up the stuffy $340 billion business
Wine brands are rethinking packaging and considering environmental impact to give the drink a fresh feel.
The wine market is changing. The pandemic, and the supply chain chaos that has followed it, has caused sales to fluctuate and the cost of importing wine to balloon. And while our economies have largely opened up, a looming cost of living crisis could see wine sales dip again. Climate change and extreme weather events are also making it more difficult to produce wine.
These are big problems — and it has led a number of young brands to rethink what business as usual looks like in the wine industry. Their workarounds include everything from experimenting with packaging, moving away from bottles to formats that are less impactful and cheaper to ship, to coming up with ways to build excitement around surplus wine that’s too good to blend away into table wine. For this category dive, we have curated a list of 17 brands that are doing things differently in the world of wine, and we asked four to go deeper with us into their approach.
Launched in May 2022, Djuce is a brand that sells wine in aluminum cans, with artist-designed labels.
The can is a format that’s becoming more popular in the world of wine. According to Nielsen data, canned wines represented $10 million of the total wine market in 2014; by 2019, that figure was $70 million. By 2025, it’s estimated that wine in cans will account for 10% of the industry’s sales.
The can has a number of advantages over the bottle, says Djuce’s cofounder Philip Marthinsen. One is environmental — “if you go from heavy glass bottles to cans, you can reduce the CO2 impact by 80% on the packaging level,” Marthinsen says — but the can also opens up a number of new ways to enjoy wine, which might appeal to younger drinkers. The can itself is a blank canvas for visual expression, meaning it can be more eye-catching than a bottle. And because the can is a grab-and-go format, it's easier to pick up for a picnic or drink at a festival.
Convincing people to give cans a go can be tricky, especially given the first wave of wines sold in a can were not always the best quality. But Marthinsen is confident this attitude will change, given the can’s success in other categories. “Ten years ago, there were only cheap beers in the can. Then all of a sudden all of the cool, hip, premium beers are in the can,” he says. “The consumer had accepted the can as a format for premium products in beer, and we thought they could do it for wine as well.”
The idea for Wasted Wine Club came about in 2020, when Angelo Van Dyk was visiting a friend and winemaker in South Africa, where he grew up. There they tried a wine from 2018 that was surplus and unable to be sold. “It was still in great nick,” says Van Dyk. “It got me asking the question, how often do winemakers end up in this scenario where they have excess wine?”
If demand from retailers falls unexpectedly, winemakers can end up with excess supplies of quality wine. This predicament was a huge problem during COVID, which the European wine trade group Comité Européen des Entreprises Vins says resulted in a 50% drop in value of the EU wine market. In South Africa, the sale of alcohol was banned for months in an attempt to stop the spread of the virus, resulting in surplus wine.
Excess wine can be used to make cheaper, bulk blends — but Van Dyk felt it would be too much of a shame to do this to the good-tasting wine his friend had made. So he bottled it up into a limited run of 1,000 bottles of white wine and 400 bottles of red. Another collaboration is in the works; it will again be extremely limited, with less than 1,000 bottles expected.
“The starting point is that this wine is an excess, but I don’t just want to buy any old wine,” explains Van Dyk. “I want to make sure it’s something that is still interesting and delicious, and that we will be able to shift.”
Boxed wine doesn’t have the best reputation in the U.S. — but that doesn’t mean the format should be written off, says Aaron Moore, the cofounder of wine brand Gratsi.
Gratsi originally launched in 2019 selling bottled wine. But during the pandemic, which shuttered the hospitality businesses that made up a big chunk of Gratsi’s customers back then, the founders decided to pivot. Since Spring 2021, Gratsi has sold 3 liter boxes of wine — containing the equivalent of four 750ml bottles — directly to consumers through its website.
“The box does have a stigma of being a down-market product,” says Moore, who agrees that often wine that is packaged in this format tends to be on the lower end of the quality scale. But that's not to say you can't put better quality wine in the box.
“You don’t really need a bottle unless you’re planning on aging wine, and most wines made today aren’t meant to be aged,” he explains. “They’re meant to be drunk fresh — and [the box] is a better format for that.”
In Europe it’s common to find quality wine packaged in boxes. In France, bag-in-box accounts for almost half of wine sales in supermarkets, while in Scandinavia it’s thought that more than 60% of wine is sold in this format.
Boxed wine stays fresh for up to 45 days once the first glass has been poured, because of the way oxygen is restricted from getting inside the bag. It’s also a good option for gatherings, Moore says, given that it’s portable and contains several bottle's worth of wine. The next morning, instead of dealing with a bunch of glass bottles, you just have a cardboard box and plastic pouch to dispose of.
The most effective way a winemaker can convince people to buy their bottles is to get them to actually taste the wine and see what the fuss is all about. The problem is, says A Glass Of founder Paul Taylor, is “it’s getting harder to convince someone to drive down the dusty road to the vineyard.”
In 2019, A Glass Of launched selling single glasses of wine in foil pouches. It solves a problem for both winemakers who want people to try their wines, and also consumers, who might be interested in wine but aren’t sure enough about what they like to splurge on an expensive bottle.
“There was a gap in the market for people who wanted to try interesting wines and support independent makers, but didn’t want to pay the price of a bottle and then go ‘oh, I didn’t like that’,” Taylor says. Being able to buy wine in pouches, he figured, could “de-risk” the process. “Our customer is not someone who reads wine bibles and blows the dust off the bottle. It’s a younger demographic,” Taylor explains.
To further take the pressure off wannabe wine drinkers who aren’t sure where to start, A Glass Of only sells its pouches in packs of five. The selection is curated by a sommelier, who then nominates a sommelier to take over for them when it’s time to curate a new list. A Glass Of has curated two selections so far, and is currently in the process of preparing a third.