PENTICTON, British Columbia — At one point in Canadian beer history, almost all of the suds sold above the 49th parallel were in bottles. Tall, short or ‘stubby,’ glass was the industry standard.
Now? Nearly 90 percent of craft beer, except for large formats, is sold in cans, according to Evan Singer, national sales manager for Vessel Packaging Co., a leader in canning craft beverages.
Vessel Packaging, established eight years ago as West Coast Canning, now has five offices across Canada and is “invested in seeing cans take off in the wine market.”
“Cans are better vessels for many beverages. They’re light proof, the seam is better, they’re lighter and infinitely recyclable — more sustainable. An attractive and growing segment of the market is looking for sustainable alternatives,” says Singer, alluding to millennial and Gen Z wine drinkers.
The perception of a ‘tinny’ taste is fading away, though more consumer education is needed. As Singer explains, that convenient can holding your beverage is lined with an inert polymer. Liners have different ratings, are matched to the beverage inside and are rated for one year of dry storage. That means a canned wine is good for a single season.
“The shelf life is not the same as a bottle,” explains Singer. “There’s no oxygen in cans so they’re not meant for aging, and sulfites are not recommended. Not all wines should be canned.”
That said, if a winery knows its market well and recognizes the opportunity to expand its brand or create a new label, there are many possibilities.
“People are looking for wine that is more sustainable, and local is key to local consumers — not having something that has been shipped long distances,” says Singer. “And quality is key for any craft beverage.”
Sustainable from soil to sales at Stag’s Hollow Winery
All of those factors came together for Stag’s Hollow Winery in the southern portion of the Okanagan Valley in Okanagan Falls. After two years of discussions, coupled with trying other wines in cans and talks with their sales agents about the potential demand for wines in cans, Stag’s started canning.
“We felt we could come out at a good price and a higher quality product, then we talked to Vessel,” says Erin Korpisto, general manager at Stag’s Hollow, “and sustainability has been important from the beginning.”
Stag’s Hollow is a member of Sustainable Winegrowing British Columbia and has engaged agri-tech company Crush Dynamics in Summerland to transform materials left over from the winemaking process into a healthy food additive.
The winery canned its Muscat Frizzanté with Vessel, which also helped with the design of the slim 250-milliliter, multi-colored cans, generally sold in flats. In 2020, 400 flats of Stag’s Hollow Frizzanté sold out in a month. In 2021, their Syrah Rosé was available in cans, and the 2022 vintage of the winery’s Tragically Vidal — a double gold winner at the 2022 Cascadia International Wine Competition — will join them.
“The alcohol is a bit lighter, and these wines are great for active lifestyles and the ease of having them for outdoor activities,” says Korpisto, who points out that while younger demographics are coming for canned wines, there was a recent milestone 75th birthday party where the Frizzanté was a hit with all.
Those party hosts wanted to greet guests with a sparkling wine. Rather than deal with heavy bottles and popping corks, everyone was given a cold can of Frizzanté for this summer party. Skepticism about canned wine disappeared. Rumor has it that a few guests soon visited Stag’s Hollow to get their own flats.
Shipping flats of wine required some adjustments for those who bought online. After some trial and error, the simplest solution for shipping a flat turned out to be taping a second piece of cardboard from another flat to the top. Still, there is much less weight and packaging for the consumer to deal with.
“Sustainability is becoming so much bigger,” Korpisto says. “It might not be the driving force to purchase our wines in cans, but it is growing quickly. Once we tell people about the lower impact of canned wine, it builds brand loyalty.”
Jackson family’s Blue Grouse moves to ECO Series bottle
Vancouver Island winemaker Bailey Williamson of Blue Grouse Estate Winery and Vineyard near Duncan in the Cowichan Valley agrees that a winery’s sustainability efforts should go beyond education.
“When people are aware of our sustainability practices, it reinforces their loyalty and they will purchase again,” Williamson says. “Of course, we want that, but you should be doing it because it’s the right thing to do — not just to make hay from it.”
For Blue Grouse, one of the right things to do is use lighter glass. Another is to limit the types of bottles used for the final products. Those efforts were among the features that attracted the attention of several members of California-based Jackson Family Wines, who acquired Blue Grouse in December 2022. (Two members of the Jackson family also co-own the new Tributary Hotel in downtown McMinnville, Ore.)
“I’ve rationalized my glass to five styles, and almost all of it eco-friendly,” explains Williamson.
Because of their weight and often the need for long-distance transportation, bottles can be a winery’s single biggest greenhouse gas contributor. A solution is lightweight recycled glass from the Ardagh Group’s Seattle facility rather than standard glass that’s often sourced and shipped from overseas.
Ardagh, a global company with 65 production facilities, continues to expand the reach of its ECO Series sustainable bottle. This fall, Ste. Michelle Wine Estates, the Pacific Northwest’s largest wine company, announced that it will transition into the ECO Series.
That line uses 25 percent less glass than a typical wine bottle and requires less fuel to transport it. Plus, its production generates less carbon dioxide during manufacturing, further reducing a winery’s carbon footprint. And in the case of Blue Grouse, the majority of its wines are sold within a 100-kilometer radius of the winery.
Williamson visited the Seattle plant that manufactures his glass, describing its production as “cool to look at. It’s mesmerizing,” adding, “it means a lot to us to purchase it here and go see the facility. Quality control is a higher priority to us than the cost.”
Blue Grouse maintains a riparian area around a creek running through the property, uses soil sensors, drip irrigation and geothermal power; all are parts of its philosophy of stewardship that also includes screw caps — aluminum, therefore fully recyclable.
“Unless you are a serious collector, there’s no reason to always go for cork. And you can age wines under screw cap,” he says, adding, “We’re trying to do all of these things and be proud of it all on a small scale because everybody has to do their part — and make informed decisions.”
Okanagan Crush Pad embraces AstraPouch
Summerland’s state-of-the-art Okanagan Crush Pad has wines in cans. It also is experimenting with lightweight glass and a new screw cap capable of re-sealing a bottle of bubbly and keeping the effervescence lively for longer. And the OCP AstraPouches boast an 80 percent reduced carbon footprint vs. traditional glass bottles.
So, what exactly is an AstraPouch?
“It’s two bottles of wine in a pouch that stands up on its own, then flattens down to put in recycling,” explains Christine Coletta, co-owner and co-founder of Okanagan Crush Pad. Two of the family dogs, Bizou and Yukon, are featured on the Pooch Pouch packages and on cans of Pink Bubbles and Pink Rosé.
AstraPouches are lightweight and shatterproof. They cool down faster, stay fresh longer — up to a month after opening — and are easy to recycle.
“We need to leave behind the legacy of bad wine in bags,” Coletta says. “It’s the same quality as in the bottle, but it takes a long time to educate people. Think about how long it took us to learn about recycling. It takes time to change peoples’ perceptions, but younger consumers moving into wine consumption will be open to other (alternative) packaging.”
Crush Pad is soon to release 3,500 cases of its Narrative sparkling wine in a lighter bottle and underneath that inventive screw cap. The result is a reduction of 12 pounds per case of sparkling wine, potentially reducing the overall weight of this bubbly production by up to 36,000 pounds.
That weight will be removed from transportation emissions and will ultimately reduce the cost of a bottle of wine to the consumer.
Coletta’s winery also is looking into reducing its environmental impact by not bleaching its boxes and instead uses plain cardboard. It has already used stone paper “tree-free” labels. Okanagan Crush Pad sources from 320 acres of organic vineyards certified by ECOCert, and there are 15 acres dedicated to nature conservancy and 12 reverted to wetland. That effort includes integrative pest management with its three estate vineyards, which are organically farmed and certified. It also has joined the International Wineries for Climate Action (IWCA), becoming its first Canadian member.
“We have been accepted as an applicant member having committed to an ISO-14064 audited baseline greenhouse gas inventory,” Coletta explains. “We have a year to meet IWCA membership requirements and become a silver or gold level member.
“The best part is that we get to collaborate with some of the most prestigious and forward-thinking wineries around the world to explore and share best practices,” she added.
Williamson at Blue Grouse points out that while wine is a “vice,” he says, and maybe not everyone cares about the impact this particular vice has on sustainability, “We all have to do our little bit. That’s what matters.”
Founded in 2019 by Spain’s Familia Torres and California’s Jackson Family Wines, IWCA is a working group of wineries committed to reducing carbon emissions across the wine industry. The International Wineries for Climate Action also is a member of the United Nations Race to Zero campaign. Membership is open to any winery in any country that is involved in the production process from grape-growing to bottling, recognizes that climate change is a significant threat to the wine community and is willing to take action to accelerate innovative climate solutions.
IWCA employs a three-tiered membership system that allows for a diverse membership while following a science-based approach and strict requirements. More than 30 new member or applicant member wineries have joined since the organization was created. Okanagan Crush Pad in Summerland, British Columbia, is the only IWCA Canadian participant and is an Applicant Member.
Sustainable Winegrowing B.C. is an ongoing project of the B.C. Wine Grape Council, managing sustainability certification and providing educational resources and training to help vineyards and wineries establish sustainable practices. SWBC was created by a proactive team of wine industry volunteers in the province who gathered local knowledge and expertise and learned from programs in other winegrowing regions. Its goal to create a certification program is an effort that began in 2011 as a self-assessment program, with standards set by a governing industry panel. Grapegrowers and wineries from across British Columbia may participate as a vineyard or winery, or both, as the program offers two certification standards — the SWBC Vineyard Standard, applicable for grape-growing operations; and the SWBC Winery Standard, applicable for winemaking operations. Stag’s Hollow Winery completed winery certification in 2021.
ASTRAPOUCH® 1.5L Pouch
- Lightweight and shatterproof
- Easy to recycle while traveling
- Easy to open, easy to pour
- Pouches stand on their own without the need for cardboard support
- Fridge-friendly and quick-chilling
- Stays fresh for up to 4 weeks once opened
- 80% reduced carbon footprint over glass bottles