As the saying goes, “The numbers don’t lie.” When a canned wine brand grows more than 50 percent in a year, it’s clear that something is working. Whether it’s the wine’s terroir, packaging, price point or a combination of things, Union Wine Co. is listening to consumer demand and responding in turn.
The company first started canning its Underwood brand of wines in 2014. In the past 12 months, sales of the brand have increased by 52 percent, according to Ryan Harms, founder and owner of the Tualatin, Ore.-based winery. Building on the brand’s success, the company expects to continue its growth by putting 55 percent of its wine into cans.
“We attribute this success to the portability, recyclability and cost-efficiency of putting wine in cans as well as the explosive growth of the canned wine category,” Harms says. “Canned wine costs approximately 40 percent less to package compared to the equivalent 9-liter case of wine in glass bottles. Putting wine in a can not only saves on packaging costs, but also opens up the wine-drinking experience to places where it had previously been difficult, such as outdoor events or when portability is needed. We’re seeing a really positive consumer response to this.”
Considering the canned wine market’s significant year-over-year growth, Harms says it’s no longer just a trend — it’s a category. And Union Wine Co. is investing in this category accordingly. The company recently opened a 43,000-square-foot packaging facility, which will allow it to triple its output, Harms says. The facility will consist of a canning line boasting speeds of 600 cans a minute, as well as a bottling line handling 200 bottles a minute.
“The ability to package our wines independently is a unique feature for a winery and unprecedented in Oregon,” Harms says. “We are very proud to be trailblazers in the canned wine industry, and with this new facility we are confident we will remain at the forefront.”
Packaging its own wines also gives Union Wine Co. an edge when it comes to pricing, which reflects the company’s “great wine minus all the fuss” attitude. By maximizing efficiency and keeping production overhead costs down, it can maintain an affordable price point, Harms explains.
Affordable and approachable
Created in 2005, Union Wine Co. was founded on the belief that what goes into the glass matters more than what kind of glass it is.
“We enjoy challenging the convention that says that Oregon wines have to be expensive, and we have made it our mission to create quality wines that are also affordable,” Harms says. “By being efficient about everything, from how we set up the winery to how we make wine, we knew we could successfully create a marriage of craft and small-scale manufacturing.”
Its dedication to making wine approachable earned Union Wine Co. recognition as one of Fast Company’s Top 10 Most Innovative Food Companies in 2018.
In total, Union Wine Co. offers three wine brands: Underwood, Kings Ridge and Alchemist.
Underwood wines are packaged in bottles and cans and feature more “fruit-driven” flavor profiles sourced from a variety of vineyards and regions in Oregon, Harms explains. Underwood is the most affordable brand, and it’s also the best-selling, he adds. A four-pack of cans sells for approximately $28. As of July, the Underwood lineup consists of seven wine varietals: Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris, Rosé, The Bubbles, Rosé Bubbles, Riesling Radler and its newest flavor, Strawberry Cooler. Strawberry Cooler was created after receiving a strong positive response from the release of its Riesling Radler last August.
In addition, Harms notes that a limited-edition wine is in the works. The company expects to release a collaboration wine with Chef Mei Lin later this summer, Harms shares. Last year, Union Wine Co. partnered with feminist clothing brand WILDFANG to create a limited-edition white wine blend called GET IT GIRL, benefitting Planned Parenthood.
Kings Ridge is the company’s mid-range offering, with wines sourced from Oregon’s Willamette Valley. The line consists of three bottled wines: a Riesling, Pinot Gris and Pinot Noir. A 750-ml bottle ranges between $14 and $18.
Alchemist is the company’s higher-end offering, featuring a blend of grapes from Union’s favorite Willamette Valley vineyards. The brand features a Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, which retail for approximately $28 each.
Though each brand features a unique blend of sources which determine their ultimate flavor composition, they all have Oregon’s challenging climate in common. A lot of rainfall, cool temperatures and a short growing season make wine growing a “constant challenge” in Oregon, which results in a unique signature that differentiates Oregon wines from any other region, Harms says.
Union Wine Co. farms 53 acres, 11 of which are in the Chehalem Mountain American Viticultural Area (AVA), 9 in the McMinville AVA, 18 in the Ribbon Ridge AVA, and 15 in the Eola Amity Hills AVA. The wines are distributed in 49 states and the District of Columbia, as well as 12 countries internationally.
“Union’s three wine series — Underwood, Kings Ridge and Alchemist — all capture the spirit of Oregon in a way you can put on your table every day,” Harms says. BI