Wine in cans are quickly capturing the attention of the modern wine drinker and I recently, I got to meet Henry Connell to discover more about The Uncommon wines. The Uncommon produce UK’s first English wine to be sold in cans and are keen to dispel the myth that canned wine is only for low quality earning the disparaging name of ‘vin-in-a-tin’!
According to thedrinksbusiness.com (Canned Wine Makes Gains in UK with New Supermarket Listings – 20thFebruary, 2019), canned wine sales in the US rose 43% during 2017. The appeal of single serves and convenience has won over millennial drinkers.
I have tasted quite a few very lack lustre canned wines this year that have definitely earned that ‘vin-in-a-tin’ label. However, not only are The Uncommon wines the best canned wines that I have tasted, they are proudly English and proudly quirky. And proud of minimising their impact on the environment.
These are wines that immediately capture the attention with their strikingly beautiful designs featuring Eleanor the swan, and Gerard, a very dapper giraffe. The wines are also lower in calories with about 80% less sugar than some Proseccos and they are vegan. To keep the wines fresh and bright, they are lightly carbonated at the time of bottling.
Of course, if you love cocktails these single serve cans are great mixers. In the video version of the interview below, you can watch Christos from The Coral Room make his sublime cocktail using The Uncommon Rosé – the Cocchi Rosé.
And I did have to taste test it in the name of honest reporting … and it really was sublime!!
In my time with Henry, I got to ask some more indepth questions about their choice of can vs glass bottles, English wine and the modern wine drinker. I also got an insight into the rise of urban winemaking.
You can read the interview below or you can watch it on WinemusingTV… or both! The youtube version also has the added bonus of Christos doing his thing making that cocktail.
What do you think has been behind the growth and acceptance of urban winemakers around the world?
I think that there has been a natural movement towards more things ‘craft’. We saw it in beer ten years ago meaning there is a natural progression to wine. I think that those people who don’t own their own land tend to take on that label of Urban Winemaker.
The UK wine industry is also dominated by a handful of wealthy families and individuals. So, to actually own land, big expensive wineries, and to manage vineyards, is very cost prohibitive. If you want to get into the industry, and you are a younger, more adventurous winemaker, the only route to the market is doing something that is more small scale, more craft, and more urban.
We also have a young, very adventurous, very curious audience in London, for example. So, it makes sense that these urban wineries exist.
We make the wine. We have our vines in Kent, as well as in Hampshire and Surrey. The idea is to leverage expert viticulturalists so we don’t have to manage these vineyards. We have our own winemaker in house. We decide on the wines and then work out the grapes needed and when these grapes should be picked.
Where did the idea of putting English wine in a can come from?
I lived in New York for seven years and it is a million dollar industry in the US. It started in California, Oregan and Washington. By the time I was moving to London, England had become well known for sparkling wines, and aromatic whites. So, I figured why not stop doing my boring office job and bring the concept to the UK. It’d never been done before.
I went to Plumpton University and studied viticulture and Oenology. I went and did internships with Nyetimber and Hattingley Valley. Then I worked to establish partnerships with grape growers, winemakers and canners to start The Uncommon.
Why did you pick Bacchus as a place to start?
The Bacchus seemed like a good place to start. It is a German grape that grows very well here in England. It is early ripening, it ripens very well and it is mildew and frost resistant. And I actually think that the taste of Bacchus is quite English. It is quite Elderflowery, quite floral, quite blossomy. So, it seemed like a logical place to start.
Why do you think that wines in cans have captured the attention of modern wine drinker?
I think that The Uncommon drinker is younger and more adventurous. The reason that cans work in the US is that the drinkers there are more adventurous too. They are more focused on convenience rather than tradition or the pomposity in the ceremony around wine.
There is nothing out there that appeals to the younger drinker. So, we figured, ‘Why not do something that offers really high quality wine.’ An English wine. One that supports the UK wine industry that also appeals to a drinker that is focused on sustainability and convenience.
How important was it to you that the wines come from sustainable vineyards? And how important do you think that it is for the wine drinker?
It is really important. Part of the reason that we are doing it in this format is because we believe in the sustainability of wine in cans.
Unfortunately, it is very hard to grown organic grapes in the UK. We do not have the climate to support it. However, we do only work with growers who farm with sustainable techniques as well as working with the Bee Friendly Trust. The growers are not spraying insecticides and pesticides unless it is absolutely necessary.
We would love to be an organic winemaker in the future.
The packaging is as sustainable as we can make it. We have taken recycled corks to make our cork labels and straps on the four pack. Which is recycled cardboard.
We have designed the pack to allow us to show off the illustration while using as little material as possible. The idea is to use no single use materials. Everything is sourced from thirty miles from where we are based in South East London.
We are a very local product. We are a sustainable product. And one day, fingers crossed, we will be an organic product if the climate supports us.
What do you see as the advantages of selling wine in cans?
In my opinion, a glass bottle is not a good container for an aromatic wine. It lets air and light in. It is really heavy and it needs lots of packaging to protect it in transit. A can does not have these issues. It chills fast. Plus, it is very light which makes it easy to transport.
It makes sense as a container for wine, and that is why we have chosen this format. We also want to go into kegs and have the wines on tap. Using recycled aluminum kegs is even more sustainable than cans.
What about the challenges of selling wine in cans?
We at The Uncommon have two issues really.
One is that people don’t really know about English wines and they have not really seen wine in cans before. So, here we have a double whammy of challenges.
English wines are becoming more and more well known. When we speak to some of our European counterparts, they still don’t know much about English wine. Even though we within English wine circles know that English wines can beat Champagnes in competitions, it is still not very well known outside of these circles.
Additionally, with English sparkling wines there is the issue of the consumer questioning why do they need to spend £40 on an English sparkling wine, when they can buy a Champagne for £35.
The can is another hurdle to overcome. We need to educate people on the sustainability and convenience of it. And that it does not impact the flavour of it in any way. In fact, it keeps the aromas and the flavours longer. Once they try it for themselves, we will overcome those hurdles.
It is a matter of challenging people preconceptions and challenging them to being open to wines in different formats. We have done some events where we have poured the wines into Champagne glasses and people think that it is Champagne. It is only when they see the tin that they question themselves.
What was the inspiration behind those beautiful labels?
The inspiration was that we were looking for something that was quintessentially English without screaming ‘England’. Something that was whimsical and a bit quirky. We have Eleanor on our pinot noir sparkling rosé and we have Gerald on our Bacchus sparkling white.
Both of the characters are elegant and strong.
All the periphery illustrations represent the wine’s characters. We believed that if we made really good English wine, with the best grapes and we made it as striking as possible, then they would do very well.
If you had the opportunity to drink a wine with any person in history or present …
–who would it be? Why? David Attenborough.
– which wine would it be? Around a fire, with some smoky new world Cabernet Sauvignon.
– what would you talk about? I personally find the climate change message is being confused by media and paid for research. So, I’d love to talk to someone like David about what he has seen first hand. What is the actual human impact on climate change? What can we do to actually change it?
It is not enough for us to say we are a sustainable wine producer. We want to know how we can make our process as environmentally sound as possible. From the time we plant the grape to where and how it is consumed.
We want to make sure that as a business that we are doing everything that we can to be sustainable and environmentally forward thinking as possible.
To read more about English Wines, click here!