Rise of California North Coast ultrapremium boxed wine
Boxed wine and Napa Valley may not be the first pairing one might expect, but at one address there the spigot has been opening for other-than-glass consumer packaging.
One87 Wine & Cocktails is ramping up production at its American Canyon plant on two brands that if sold in standard 750-milliliter bottles would retail for well over $20 each.
Right now, they are but a tiny drop in the ocean of mostly much-lower-priced U.S. wine shipped in this bag-in-box format.
But these higher-end ventures are testing consumer taste for quality, convenience and even environmental sensitivity over traditional visual cues of ultrapremium wine in a glass bottle.
“Growth in screwcaps and canned wine was the inspiration for this,” said Jake Whitman, whose Real Good Boxed Wine is finished in Healdsburg and packaged at One87. “Consumers have become more accepting of something different from glass bottles. But we’re not trying to replace glass bottles.”
In 2000, Napa Valley winery PlumpJack turned heads among luxury producers when it started spinning down aluminum caps on half the bottles of its 1997 vintage reserve cabernet sauvignon. For PlumpJack, the concern was over “cork taint.” That mold-caused off odor and flavor in wine has become less of a headline issue since major cork suppliers introduced ever more exacting quality-control systems and processes in the years following.
Then in 2008 came Francis Ford Coppola Winery’s Sofia sparkling wine in single-serving aluminum cans, and the past several years has seen jump in the number of brands under pull-tabs into the hundreds. During that time, U.S. sales of wine in cans have grown at double-digit rates. Convenience and less breakability have been selling points for wine in aluminum cans, and environmental aspects such as lower weight and higher recyclability are being touted more frequently.
Convenience in a multi-glass format also has been a selling point of boxed wine. Though devices and products have been on the market for years to help protect uncorked wine from too much oxygen exposure, a bag in the box has the benefit of little air contact with each pour via a spigot, keeping wine fresh for several weeks.
But boxed wine since the 1980s had been associated with lower-end wine. That started changing nearly two decades ago when Napa-based Delicato Family Wines rolled out BotaBox and Constellation Brands introduced Black Box.
Then in 2019, Texas entrepreneur Sarah Puil launched the Boxt wine club, centered on monthly shipments of Napa-made wine based on consumer taste preferences more than traditional wine cues.
Each 3-liter wine bladder with spigot is packed in a wood box. The boxes come in eight varietal and blend options, retailing for $89 by themselves or $74 as part of a monthly subscription. That’s equivalent to $22.25 or $18.50 per standard bottle.
Those bladders are now being filled at One87. And Boxt is planning to roll out in coming months refillable pouches to put in the wooden boxes, according to Puil.
Early this year Tablas Creek Winery in California’s Paso Robles region test-released 3-liter boxes with of its Patelin de Tablas rose wine, which normally retails for $28 a bottle. But with much less packaging cost, the winery offered it to club members for $95, instead of $112. The 100 cases of the wine, transferred into 300 boxes, sold in four hours.
Real Good Boxed Wine, right now a direct-to-consumer venture, had a similar experience.
Whitman, a Cincinnati resident who used to live in San Francisco and frequent Wine Country, has known the family behind Ketcham Estate winery in Sonoma County’s Russian River Valley for years. He secured a winegrower license at Healdsburg Custom Crush and retained Ketcham winemaker Tami Collins. The first test release was blended from 2020 Ketcham Vineyard pinot noir wine in the barrel, and 2,000 bottles worth were hand-filled into 500 3-liter boxes.