Food & Drink

Canned rosé wine? A Fresno brewer is making it, with help from 7-Eleven and millennials

Pink is the new black – at least in the wine world.

Rosé, that summertime wine ranging from pale pink to electric fuchsia, is everywhere these days. In addition to surging sales, the wine is making its mark on pop culture, including here in Fresno.

You can buy rosé with names like Yes Way Rosé and Big Sipper. There are glasses that say “Slay then rosé.” And “rosé all day” has become something of a rallying cry for some millennials, appearing on T-shirts and pink baseball caps from Walmart.

Someone unexpected is getting in on the rosé action: Fresno’s biggest craft brewer, Tioga-Sequoia Brewing Co.

Not the brewery exactly, but a sister company that’s owned by the same parent company of Tioga-Sequoia.

The wine seller is called Lost Cork Wine Co. and its brand of wines is Buenas Uvas. That’s Spanish for good grapes. It’s selling a rosé and has a red and a white wine – both blends – coming out later this year. Lost Cork hopes to unveil them at a June event.

A glass of Buenas Uvas rosé wine from Lost Cork Wine Co. is photographed at the company’s sister company, Tioga-Sequoia Brewing in downtown Fresno on Tuesday, April 23, 2019. CRAIG KOHLRUSS

Buenas Uvas comes in a pink 16.9-ounce can (the same width as your average 12-ounce beer can, but a bit taller) that holds about three and a half glasses of wine. It sells for $5.99.

You can find it at 7-Eleven stores around Fresno, MGA Liquor and a few other stores in town. The wine will soon be tested at Save Mart stores. A full list of where to buy it is on the Lost Cork website.

You can also try it at the Old Town Clovis Wine Walk on Saturday, May 4. Lost Cork will host an event at Tioga-Sequoia June 22-23. It will be a stop on the Fresno County Wine Journey and host several food trucks either using the wine in recipes or making food to pair with it.

You can’t buy it at the brewery however, due to a quirk of liquor licenses, but the company is working on a website to sell it online.

The wine isn’t made at the downtown brewery. Rather, Lost Cork contracts with Papagni Winery in Madera and winemaker Melissa Smith. The professionals make the wine from grapes grown in the Central Valley, with Lost Cork working closely with them.

Canned wine

One thing that makes the Buenas Uvas rosé different? It comes in a can.

Cans of Buenas Uvas rosé wine from Lost Cork Wine Co. are lined up at the company’s sister company, Tioga-Sequoia Brewing in downtown Fresno on Tuesday, April 23, 2019. CRAIG KOHLRUSS

While that may inspire some puzzled looks, wine in cans is a growing trend. It will probably be commonplace in Fresno in about five years, said Joshua Thornton, a Fresno-based sommelier and wine broker.

So it doesn’t taste like aluminum, the can has a liner specially made to handle the acidity of the wine. It can be consumed straight from the can or poured into a glass. Lost Cork even makes koozies to keep the wine cold.

“There’s a lot of benefits to having it in a can,” Thornton said. “There’s places you just can’t take a glass and you can take cans. Certainly for people who are looking to hike, it’s way easier.”

At Buenas Uvas, they imagine people taking the wine to Fresno State tailgates, leaving the glasses and the bottle opener (and the bottle) behind, said Lost Cork president Spencer Michaelson.

“You can buy a couple of these, throw ’em in the ice chest and you’re good to go,” he said.

The 7-Eleven factor

So why sell them at 7-Elevens?

That’s how this whole idea started. One of Tioga-Sequoia’s higher-ups went to a convention for convenience stores, Michaelson said.

“All the CEOs of 7-Eleven, ampm, everything, was like, ‘Canned wine is going to be the next huge big thing,’” he said. “He was like, ‘We want to get in on that before it takes off.’”

If you have a hard time picturing hardcore wine aficionados pulling a handful of cans from a 7-Eleven cooler – well, so do the makers of Buenas Uvas. Its target customers are not high-end wine lovers.

“That was our goal. Let’s not target the wine market at all,” Michaelson said. “Let’s see if we can target your everyday random consumer that goes in and says, ‘I don’t know what I want today,’ and looks at all the shelves and maybe buys some of this, buys some of that (and says), ‘That looks interesting, lets see if we can try that, too.’”

They tried to keep the price affordable, knowing they are competing for the same customer who might pick up a Mike’s Hard Lemonade or Smirnoff Ice, Michaelson said.

Rosé and Instagram

Rosé, perhaps the queen of unpretentious wines, seemed a logical choice for Lost Cork’s first wine.

Already a favorite of millennials, rosé wine sales grew by 53 percent over the past year, far outpacing other wines, according to a report by Wines Vines Analytics in May 2018.

Rosé also is the darling of social media, with a particularly strong presence on Instagram.

“It’s less to do with the wine that’s actually in the package and it’s more to do with the package,” Michaelson said. “Like ours, it’s very cute, fun, playful – Instagram-worthy, as they call it.”

Indeed, Buenas Uvas’ Instagram is full of pink, whether it’s the wine, roses or ice cream cones.

“There’s always the stories of how Instagram influencers have as much impact on the wine industry these days as wine aficionados and critics that have held sway in the past,” Thornton said.

Sometimes it’s just the appearance of the container that catches people’s attention.

Take JNSQ, for example, a rosé made by The Wonderful Company (the California food company that has operations in the San Joaquin Valley and owns brands like Wonderful Pistachios and Halos). The JNSQ rosé bottle has a white glass rose atop it that makes it look more like a giant perfume bottle than a bottle of wine.

Kim Kardashian West included the wine in a temporary Instagram story and the mention doubled the number of people following JNSQ, the company told the Wall Street Journal.

Women tend to drink rosé, but fellas are drinking it too. The term “brosé,” a combination of bro and rosé, is catching on.

Lost Cork is even planning to make a batch of brosé for its Wine Journey event in June.

“It’s going to be a beer/rosé kind of collab,” Michaelson said.

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Bethany Clough covers restaurants and retail for The Fresno Bee. A reporter for 20 years, she now works to answer readers’ questions about business openings, closings and other business news. She has a degree in journalism from Syracuse University and her last name is pronounced Cluff.