PRESS & MEDIA

Cans vs Bottles
 
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Consumers are used to buying sodas and mass-produced beers in cans, but in recent years traditionally pricier craft beverages have started to show up on store shelves in cans as well. Cold-brew coffee showed up first, followed by ready-made coffee drinks. Now wine and cocktails have joined the canned beverage bandwagon. In Portland, the Blue Lobster Wine Co. at 219 Anderson St. started selling wine in cans last year – a chardonnay, a rosé and a red blend called Bayside Blend, priced at $5.99 for a 375 ml can, or half a bottle – and released its first canned sweet wine, a Moscato, a couple of weeks ago. Next will be a pinot noir and a blueberry-infused wine.

Beverage companies that are transitioning from glass bottles to cans say consumers often raise their eyebrows at the idea of drinking a high-end beverage from a can because they’re worried the can will confer a tinny taste to the product – no longer a problem now that cans come with improved liners. Or they look down their noses at cans the same way they do screw-top wine bottles or wine-in-a-box.

“Occasionally we see people who are skeptical, but once they try the wines they seem to get on board,” said Chris Gamble, owner of Blue Lobster. “And certainly, the younger crowd gets it immediately. They seem to think it’s smart and practical – not so hung up on traditional packaging.”

 
 
 
Christopher McGee
Layne’s Wine Time
 

WINES IN A CAN

The great wine writer Mike Veseth said in the early 1990’s that bottles were “traditional, accepted, inefficient and doomed”. Pretty rough stuff. He was referring to the then emerging phenomenon of the bag in the box. Canned wines were not yet over the horizon. Today they are the future --- right now.

BLUE LOBSTER WINE COMPANY --- LOCAL URBAN WINERY:

I sat down with Chris Gamble in his local Portland, no frills, just barrels, tanks and canning equipment, (with a couple of tables and chairs) urban winery on Anderson Street to taste and ask. Why cans? What about that tinny taste we expect?

We both got eyeball-to-eyeball peering into the innards of a fresh out of the carton, ready to be ifiled can. This was not what I expected. There was a lining inside that was very different in look and feel from the aluminum casing outside. Ah, glorious technology. It is a liner with a nitrogen seal. The goal here is freshness and pure taste, without the tininess we associate in our minds with cans.

Chris is the ideal urban winery guy. A jack of all trades, he worked at a winery and saw what was happening in places like San Francisco and Oakland, California. Urban wineries lack the Liberace Candelabra ambiance but choose to provide an unpretentious tasting environment as fresh as the wines themselves.

The concept is simple: source the best wines, taste and continually think about what you are making and where your audience may be headed. And offer value. The present lineup of cans is 375 ml (half a bottle), priced at $5.99 each; the equivalent of a $12 bottle of wine.

Chardonnay (Yakima sourced) --- This is the definition of light, fresh, crisp, dry, green apple-inspired chardonnay in a can. He had no interest in going the oak aged route. “If you want Kendall Jackson, head on out and buy some K.J. (in a bottle)”.

Rose (Paso Robles sourced) --- 100% Grenache. A dry, tasty, fruity rose at 13.4% alcohol. Many roses have some sweetness; his do not. This is ideal picnic with cheese and salami wine. Chilled, sure.

Bayside Blend, (Lodi) --- A new release of zinfandel, merlot and, the always compatible white, viognier. 14.2% alcohol. A sit on the deck red with freshness of flavour. Or, throw them into a bag and tow them behind your kayak.

Zinfandel (Lodi) --- Old vine zin in a can! Fire up the grill for this serious 15.5% alcohol, intense, full bodied zin. Not for the faint of heart.

“For the millennials cans are a no brainer. Some of the boomers who come in are a bit taken aback with the idea. Once they taste them, they come around”. These are wines that are jocular in look and pure of taste.


Layne V. Witherell

Up Portland Wine Critic

 
Chris Gamble
Getting to Know Blue Lobster Wine Co.
 
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Chris Gamble first had the idea for an urban winery over 10 years ago. He had always had a passion for good wine, and had the very specific goal of opening a winery in the city, not the countryside. He had the palate, but not the background, so he sold his house on Munjoy Hill and moved down to Cape Cod to work on a small vineyard and winery. He had the opportunity to gain experience in just about every aspect of the operation, from picking grapes to leading tastings.

Meanwhile on the west coast, the first urban wineries were popping up in Oakland and San Francisco, bringing in either finished wine or unfermented grape juice, and cellaring, fermenting and blending to produce wine in a wholly new setting. Gamble knew the time was right to return to Portland and set his own venture in motion. He found a space on Anderson Street in bustling East Bayside right next to brewing companies Lone Pine and Goodfire. Blue Lobster’s packaging method owes to the meteoric rise of craft beer; they put wine in cans and kegs, not bottles.

This August, Chris and I sat down to talk about his young business.


The Phoenix: Tell me about your production process, how do you arrive at a finished packaged wine?

Chris Gamble: We’re doing this in three phases, because obviously wine takes a long time to make. The first phase is we’ve been bringing in “finished wines” essentially, and then blending them. Some we’ve aged a little longer in oak. So we’re kind of tinkering and then when we feel they’re ready we can and keg them. The next phase, which is about to start up, is that we’re going to be working with a couple vineyards in California that are just about to start harvesting. We’ll give them the specifications on what we want for a wine, focusing on specific varietals and techniques. The third phase will be bringing in grapes and doing it from here. We’ll be focusing mostly on California, Oregon, Washington. The climate in Maine just isn’t so suitable. There are people growing grapes here doing a nice job and making some interesting wines, but in terms of consistency and quality we want to focus on where they grow grapes really well. We’ll probably continue all three of those phases going forward.

The Phoenix: So will you try to stay focused on specific blends and varietals to build the brand around those as you move forward, or will it just be adding more and more variety?

Gamble: We’re going to try to stay focused, for the most part. We’re probably going to release an unoaked Chardonnay every year, we’ll always have a Rosé and we’ll probably continue to release our Bayside blend. We’ve done two of those now and the second one is actually a blend of Zinfandel, Merlot, and Viognier, so red and white wines. So we’re playing with things like that and trying to represent what we’re doing which is a little different and a little fun. We’ll branch out from there, but those are going to be the three staples.

The Phoenix: Do you feel you have a roll to play in educating people about wine? It’s always been a pretty esoteric world and it’s easy for a newcomer to feel intimidated.

Gamble: Let me put it this way: the wine industry can come off as being a little pretentious at times, and we’re trying to leave that at the door. We’re focused on good, quality wines. If people want to learn we’re happy to help. But we’re modeling ourselves after breweries in many ways, we do little samplers and there are descriptions and if anybody has questions I’m around and happy to answer them, but it’s not “formal wine tasting.” I’m not going to be babbling about all our wines and how great they are. It’s a little different from your traditional winery, you can educate to scale, it’s all about the customer.
 
Chris Gamble
Summer wines, make me feel fine!
 

In a channel 207 segment on Summer Wines, Maia Gosselin from Sip Wine Education calls our Rosé, "light and dry"

Host Rob Caldwell points out, "To state the obvious, if you're at the beach or on a boat, wherever, then the cans are just really convenient!" 

Gosselin adding, "And they've become really popular... Even wine geeks have accepted them! The wine is good! And that's the main criteria."

Skip to 1:55 to hear about Blue Lobster Wine Company's Rosé

 
Thoughts from LeRoux Kitchen
 
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Of the many canned wines we carry, one holds an extra special place in our heart, Blue Lobster Wine Company, a Portland, Maine based urban winery... 

Stationed in a part of town that is dominated primarily by beer, the urban winery is an outlier not only in competing with the many local breweries, but also they have to constantly fight the general stigma of canned wine. The company name Blue Lobster is perfect not only because the lobster is synonymous with Maine and the company’s roots, but also that the company offers people in the area something completely different. After all one lobster in a million is blue. 

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On our visit, while we tasted through the wines...

 
Chris Gamble
Blue Lobster is for Wine Lovers (Not Snobs)
 
Get a flight of all four wines for $6.50, or the weekend’s specialty cocktail.   Photo by Angie Bryan

Get a flight of all four wines for $6.50, or the weekend’s specialty cocktail. 
Photo by Angie Bryan

After a multi-year wait, the Blue Lobster Wine Co. – whose wines have been for sale since September – finally opened its tasting room for business in April.

Located on Anderson Street between Eighteen Twenty Wines and Lone Pine Brewing Co., the small space has an industrial vibe, with barrels lined up against the walls and occasionally used as tables, but still manages to feel instantly welcoming thanks to the lighting and furniture choices. Owner Chris Gamble was on site when I visited, and his passion for what he’s doing was evident.

Blue Lobster’s mission statement is “making great wines accessible – small batch wines from exceptional vintners in go-anywhere cans cellared here in beautiful Maine.” The place delivers on that promise offering, at the time of my visit, four good wines (a Chardonnay, a rosé, a Zinfandel and a red blend) for $5.99 a can. I was told there are plans to release a new, unoaked Chardonnay, a rosé from Paso Robles and new blend, along with a limited release pinot noir, available in the tasting room.

My friends ordered a flight of all four wines... 

 
Chris Gamble