Daily Chronicle

Uncorked: France’s Licence IV producing fine wine in a can

Gregory Castells was a skeptic.

Even as the ready-to-drink boom led to it being the fastest growing alcohol category, the Licence IV founder and sommelier wasn’t sold on the idea of canned wine production. The International Wine and Spirit Record tracks beverage and spirit trends around the world, and forecasted RTD, which overtook total spirits earlier in the year, to be bigger than wine in the U.S. by the end of 2021.

While California, Oregon and Washington wineries have done runs of canned wine for years, Licence IV is a French wine that has joined the marketplace.

“Yes, and in a way, I was one of those people,” said Castells when asked how he’d woo consumers who continue to stigmatize canned wine. “This is why we created Licence IV in cans, to show that even in the RTD category, you could produce something delicious and still affordable. The younger generation of wine drinkers is definitely more open to this format, they want to be able to be active and on the go without compromising on quality.”

With the Licence IV Blanc ($23.99/4-pack), Castells made the first muscadet ever offered in a can. It’s reminiscent of a New Zealand-styled sauvignon blanc, with tropical fruit, fresh-cut grass and a mineral note.

The vineyard sources were on the banks of the eastern Loire Valley, and the wine picks up texture as the juice was left in contact with the lees for an extended period in the cellar.

Loaded with fresh strawberry flavors, the Licence IV Rosé ($5.99 for 250ml cans, $23.99/4-pack) was crispy and refreshing. Because he attacked the project with a purpose, Castells was able to produce a pair of affordable, tasty canned wines.

“I travel throughout France sourcing wines from small, family-owned wineries, not bulk juice from a co-op,” Castells said. “I use the same discernment as my wine importing company, Martine’s Wines, takes when we identify wines to import to the U.S.”

Being first to the market for French wine carried risk. While it could set the pace for other French canned wines to follow, there’s also risk it could face into a U.S. marketplace where domestic wineries already have established a foothold.

“I realized there wasn’t a fine wine in a can from France,” Castells said. “We knew we wanted to create a line of French wine that was approachable and refined. We were fortunate to have access to great juice through our existing producers who make wine served at some of the best restaurants in the country.”

The sleek, clean packaging is an homage to the permit that allows cafes, restaurants, nightclubs and hotels to sell alcohol.

“The packaging is very important to how we wanted to introduce our wine,” Castells said. “We did not want to make it look like another French cliché, but rather a concept that was rooted in the history of wine in France. The brand needed to also reflect my life experience. So I started thinking about my childhood, and I thought about the time when I was working at my parents’ bar. Behind that bar, I always remember the Licence IV placard, which is displayed on the wall of any establishment that sells alcohol in France and allows them to serve.

“The look of the box and cans is quintessential French, art deco, even serious at first, but as soon as you open the box, you’ll find it fun, even whimsical,” he said. “The wines are refined and delicious, but easy to drink. It is like taking it easy at a terrace of a café in Paris, drinking a glass of wine and just watching people passing by. "

• James Nokes has been tasting, touring and collecting in the wine world for several years. Email him at jamesnokes25@yahoo.com.