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Millennial-favorite wine club Winc goes beyond wine with new sake bottle

August 18, 2021, 1:00 PM UTC

Winc, an online-based wine club that has grown popular over the past few years especially for its modern aesthetic, is further expanding its digital shelves beyond its core category. The Los Angeles company announced on Wednesday that it will start selling sake.

“Sake is finally gaining recognition as a craft beverage with a cultural tradition that deserves as much acclaim as wine,” Winc president Brian Smith tells Fortune. “There’s a dedication to mastery that is part of Japanese culture, and we at Winc appreciate that and know our members will, too. That’s one reason we wanted to introduce it to Winc customers.”

The House of Luck Junmai Saké is a pure rice sake made solely of water, rice, and koji. A sweet and savory beverage, it is described as having a fuller base, with a subtle fruity bouquet on the nose and notes of milk chocolate, banana, pear, and lychee. Winc says House of Luck has a bolder style than other sakes, but it’s intended to be consumed either on its own or with umami-rich food, whether it be pizza and pasta or cheeseburgers with pickles.

“We launched House of Luck specifically because it’s perfect for entry-level sake drinkers,” Smith explains. “It’s a little more savory than a usual sake, which really means it pairs well with a variety of foods beyond just Japanese cuisine. It also follows Winc’s overall style; our winemaking style leans towards fresher, brighter wines in general, and that’s what our customers like best. And we wanted a sake that emulates that.”

House of Luck will be sold for $24.99, and it will be offered as part of a Winc membership.

“American drinkers are opening up to trying new things more and more,” says Winc president Brian Smith. “Especially over the course of the pandemic, where you’ve seen global flavors explode. People are also really interested in shared experiences they think are cool, and sake by nature is perfect for sharing.”
Courtesy of Winc

Founded in 2012, Winc was at the forefront of a new group of wine clubs that emerged in the past decade as an upgrade to the old guard of programs attached to the likes of credit cards, airlines, and similar sources. To start, rather than just sending six reds or six whites (or some mix of the two) in a single box every few weeks or months, Winc homes in on a prospective member’s palate. Even if the consumer isn’t a wine expert, Winc’s opening questionnaire solicits answers about their tastes in food, spices, and other beverages (such as coffee or tea) to produce a more comprehensive preference profile. From there, members can still make a final decision on which bottles they want or not.

Sake is not an out-of-the-box progression, at least not for those deeply familiar with trends in the wine world; some winemakers are turning to sake as many of the core concepts around flavor profiles, notes, and techniques are quite similar.

“With sake specifically, making it more accessible for at-home drinking is key,” Smith says. “Wine used to be drunk only at restaurants or on-premise back in the day, and now customers are very comfortable drinking it at home. It’s the same with sake—it used to be something you’d only find at restaurants, and now you’re seeing expanded access through us, but also through sake brewers in the U.S. So we’re excited to let our online customers enjoy a premium sake-drinking experience from the comfort of their own homes.”

“To be able to share that subtlety and purity, Winc’s first sake, House of Luck, is made in a Junmai style,” Smith says, explaining that this type is composed of only water, rice, and koji—with no added alcohol. “We worked with well-known sake makers in Kyoto to make sure we got it just right.”
Courtesy of Winc

And U.S. consumers are increasingly interested in and buying more sake; it’s also a popular alternative at restaurants and other hospitality vendors with limited alcohol licenses that can only sell beer or wine, as sake is often used to replace the higher ABV beverage.

While the sake category in the U.S. declined -4.6% in volume in 2020, IWSR Drinks Market Analysis forecasts that volume will be flat this year and increase by +3.6% in its compound annual growth rate from 2021 through 2025. “The sake category in the U.S. was hit harder than other beverage alcohol categories in 2020 due to lack of consumption occasions at bars and restaurants during the pandemic,” Adam Rogers, North American research director at IWSR Drinks Market Analysis, tells Fortune. “While there is a slow return to the on-premise, shortages of container ships leaving Japan has led to a shortage of premium sakes in some U.S. markets. Even as restaurants reopen, the category has yet to return to pre-pandemic consumption levels.”

Sake is not the first non-wine product from Winc—the company also has a portfolio of hard ciders—and Winc says it won’t be the last. “While sake is first out the gate—and honestly, it’s been a work in progress for about two years now—we’ve got plans for several other products in the works,” Smith says. “They’re products we know our customers will enjoy, and also allow them to mix things up in the way they like.”

And Winc has been changing up the kinds of wines it sells, too, with a notable push into selling organic wines. The organic wine market was valued at $7.5 billion in 2019 and is projected to reach $17 billion by 2027.

Winc’s first foray into natural wines was the release of Cherries & Rainbows, made with sustainably farmed grapes and zero added sulfur at an eco-friendly winery in France’s Languedoc-Roussillon region. The company says it sold out “almost immediately.” Given its popularity, Winc took a bigger step in 2020 by launching Wonderful Wine Co., an entire portfolio of sustainable and low-sugar wines made with organic grapes and produced and packaged with a low-carbon footprint.

And earlier this summer, the company announced its purchase of the assets of Natural Merchants, a top importer of natural, organic, and biodynamic wines—and a top distributor of wines sold at Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s. With this acquisition, over half of Winc’s portfolio will be made up of organic, natural, and biodynamic wines.

“Winc members are enticed by the element of discovery, and we are at our best when we listen to what our customers are looking for,” Smith says. “They also have high expectations of us, which they should. This has allowed our business to evolve in different ways, whether that’s introducing more sustainably produced and organic wines or expanding our wine-adjacent offerings.”

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