Food & Drink

Online Wine Giant Winc Makes A Play For Saké

Winc is expanding its offerings, unveiling its very first saké. Dubbed ‘House of Luck’ junmai saké, the bottle retails for $24.99 SRP and is available via Winc’s website

For the direct-to-consumer wine giant, it’s a big step to expand its portfolio beyond wine. 

“Winc has always been about accessible discovery for our customers right from the start, and saké is a continuation of that trend,” says Brian Smith, the president and co-founder of Winc, via email. “Just a decade ago, good saké was hard to come by in the US, but we’re turning a corner on that, and as a winemaker on the frontlines—listening and responding to changing consumer tastes—we wanted to create a premium yet accessible option for everyone to try.”

In 2019, Winc received a $10 million investment from Cool Japan Funding, an initiative sponsored by the Japanese government to promote Japanese culture overseas. Alongside the launch, Winc will focus efforts on educating current members on the saké category.

“American drinkers are opening up to trying new things more and more,” says Smith. “Especially throughout the pandemic, where you’ve seen global flavors explode. People are also really interested in shared experiences they think are cool, and saké by nature is perfect for sharing. At the same time, they’re new to saké and trying to understand the rich cultural traditions behind it, and navigating the styles and terminology. So for all those folks–interested but perhaps not yet confident—we’re glad that we’re able to offer them House of Luck.”

Currently, the US market accounts for a third of Japan’s saké exports. “We’re seeing the saké category grow at just under 5% CAGR, which for some context, is double the rate of the rest of the category,” says Smith. “There’s a lot of interest in the category.”

Junmai is categorically a ‘pure rice’ saké, made only with rice, water, yeast, and koji. The ‘digital winery’ bills its iteration as savory, “with unmistakable umami flavor” and sweet notes of milk chocolate, banana, pear and lychee.’ “Winc’s winemaking style is generally brighter and more fruit-forward—that’s what we love and what our customers do too—and this saké reflects that approach as well,” says Smith. The saké is produced by an unnamed Kyoto saké producer.

“We have a second saké on the horizon—a fuutsu-shu style that we are also very excited about. From there–well, we’ll see what our customers think and adapt to their feedback,” says Smith.

Winc started nine years ago as a direct-to-consumer wine club, offering members a selection of bottles specifically curated to their palate. With millennial-hued branding and a slew of affordable options (most wines sit under $20 a bottle), the club quickly became a front runner in a new guard of rule-breaking, decidedly unstuffy wine clubs.

Winc’s selections include both exclusive wines and curated cuvees from other wineries. To date, Winc has produced 644 wines from 78 different grape varietals.

The saké launch is part of Winc’s continued move outside the wine realm. In May, the digital winery launched a series of wine-inflicted ciders—4 SKUs in total. 

Late last year, in step with the natural wine movement’s continued veer to the mainstream (the category is expected to hit $17 billion by 2027), Winc launched the Wonderful Wine Co; a wine brand for the health-minded millennial, decked out with cheerful labels and eco-aware packaging and fueled by buzzwords like paleo, keto, and vegan.

Furthering those sustainability initiatives, Winc recently purchased Natural Merchants, a top importer of organic and vegan wines. 

“We love promoting discovery for our consumers,” says Smith. “We hope these products inspire more passion for their categories.”

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