Colorado may be an undisputed beer mecca, but as summer temperatures set in, it’s impossible to ignore the prevalence of hard seltzer when drinkers look for ways to beat the heat. And as of late, the state’s winemakers are tapping into the market with their own original concoctions in hopes of capitalizing on consumers’ thirst.
According to Ryan Lee, the Denver-based founder and CEO of Livvy, seltzers made from a grape base are popular among manufacturers because they add a natural sweetness to the beverages and don’t necessitate the use of artificial flavorings. Livvy, which debuted in July 2022, offers three flavors all made with ginger root, prickly pear root, dandelion root and licorice root extract, plus real fruit juice depending on the flavor.
Last summer, Neilsen reported that hard seltzers accounted for 43% of the dollars spent in the ready-to-drink beverage space. Even though that figure was down about 10% compared to 2021, Lee said the category is still ripe with opportunity.
“Canned wines are still a very low percent of the market,” he said. Many winemakers are watching the explosion in popularity of RTD beverages and seeing an opportunity to attract a younger customer base and stay on trend, he added.
That’s especially true as drinkers increasingly reach for “better for you” beverages. Nielsen reported in May that health and wellness will be among the top decision drivers when it comes to the alcoholic products consumers choose to buy this summer. Drinkers will also be leaning toward more high-end beverages, primarily those made with tequila, and those endorsed by celebrities.
“We’re seeing a trend across the entire U.S. that younger consumers are really focused on more mindful drinking,” said Kevin Webber, CEO of Carboy Winery, which debuted a line of seltzers called Cold Vines in 2021. “We’re seeing people in our tasting rooms start with a glass of wine and then opting for a seltzer because of the lower alcohol.”
At 4% and 5% alcohol-by-volume, respectively, both Livvy and Cold Vines include less than half as much alcohol as a standard glass of wine. Similarly, Piquette made by Palisade’s Sauvage Spectrum winery clocks 6.5% ABV, and Jetway, a line of wine seltzers produced by Western Slope winemaker Ben Parsons, comes in at 5% ABV. The latter also boasts about 100 calories and just five carbs.
Parsons, who created Jetway with The Strokes guitarist Albert Hammond Jr., said his goal is to elevate the seltzer category.
“Back (in 2020) White Claw and Truly were dominating, but those products are really just cane sugar thrown in a fermentation vessel to create alcohol and then blended with artificial colors, flavors and ingredients,” said Parsons, who is also proprietor of The Ordinary Fellow winery in Palisade. “The reason we picked wine is obviously my background is in wine, but there’s still a health halo associated with wine.”
The fact these products are canned and carbonated makes them even more crushable during the summer.
“It’s a no-brainer. In summer months, people want to drink something crisper, lighter and more refreshing,” Webber said.
Here’s the skinny on four wine seltzers with local ties to try this summer.
Cold Vines Wine Seltzer
For several years, Carboy Winery has been on a mission to become Colorado’s premiere sparkling wine purveyor and in doing so the company created something of a natural byproduct.
To make sparkling wine, Webber and his team harvest grapes early in the season when they are high in acidity. Those grapes also make an optimal base for seltzer because they are uniquely suited to be watered down and have fruit concentrates added back to them, he said.
Cold Vines comes in four flavors – lemon, black cherry, peach, and watermelon – each clocking 5% ABV. Right now, they’re made exclusively with Colorado grapes though that could change as distribution expands in the future, Webber said.
The seltzers utilize whichever grapes the winery is harvesting to make sparkling wines according to its production schedule, so the exact varietals change throughout the year.
Cold Vines is for sale in four-packs of cans at Carboy’s taprooms in Denver (400 E. 7th Ave.), Littleton (6885 S. Santa Fe Dr.) and Palisade (3572 G Rd.), as well as at Molly’s Spirits. coldvinesseltzer.com
Jetway wine seltzers were inspired by The Strokes guitarist Albert Hammond Jr.’s experience globetrotting and craving a bubbly beverage akin to an Aperol spritz, said Parsons, who serves as the company’s chief operating officer.
Hammond and Parsons, who were linked up through friends of friends, developed two unique flavors starting with grapes from a winery in Washington. The rose wine seltzer uses cabernet and syrah grapes plus ginger, yerba mate, peach and orange peel. The white wine seltzer leverages sauvignon blanc grapes alongside ginger, yerba mate, and elderflower. Both are 5% ABV.
The company is working on new recipes, Parsons said, and aspires to open brick-and-mortar Jetway lounges in the future.
Jetway’s rollout began in 2021 in Hammond’s region of residence in Southern California, where Jetway is also available on draft at select bars and restaurants. The beverages made their Colorado debut in 2022 at retail stores along the Front Range. They are also available for purchase online. drinkjetway.com
Since launching Livvy in 2022, Lee has been promoting it primarily through word of mouth and guerilla marketing, which is why Denverites may have seen him at city parks offering free samples to locals ages 21 and up.
The 4% ABV seltzer comes is available in three flavors – ginger-peach, prickly pear lemonade and pineapple-hibiscus – and because each recipe leverages extracts like ginger root and licorice root, Lee says they boast antioxidant properties, among other benefits.
That last point is important to Lee, who comes to the seltzer industry after a previous venture developing a supplement for folks like himself who experience alcohol flush reaction.
“I thought it would be great to take some of our knowledge of natural ingredients and put them in into a clean, better-for-you seltzer,” Lee said.
Livvy is available exclusively online in 12-count variety packs that include all three flavors, though Lee hopes to enter retail locations in Colorado soon. drinklivvy.com
According to Patric Matysiewski, co-founder and winemaker at Sauvage Spectrum in Palisade, the idea for Piquette came not from trying to compete with seltzer, but from trying to revive an ancient production method also called “piquette.”
Historically, peasants who worked in vineyards were paid in pressed grape skins teeming with residual sugar, which they could take home, soak in water and ferment again naturally, Matysiewski said. He thought he could adopt the technique to recycle grape skins he uses to make white wines and create a new offering.
“Basically, we’re taking rubbish and turning it into a sustainable product. That’s why I really like it,” said Matysiewski, who bills Piquette as a wine spritzer more than a seltzer. (And wouldn’t you know, Nielsen said companies’ commitments to sustainability will play into purchasing decisions this summer.)
Piquette is made from a rotating mix of grape varietals depending on Sauavge Spectrum’s production schedule, but it typically boasts a pink hue, light body and 6.5% ABV.
Piquette is for sale at Sauvage Spectrum’s taprooms in Palisade (676 38 1/4 Rd.) and Ouray (480 Main St.), as well as farmers markets throughout Colorado this summer, including at Union Station in Denver, in the Highlands in Denver and in Vail. sauvagespectrum.com
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