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Tualatin wine company does it, because they 'can'

Tualatin-based Union Wine Company brought something new to the table in June — cans

Photo Credit: TIMES PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - Union Wine is one of the few companies in the United States also offering wine in a can.Things that come in cans: Beans, soda, pumpkin pie filling, tuna, beer, corn, whipped cream, Pringles,

hairspray, wine. Wine? Wine.

When 38-year-old Ryan Harms founded Union Wine Company in 2005, the intention wasn’t necessarily to pursue alternative packaging or to be the weirdest, hippest winery around. The intention was, however, to look at everything from a “pinkies down” perspective.

“There’s so much ceremony connected to wine. Thus, don’t over think it,” he said. “At the end of the day, all I’m doing is making a beverage. It’s amazing because Mother Nature has been creating fermentation naturally for a long time. We’re just here to guide or manipulate the process.”

Based out of Tualatin since 2009, Union Wine has been steadily growing since its creation. Still, Harms works hard to keep the company and its eight full-time employees under the spell of the laid back Pacific Northwest vibe. On any given day, one might find a couple employee dogs roaming around the industrial park that houses the company. The complementary keg might be empty, but no one’s stressing out about it. Their setup isn’t conducive to tastings, so they bought a 1972 French delivery truck that frequents 33rd Avenue and Division Street on weekends — the wine company’s version of a food cart.

Union Wine isn’t trying to be different purely for the sake of being different; the company simply isn’t concerned with the pomp and circumstance traditionally associated with winemaking and drinking. For this reason, the idea of canning ended up on the table as a solution to a problem. After talking with his West Coast sales manager about the struggles of bringing wine on backcountry ski trips, Harms started thinking about alternatives to bottles and corks.

Photo Credit: TIMES PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - Union Wine owner and founder Ryan Harms talks about the companys early years.“The can for us is kind of this interesting thing of form and function. There’s certainly this lifestyle application with the cans,” he said. “The can is kind of this great way of, ‘enjoy the wine, but enjoy the company you’re with.’ Don’t focus too much on (the wine), and enjoy the other things that come with it.”

After months of testing and trials, Union Wine produced a product it felt was fit for consumption and publicly launched it in June. The biggest concern, both going into the experiment and now that it’s launched, was that the wine would taste tinny. From the tasting that he and others have done, Harms concluded any tinniness is a result of drinking from the can directly, and not from the flavor penetrating the wine itself.

Each can has a liner on the inside that protects the beverage from actually touching the aluminum — the top of the can, where your lips rest when drinking, does not have this liner.

When the canned wine and bottled wine are drunk from glasses, Harms hasn’t heard of anyone being able to tell the difference.

“It’s the same wine in the bottle as the can. So, if you want to compare and contrast, the opportunity is there to do it,” Harms said. “Certainly style-wise, you want wines that are about freshness and vibrancy. The can is not going to allow any air into it, so kind of what’s there is there. So, I think certain styles of wines are going to lend themselves better to the can than other styles. I feel like all of our wines, in my mind, have a point. That’s why they exist.”

Currently, both the pinot noir and pinot gris from Union Wine’s Underwood line are available canned, with a rosé coming in the future.

From the beginning, the Union Wine team has been concerned with producing a quality product and using quality ingredients, Harms said. Making sure they stay true to the “Made in Oregon” sentiment, everything from the fruit to the manufacturing, bottling and canning happens within state lines. Not bad for a guy who came to Oregon from New York on little more than a whim 18 years ago to see if maybe he liked the wine business. As it turns out, he did.

“At the ripe old age of 20, I was like, ‘Yeah, let’s all get in the wine business,’” Harms said. “I think at that point in life, the bottom’s not too far, you know? You can take risks. This just seemed like a great place to come and do it.”

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