Bridge Lane Wines, with wines available in can, box and keg — as well as regular ol’ bottles — has been an alternative packaging innovator on the East Coast ever since the winery’s new owners rebranded both Bridge Lane and Lieb Cellars in 2014.
Bridge Lane remains the only winery I know of to put its wines into boxes as well as disposable kegs, but in recent years several East Coast wineries — including a growing number in New York — have started to put their wines into cans. The benefits are many. Because cans are far lighter than glass bottles, they are more affordable and require less energy to ship, and they can be recycled more efficiently.
As a consumer, I love them for the beach, on a hike, on a boat or by the pool. They don’t require a corkscrew to open and there isn’t any risk of glass shards and bare feet. Convenience is the name of the game here along with the sustainability they help enable.
With most canned wine, however, there is one major problem that I have a hard time moving past: the wine usually isn’t very good.
For many wineries, cans are reserved for overly sweet or overly manipulated wines.
Yes, there’s plenty of drinkable wine available in cans, but that’s a pretty low bar. Drinkable isn’t exactly praise. As I recently told a fellow wine writer: “If you wouldn’t happily drink the wine from a bottle, it’s just not good wine. Putting it into a can doesn’t somehow make the wine better.”
I guess I just don’t believe in grading on a curve based on the container.
Luckily, that’s never been an issue with Bridge Lane. Winemaker Russell Hearn consistently puts good wine into everything — from those disposable kegs to boxes to bottles and to cans. What seems to set Hearn and Bridge Lane apart is that he’s not making different wines just for the cans. He’s not taking something mediocre (or worse) and adding fruit flavor or a bunch of sugar to cover up any faults.
He’s making real wine and putting it into a variety of packages.
“You can think of our Bridge Lane Sauvignon Blanc as being in one big tank,” said Ami Opisso, general manager of Lieb Cellars and Bridge Lane. “We pull wine from that same tank for bottling, boxing, canning and kegging. Expectations seem to lower when buyers and consumers are tasting from alternative formats. We could have but didn’t want to exploit that tendency. Our Bridge Lane wines are well made and high quality no matter what package you’re drinking them from. And that’s why our alt formats have been so successful.”
The Bridge Lane wines aren’t the best wines on the North Fork. But they are good wines — sometimes very good — that taste of place and that don’t need to be graded on any curve.
I asked Opisso if they’ve ever considered putting Lieb’s higher-end, varietal wines into cans. She quickly responded: “No. For two reasons. First, Lieb wines are made with estate-grown fruit only, so production capacity on our Lieb wines is very limited. Second, we didn’t want to mess with Lieb. If we were going to take risks and throw out tradition with Bridge Lane, Lieb needed to remain our anchor and source of credibility. Without Lieb there would be no Bridge Lane.”
The Bridge Lane line — particularly the canned wines — have helped the Lieb wines reach new markets, which was part of the point.
“Distributors find us because they hear about our kegs or cans either through the press, social media or word of mouth. They start off by representing Bridge Lane only and then over time they wind up folding in some Lieb,” Opisso told me in an email.
Last month, Opisso and Hearn introduced the brand’s newest wine in can: Bridge Lane Bubbly. It’s a riesling-heavy blend that also includes seyval blanc and muscat. The result, which sells for roughly $8 per can at local wine shops and $35 for a four-pack (the equivalent of two traditional bottles) at the winery, is just off-dry, peachy and floral with gentle carbonation. It’s not a wine to ponder or pour into a flute.
Drink it from the can, or pour it into a casual tumbler and drink it with friends, with food, or just by yourself after a long day at work. About an hour ago, my wife and I split a can with pork tacos and it was a delicious pairing.
Lenn Thompson has been writing about American wine — with a focus on New York — for nearly 15 years. After running newyorkcorkreport.com for 12 years, he launched thecorkreport.us in 2016 and The Cork Report Podcast soon after. He lives in Miller Place with his wife and two children.