Former Suffolk schoolmates set up canned wine business

7:30 a.m. September 13, 2022

A canned wine company started by three former schoolmates from Suffolk is one of a host of innovative food and drink companies taking part in a celebration of regional produce in September.

Vinca Wine – started by childhood friends from Framlingham and ex-Thomas Mills High School Charlie Vass, Jack Green and Zac Walters – will be among a rich array of producers exhibiting at this year’s Aldeburgh Food and Drink Festival on 24 and September 25.

“We had had three very different careers before deciding that we all wanted to start our own business and agreeing that our skills complemented each other well,” Charlie explained.

Canned vinca in a cooler
– Credit: Zakary Walters

Wine Manager Jack worked as a wine buyer for 10 years, Charlie was a sales manager for a technology company and Zak worked as a photographer and designer for creative agencies.

Jack was aware of the boom in the canned wine trend in the US before he landed in the UK. He had traveled the world tasting and buying wines for many years and had a particular interest in the wines of northwestern Sicily, which he considers one of the most avant-garde wine regions, defending the biological and sustainable processes.

He felt that the quality of the canned wine he tasted was often an afterthought and that more emphasis should be placed on quality.

He decided to start a business and recruited his two childhood friends to join them as head of sales and brand manager. What started as a “side hustle” quickly turned into full-time work as the business grew, and the trio decided to take the plunge and quit their careers during lockdown.

After launching the wine brand last year, they sold out their first batch in a month and are now on their third batch and the cans can now be found in bars, restaurants, music festivals and cinemas across the UK.

Vinca is a sustainable wine company, Zac explained. Its mission is to focus on the quality and origin of its wines to bring the best possible products to customers.

Sicilian organic wine is served from 100% recyclable cans, which contain up to 74.5% recycled content, he said. They offset their shipments by planting trees and printing labels on recycled paper made from grapes.

The Vinca team at Heveningham Hall

The Vinca Team – Zak Walters, Charlie Vass and Jack Green _ at Heveningham Hall
– Credit: Zakary Walters

The trio tend to work remotely as all the logistics are done with partners, explained Charlie, who divides his time between Cratfield in Suffolk and the company’s London headquarters.

“Our wine is canned before being shipped to the UK. It also means we can sell cans directly to EU countries without shipping stock to the UK, paying duty here and then shipping back to the EU,” Charlie explained.

They have strived to make the business as sustainable as possible, he added.

“We had learned about the amount of carbon produced by the wine industry in packaging and transport and we wanted to do something about it. We launched Vinca in 187ml recycled aluminum cans, which is a quarter of a standard bottle of wine.

“Shipping this way has a much lower weight and bulk in shipping containers, which means less carbon emissions. The wine comes from Sicily before being canned and sold in the UK. United.”

Vinca currently employs its three founders plus an intern but plans to expand the team in the coming months. The product can be found in hospitality venues across Suffolk and the rest of the country. It sells wholesale as well as direct to consumers through its website.

“The toughest challenge the business has faced since launching in September 2021 has been supply chain issues. Driver shortages, Brexit legislation, fuel prices and shipping delays have been very difficult for the business,” Charlie said.

“We’ve seen that Covid has shifted people’s shopping habits towards direct purchases with the brands they love. Offering free shipping hurt our margin, but helped accelerate the popularity of our products online.

“We are also offsetting the carbon from shipping to people’s homes by planting trees. Our future plans are to work with national distribution partners to grow our network of independent companies stocking Vinca on-trade and off-trade.

Vinca canned wine

Vinca canned wine
– Credit: Zakary Walters

Cans are a quarter of a standard bottle. There is a red Vinca made from a blend of Nero d’Avola and Frappato grapes, a white wine made from Catarratto grapes and a Provençal-style Syrah rosé.

The drink has caught the eye of celebrities, the trio said. Framlingham-based Ed Sheeran stored it in his dressing room and a TikTok post captioned ‘stealing a drink from Ed Sheeran’s dressing room’ shows the singer in a mock horror scene as someone helps himself one of his cans of Vinca.

Jack said they were “incredibly proud” of their product. “It makes us so happy when one of our customers loves Vinca wine, but when we saw the videos that Ed Sheeran was making for all of his subscribers, we were especially excited. We saw orders pouring in on our website from all over the world since the viral TikTok,” he said.

“I have been in the wine business for over 10 years. In the last year I have seen more damage to the vineyards as a direct result of global warming than in all my years in the business. I wanted to launch a wine brand with sustainability at the heart of everything we do.

“Lighter shipping means we can reduce our carbon footprint compared to importing glass wine bottles.

“It’s great to shake up the wine industry by selling truly exceptional wine in this new format – although I’m biased of course. We’re already seeing more and more wine drinkers switching to the can, especially those who are concerned about the impact of their consumption choices on the planet.

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