Current federal regulations make producing canned wine expensive and cumbersome

GENEVA — Erica Paolicelli could see no end to the traditional wine bottle but was eager to join the exploding market for wine sold in cans.

"If you are on the golf course, or you're at a concert, or you're on a boat, it's a better option for everyone," she explained.

Over recent years, Paolicelli's Three Brothers Winery & Estates in Geneva had become a leader in the production of canned wines, a facility where other Finger Lakes area wineries would routinely go to can their own vintages. 

But while the industry monitor Beverage Media celebrated a robust 69 percent increase in the sale of wines in cans in 2018, vintners like Three Brothers struggled with federal restrictions that made seizing on the popular trend expensive and cumbersome and held out hope for relief from the rules.

A new initiative by the federal Alchohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) would lift many of those regulations.  On its website, the agency announced: "TTB is proposing to eliminate all but a minimum 'standard of fill' (container size) for wine containers."

The biggest challenge: different can sizes between those currently approved for wine and those used for virtually every other beverage.

"Every time we have to switch over the canning line," she said, "our whole production of cans is down for a week because switching over that line is very complicated and time-consuming."

Under the dizzying collections of federal regulations, wine cannot be sold in the familiar 12-ounce cans popularly used for beer and soft drinks.

Instead, it must be in 375-milliliter portions, which makes for a 12.7-ounce can. It can also be sold in 250-milliliter cans, like the familiar smaller cans often used for Red Bull energy drinks but those portions can legally only be sold in four-packs.

The difference between a 12-ounce can and a 12.7-ounce can was a stark one for facilities like Three Brothers. Paolicelli estimated using a standard can normally costs about 18 cents a can while the much more specialized 12.7-ounce can would set her business back more than 34 cents apiece.

 "This is all from antiquated legislation, from just after Prohibition," exclaimed Scott Osborn at the Fox Run Winery in Benton. "We're finding the fact that we can't put our cans in the standard size that the consumer is used to buying is preventing us from really expanding the market as much as we possibly could."

"We don't have those kinds of hundred-year-old outdated ways of thinking and rulemaking," declared U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer. "So let these guys have the freedom they need to sell what they want in the right way." 

Schumer visited the Finger Lakes wine region Wednesday and called for the TTB to go ahead with its proposals to do away with its restrictions and open the door for winemakers to supply canned beverages suitable for swimming pools, beaches and golf courses.

"I'm going to push them hard on this for one reason above all, jobs," Schumer said. "This is going to help our wineries bring more jobs to the Finger Lakes, the Rochester Finger Lakes area."

The TTB's website invited public comment on its plan until Aug. 30. You may comment at