The Making of Maker: Yes, We Canned
The story of why we became obsessed with building a canned wine company that would support premium wine from independent producers — sans the snobbery.
By Sarah Hoffman
October 15, 2019
We’ve all been there. You’re looking at a wine list that may as well be hieroglyphics. The Somm looks at you patronizingly and rattles off a list of esoteric descriptors you’re pretty sure he just made up. (Tennis balls? Give me a break).
While I’ve always loved drinking wine, the snobbery that came with it never sat right with me. I found it intimidating to learn about wine and develop my palate.
That’s why I gravitated toward craft beer. I loved the laid-back attitude, experimental brews, and colorful characters that make up the craft beer community. So much so that I made it my job, leading marketing for food and beverage accounts at Eventbrite. I also became a homebrewer, craft beer blogger, and even started a supper club to support local brewers on the side.
When I came to business school I took a course about the wine industry that demystified the wine world for me, and helped me see that what I love about beer exists in spades in wine; passionate people with amazing stories to tell.
This prompted a crazy idea to make premium wine and the people behind it more approachable. I wanted to take the good stuff and put it in a format you could enjoy anywhere (and that didn’t take itself too seriously). I wanted to showcase the diverse winemakers behind beautiful wines and facilitate the storytelling and connection that happens when people share good wine together.
I feverishly wrote a brief about the idea over the weekend and… it sat in a drawer for 6 months. But I couldn’t stop thinking about it. I knew I needed to find a partner to help me bring it to life.
So in June of 2018, I sat down with my classmate Kendra over a burger and casually pitched the idea of putting really good wine in a can for a start-up class. Little did she know, I was plotting our post-grad future.
The first (of many) wine photos we’d take together.
When Sarah first approached me about working on a wine idea together, I was intrigued. We bonded, first over red solo cups, and then over red wine, because we both value craft and connection.
I come from a family that enjoys wine, but when I moved from the Midwest to California for grad school, I noticed the wine aisle looked drastically different than my grocery store regulars. There were regions I’d never heard of, grapes I’d never tried, and wineries that had never popped up on the shelves back home.
It was eye-opening for me to learn that most of the wines I’d been drinking were made by the same handful of mass producers, with brands and labels that imitated small-batch wines. I needed to learn more, and decided to take a wine class at business school.
It was there that I learned just how fragmented the wine industry is, with unnecessary steps and middlemen that keep wine producers and wine drinkers apart. I saw how hard it was for small winemakers to get on the map when they’re up against massive marketing machines and mega distributors. And I noticed how overwhelming and outdated the purchase experience was for wine, watching my friends use label art as a proxy for wine quality while wandering the aisles of TJ’s.
Before Maker, I was a healthcare consultant passionate about lifting up the small players in the industry. I like to solve big, unsexy problems in hyper-regulated industries that are slow to embrace change. Turned out wine plus business school was the perfect pairing.
I decided I wanted to change the way people learn about and find small-batch wine. So when Sarah approached me about canning premium wine — and selling it online — I knew it was an idea I’d want to sink my teeth into.
In the Fall of 2018 we started working on Maker in Stanford’s “Start-up Garage” course with the mission to promote small-batch wines from unconventional people — sans the snobbery.
Together we hit the road and visited over 50 small, independent wineries across California to learn why they did what they did and what their challenges were.
We had no idea what to expect.
As newbies to the industry, we expected a lot of slammed doors and dead phone lines. What we found surprised us: almost every winemaker and winery owner we reached out to was open and eager to meet.
We learned about massive shifts taking place in the wine industry that put small wineries at a disadvantage.
We learned that while these wineries want to grow, they have trouble reaching the next generation of wine drinkers and telling their stories in an increasingly crowded market.
Along the way, we also collected amazing stories and people, from an ayahuasca-trippin’ geologist to a medieval history buff, all united by their love of wine and bringing people together.
After three months of immersing ourselves in the wine industry it became clear this wasn’t just a school project — it was people that we wanted to support and a company that we had to build.
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They make it.
Maker partners with best-in-class small producers that craft award-winning wines.
We can it.
We can the wine side-by-side with our winemaker partners, directly from their winery.
You drink it.
We’ll deliver Maker cans and their stories to your door in under 48 hours in California.