Ann Arbor canned wine company finds widespread success in Michigan, plans expansion

Wine in a can is not a new concept, but an Ann Arbor entrepreneur is taking the popular on-the-go beverage to new heights.
Wine in a can is not a new concept, but an Ann Arbor entrepreneur is taking the popular on-the-go beverage to new heights.

SolSummit, already available at dozens of retailers in Ann Arbor and Metro Detroit, is not your run-of-the-grocery-shelf canned wine. 

The grapes are harvested from organic, ethically managed vineyards in northern California. The wine – available in three styles – contains no additives and is packaged in sleek monochromatic cans. 

"I’ve always had an interest in premium products in alternative packaging," says Emily Dabish Yahkind, founder and "chief wine lady" of the Ann Arbor-based company, which is also committed to sustainable business practices. "I wanted to create something that fit into that culture that was a wine product but also had features of sustainability and could match a profile of something I would enjoy to drink."
SolSummit founder Emily Dabish Yahkind.
Canned wine has been available for some time, produced by national and Michigan wine brands, including Shady Lane Cellars and Leelanau Cellars in northern Michigan. Like other innovations in the industry, such as screw caps on wine bottles, new products have taken consumers some time to get used to but are growing in popularity because they’re more convenient for outdoor pursuits.

Inspiration for SolSummit came from time spent outdoors. Avid runners and hikers, Dabish Yahkind and her husband would often bring a canned beverage for a drink after a run, hike, or picnic. Typically, that canned drink in the backpack was craft beer.

"There is a lot of canned wine available, but a lot of them have additives and there is no sense of place associated with them. Often they are not the best quality," she says, adding that those wines do not appeal to consumers who prefer natural products. "I wanted to bring something unique in quality and packaging to the market." 

SolSummit, she says, is "designed as a boutique brand where the natural features of the vineyard mirror the ethos of the brand."
 
That vineyard took a while to find. Dabish Yahkind spent three years in research and development, visiting vineyards along the California coast, doing a lot of sampling, and also taking a look at Washington and Oregon. She was seeking consistency in quality as well as availability of grapes. A new wine product cannot be sustained without regular availability of grapes from producers.
SolSummit wines.
She found her vintner partner in Clarksburg, Calif., some 40 miles from Napa Valley. The grapes are grown with responsible irrigation practices and local cover crops. Vineyards in the region benefit from fog and breezes from San Francisco Bay, keeping the area cooler than nearby Sacramento.

"I am a lover of California wine and most folks love California wine," says Dabish Yahkind, who is also the Michigan director of CIV:LAB, which distributes funds to projects aimed at mitigating climate change. "It’s a sustainable vineyard and the grapes and the juice are similar to what I enjoy. The winery had the capacity and interest. It’s a happy fit."

Although Dabish Yahkind is aware of Michigan’s flourishing wine industry, she ruled out grapes from the Great Lakes State after determining most producers can only fulfill their own production needs or those of existing clients.

Choosing the brand name took some time as well. That sense of place came from the vineyard’s location. SolSummit can labels depict the Sierra Nevada and Mayacamas Mountains, which Dabish Yahkind describes as "summits that cradle the vineyard the grapes are from."

SolSummit offers three different canned wines. The varietals have been chosen deliberately, making sure they lend themselves well to cans. Cans preserve wine with no room for interference from light or oxidation, ensuring that SolSummit remains vibrant. 
SolSummit founder Emily Dabish Yahkind.
The wines are rosé, a red wine blend of tempranillo and grenache (which won a double gold medal for SolSummit's partner winery at the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition), and sauvignon blanc. 

"These wines are very fruit forward," she says. "I wanted the wine to be something you could directly drink from the can or be enjoyable in a glass. It’s an easy-drinking style and suits a variety of climates."

Released last year, SolSummit has already made quite a splash. Its wines are now available at more than 150 locations in the region, including both Ann Arbor Plum Market locations, Zingerman’s Deli, the Dixboro Project, and Everyday Wines in Kerrytown.

"We’ve had pretty good luck with the wine," says George Rodgers, managing partner of Everyday Wines. "Over the holidays we had an event with Emily and we had a really good turnout for that and ended up selling a lot of her wine. It’s been a good reception so far for Emily."
SolSummit founder Emily Dabish Yahkind.
Everyday Wines stocks other canned wine, but only those that have been tasted by staff and deemed worth selling. 

"Emily’s wines are great quality," Rodgers says. "She works with some really good producers. Her white and rosé have been popular, and we sold a lot of red after that event."

Dabish Yahkind is appreciative of the local response, noting that SolSummit is even available at Little Caesars Arena in Detroit. She says she's looking to expand the line to add "something fun," as well as a sparkling wine. She's also signed an agreement for distribution in Virginia and says there is interest in the product in other states.

"I believe our brand tells the consumer that this wine is a certified sustainable product and that we care about the product," Dabish Yahkind says. "If you're a consumer looking for a sustainable, premium wine, I think you’ll try our product."

Greg Tasker is a Traverse City-based freelance writer and the managing editor of Concentrate's sister publication, Rural Innovation Exchange.

All photos by Doug Coombe.