We recently sat down with RedThumb advisor Matt Cain for a roving conversation that ranged from topics like whether the old guard of the wine world stifles innovation in winemaking, to the fearlessness shown by younger wine-drinking generations, and how social media has impacted wine drinking culture.
Why Matt Cain? With Yellow + Blue wine, Matt was one of the first importers to introduce the US to both organic wine and sustainable wine packaging. It was a lot for the US wine market of a decade ago, and he was met with more than enough skepticism.
Before founding Yellow + Blue, Matthew came from a traditional wine importing background. His contacts in the wine industry were shocked to see not only an organic wine from Argentina but also wine that came in a…box?
Food + Wine referred to Matt as an “eco-wine importer” in a 2015 ranking of 40 up-and-comers under 40. After a decade working alongside importer Kermit Lynch, Matt felt compelled to create a comprehensively environment-friendly wine. Not just the wine though—Cain aimed to reinvent the entire process—from shipping the wine to sourcing and packaging wine in a way that was kind to the earth.
Each carton of Yellow + Blue wine Cain created had a carbon footprint half that of the average bottle. Cain, after sourcing high-quality organic wine from around the world, shipped the wine in bulk using Tetra Pak containers. This innovation reduced the amount of packaging needed while elevating the image of boxed wine as we know it.
Yellow + Blue wines were environmentally curated wines that also gave you more bang for your buck. The packaging held two more glasses of vino than its standard glass bottle counterparts.
On the subject of introducing the boxed, organic wine to the market, Cain dealt with a double-edged sword.
“They all asked me at the time ‘What are you doing? What the hell are you doing?’” said Cain. “Wine box packaging [at the time] was kitschy and cute with funny animals [on it] and the wine in this type of packaging was bottom of the barrel—it was just a way to sell more wine and it was kind of joke-y” said Cain, acknowledging that his innovative take on new boxed wine didn’t receive a warm welcome in the market.
Cain had to defend his choice frequently: “Packaging doesn’t make the wine good or bad—packaging is just packaging.” While packaging is just packaging, Yellow + Blue’s box design had half the carbon footprint of bottled wines.
With innovation at the helm of the brand, Cain knew he wanted to avoid a traditional old wine world audience and attract a newer, more fearless audience. With that in mind, he launched in New York where there was a younger population of wine drinkers: “35 and under will try anything—they’re not scared. They may not know what a varietal is but they’re open to trying it,” said Cain.
“Wine has changed over time. In the olden days it was ‘we drink bordeaux, we drink burgundy, and we drink champagne,’” said Cain. “No one was talking about malbec in Argentina or rosé in Navarra. It was `We drink French wine and we’ll drink Italian wine and we’ll drink wine from California’.”
Part of the changes in wine drinking, Cain notes, are due to social media and the increased access to information: “this new population of people drinking wine […] have so much more information flow. People are willing to try things [now] where if they didn’t know much about it they wouldn’t be as inclined to do that,” said Cain.
Not only has how we learn about wine changed but there’s a difference in the way that people drink wine. “All of this ‘oh, man we laid this bottle down for 50 years and now we’re gonna drink it’ like that’s a part of the old system—and old wines are great but what’s happening now is: people are walking into a store, see a cool label, take it home, […] and drink it. And if they like it? Keep drinking it,” said Cain.
Cain also notes that environmental changes contributed to a shift in wine culture “the world is a different place than it was in 2008 […] there weren’t a lot of people thinking about organics, organic wine, or anything environmentally.” Now, even in the last decade views have changed: “Everyone recognizes that whatever’s happened in the past fifty years with regard to the environment has not been very good” said Cain. And those that have been particularly vocal about environmental changes have been none other than Gen Z.
“I have three kids: 23, 21, and 19. And they’re looking at the world in a completely different way.” Referencing the younger generation, including his children, and Gen Z’s passion about ethical purchasing in modern times: “They go thrifting, right? They don’t go to stores—they go thrifting. They want to go to farmer’s markets. They want to know where their food comes from,” said Cain.
Cain recognizes the changes around wine culture and (graciously) commends RedThumb’s market approach: “RedThumb, just to bring this full circle, is coming to the market in what I think is the actual right way. They’re being upfront with regards to things like ingredients. They’re not trying to copy some old-world style label,” said Cain. He also noted our choice to partner with a producer that “is thinking about the world differently than the generation before” said Cain.
Not to pat ourselves on the back but if Cain has proven anything— it’s that he knows the market. After selling his wine business, he founded a boutique investment bank, Derailleur Capital. The firm raises capital globally for entrepreneurs that are envisioning the future of agriculture, food and beverage.