John Green is bringing lessons he learned as an industry-agnostic investor and entrepreneur to a new craft beverage venture.
“My involvement has been in a number of industries — not just alcohol,” Green told MiBiz. “And a lot of the learnings I’ve had, I’ve been able to apply to other businesses.”
Green, the founder and CEO of Revolution Farms LLC and a former Founders Brewing Co. executive chairperson who helped establish and grow the brewery’s flagship location in Grand Rapids, has teamed up with longtime Napa Valley winemaker Grant Hemingway to launch a wine brand called Libby.
The new product is a first-of-its-kind bubbled wine — essentially a cross between champagne or prosecco and highly popular hard seltzers.
“Wine is a category that has not been disrupted — it really hasn’t,” Green said. “It’s rooted in traditions. But what we’re doing has not been done in the wine space before. It’s time to develop something that is much more approachable.”
Green and Hemingway set out to improve what they see as shortcomings in hard seltzers, particularly a lack of flavor and after effects that leave the drinker feeling bloated.
Compared to traditional sparkling wine, Libby carries a much lower alcohol by volume (ABV) of 6 to 7 percent, which is comparable to a session IPA in the beer world. Libby also is a low-calorie beverage option at 75 calories per serving.
The difference between Libby and sparkling wine lies in the production process. While traditional sparkling wine picks up its carbonation from the natural fermentation process, the Libby team infuses wine with CO2.
The brand has kicked off with two variations — a White Blend and Rose Blend — that are packaged in 750 mL glass bottles.
Often pigeonholed as a “beer guy,” Green has experience working in the beverage space from multiple angles. Aside from his tenure with Founders, he’s also an investor in and adviser for Finnish Long Drink, a canned cocktail with deep roots in its home country of Finland that launched in the spring of 2018. Green said the fast-growing brand and beverage has exploded in popularity over the last few years.
Green also developed a water system called Cirkul, which adds flavor to drinking water through a special bottle and flavor cartridge. He’s also among more than a dozen West Michigan investors in rum brand Papa’s Pilar.
Leaning into D2C
Green brings to Libby direct-to-consumer sales experience that he gained from Cirkul. Green and Hemingway are currently working through each state’s compliance process to gain product and label approvals. As a wine-derived beverage, Libby can ship directly to 48 of 50 states — a competitive advantage over beer and canned cocktails.
Green estimates Libby will be approved for distribution in Michigan in roughly two weeks, and the company plans to offer a subscription-based model for consumers. Green said he also is in discussions with some of the larger distributors.
“It’s very encouraging that they’ve all come back with positive feedback about the brand and product,” Green said. “As they say, we’re checking all the boxes on what new consumers want in a wine.”
Green also is co-founder and CEO of hydroponic farm Revolution Farms LLC in Caledonia, which uses a fully automated system to grow and harvest field greens. Revolution’s salad mixes can be found in several West Michigan grocery retailers.
“A lot of these businesses I’m involved with, I just enjoy the challenge (of) doing something that hasn’t been done before and challenging consumers and providing healthier alternatives,” Green said. “There is definitely a connection between what we’re doing at the farm and what we’re doing with Libby.”
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