Notable

The Everlane of Booze?

July 18, 2019

Story: Leslie Pariseau

Art: Lizzie Munro

Haus, a direct-to-consumer aperitif from California’s wine country, takes aim at a generation obsessed with wellness, transparency and spritzes.

In many ways, Haus, a new aperitif from Sonoma County, is a nexus of American zeitgeist. Launched in late June, the wine-based, “farm-to-bottle” product channels a millennial preoccupation with wellness, natural wine and low-ABV cocktails. Naturally, it’s also very Instagrammable. Seemingly dipped in eggshell-white paint, serif letters cut away to showcase the sherbet-orange liquid inside, Haus’s design is a statement of understatement. And the way it’s sold, exclusively direct to consumer, tugs at the impulse of a generation that’s adept at online shopping.

“We’re seeing all these other industries being disrupted,” says Haus cofounder and co-CEO Helena Price Hambrecht. “Nobody seemed to be doing that in spirits.” Formerly in publicity in Silicon Valley and New York City, Helena met her husband and co-CEO, Woody Hambrecht, a Sonoma winemaker (of Alysian Wines and Floodgate Wine Co.) in 2012 on OkCupid. Combining their respective expertise, the couple aimed to create an interesting, health-conscious aperitif wine that customers from Florida to Washington could access. In bypassing traditional distribution, the Hambrechts are communicating directly with their audience, marketing through Instagram and personal networks, and controlling every step of the buying experience. It’s a business model that feels more akin to Glossier and Outdoor Voices than Campari or Aperol.

Haus’s first release, Citrus & Flower, sold out in 12 hours, and thousands of people are on the waiting list for the next release, planned for July 10. A rosé-based iteration will appear at the end of the month. This sort of hype is by design (there’s no shortage of excess grape juice from excellent winemakers in California, which Haus plans to tap when they scale up) and bears comparison to the anticipation of a limited-edition sneaker drop or capsule collection. Only 2,000 bottles went to market this time around. The next release will number 5,000.

Reminiscent of the iconic Absolut bottle, a disruptor of its own era, Haus’s packaging was created by Gin Lane, which has worked on some of the most stylishly low-key brands of the last decade, including Hers and Hims, Warby Parker, Everlane and Reformation. Where many bottle designs, especially in the low-ABV range, are designed to evoke nostalgia for a bygone era of European sophistication, Haus plays into a totally different aesthetic—one meant to blend in with the minimalist interiors marketed by Muji, Brooklinen and HAY. “The main function [of the bottle] is to look really beautiful,” says Helena. “It’s designed to fit into your home.”

The liquid, of course, is important too. At 15 percent ABV, Haus is said to contain 80 percent less sugar than its European competitors, and is made almost entirely from the fruits and botanicals grown on the Hambrechts’ Healdsburg ranch. The Citrus & Flower release contains a chardonnay base, fortified with grape brandy infused with elderflower, lemon, grapefruit, hibiscus and cinnamon and sweetened with cane sugar. Mellow and subtle, the flavor profile falls somewhere between Cocchi Americano and St-Germain, but with a finish that’s remarkably dry and subtly bitter. Despite its restrained profile, Haus stands up to dilution when served with soda or prosecco; it seems (smartly) engineered for a spritz.

Helena says that over the course of creating Haus, Woody conceived of a superfast, low-waste extraction method that has reduced the process from 30 days to nine hours, meaning Haus can hit the market within a few days of production. Fusing together the romance of Sonoma and the efficiency of Silicon Valley, the Hambrechts are counting on receiving feedback in real time from the thousands of customers to whom they’ve already forged a direct connection. “Then,” says Helena, “we can iterate and optimize and optimize.