Our two guiding principles: taste & design (part 1)

From the off, the idea behind GROWN has been a bit rebellious, up for challenging the status quo.

I wanted to maintain that attitude throughout the process of developing the product.

Both the taste and the look needed to reflect the cheekiness and disruptor spirit that motivate GROWN.

This blogpost (Part One of Two) is about how we developed the taste. Part Two will talk about the look.

When you size up the wine industry, the first thing you realise is that challenging the status quo isn’t going to be easy. Wine is one of the most traditionalist industries around. But I really believed that if GROWN was going to be a legitimate alternative to opening a bottle of wine, then it should be developed by experts from the wine industry.

The thing is though, most expert winemakers in the wine industry tend to work only with major labels or established vineyards, charging rates the big players can afford but cheeky little start-ups can’t.

So I started looking for wineries that didn’t fit the traditional mould. That meant I wasn’t looking for the wineries with their own vineyards and a small farm shop on the side. These guys already had their side hustle and weren't looking to collaborate.

After long hours of searching, I came across Defined Wine, a specialist winery in England’s ‘Napa Valley’ – the area of East Kent, around Canterbury. We caught up in the depths of the the 2nd [winter] lockdown, had a great conversation, but Defined Wine would only be able to tank and bottle the wines for me, I would have to develop and provide the recipe.

So I had to start another search. Before long, I was lucky enough to find a winemaker, also based in the southeast of England. He was the perfect fit. With decades of experience, he had the knowledge of a traditional winemaker, but he explained he also really enjoys developing new types of drinks to bring to market. I’d found an expert winemaker who shared GROWN's spirit of rebelliousness and willingness to challenge the status quo.

Soon after our first conversations in January 2021, we decided to introduce carbonation to add more interest to the drinking experience. Bubbles always feel more celebratory and fun. This immediately moved us away from the ‘wine’ category and into more of the ‘sparkling’ category. Our initial sketches used a base of white English wine, which was very nice indeed. Except English wine is in relatively short supply, and because it’s also exceptionally good, it’s charged at a premium even when bought in bulk at wholesale. Unless you own vineyards in England, you’re costed out.

Fortunately, my winemaker had a solution: apple wine. Made from dessert apples, which are much drier and crisper than your typical garden apple, they bear a very close resemblance to white wine. When paired with the additional botanicals we would go on to select, the results found a wonderful middle ground between a prosecco and a floral cocktail.

GROWN sample bottles

We were then in a position to come up with a shortlist of six different flavour profiles. I’ve always been interested in herbs from a culinary point of view. And as I’ve gotten older also from a wellbeing perspective. To learn more about their benefits, I studied herbalism. There is something so wonderfully ancient yet enduring about them.

I naturally leant towards recipes for the drinks with a herbal element. I knew I wanted the drinks to be very English, that it would be best to pair a fruit with a herb and that they should provide balance with a medium dry finish.

After multiple rounds and recipe tinkering with the winemaker over the next six months, we narrowed it down to two delicious launch flavours: Elderflower & Fresh Basil, Rhubarb & Dried Ginger. 

I’m sure the herbs go some distance in providing balance, calm and wellness. And they taste really really good. In addition, GROWN does its best work by being lower in alcohol and calories than a glass of wine or prosecco. To me, that is the ultimate objective.

With these two wonderfully light and refreshing launch flavours, I started believing this could be the start of a really great brand. I knew I had plenty more flavour profiles in the locker, so it was time to find the perfect design to celebrate just how great these drinks were.

Chris Croissant, CEO & Founder
@drinkgrown