In 2013, a cherry-flavored wine was the first drink people could take off the shelves in Puerto Rico.
It was a sign that the island’s economy was recovering from Hurricane Maria, and the wine had made it to the shelves.
But the drink wasn’t enough to sway a community in the most dire economic straits since the island was plunged into economic ruin in the wake of Maria.
So the community decided to make a version of the drink that would save lives.
The Wine and Spirits Institute of America (WSIAA), the trade group representing the beverage industry, partnered with the Puerto Rico Wine and Distilling Association (PRWA) to create a new wine with cherry juice.
The WSIAA helped create a cocktail called “the cherry wine,” which is now one of the best-selling wines in the world.
“We were all in shock,” says WSIIA President and CEO Eric Johnson.
“I remember sitting there with my team and my friends saying, ‘We can’t do this.
We’re going to have to change our minds.'”
The winemaker and his team had been working on a cherry blend for almost a year, and had already been working with WSIHA and PRWA.
The new blend was meant to appeal to a younger market, but the idea of cherry wine seemed like a natural fit.
“The concept was simple,” says David DeLuca, WSIWA’s director of marketing.
“When I think about the people who are trying to help this island recover from this catastrophe, I thought we could help them understand what this wine could do.”
So the PRWA launched an online petition with more than 5,500 signatures.
The PRWA, which was founded in 1992, has grown to include nearly 30,000 members in the U.S. and more than 2,400 in Puerto Rican communities.
“It was an emotional time for us,” says Johnson.
But in the end, the community felt the need to change its mind.
After years of working with the PRVAA and the WSIRAA, WSUAA was ready to change the formula.
“At some point, we were going to make it, but at some point we had to make an honest assessment of the market and our ability to deliver on that promise,” says DeLucas.
That assessment came with some tough choices.
“You could look at the wine as a product that was going to help, but also have some potential downsides,” he says.
“A cherry wine has a lower alcohol content than the other wines that were made in Puerto Ricos, but if you’re drinking that, it’s a great wine.
But you’re not going to be drinking it for 10 to 12 hours a day.
And we had no idea what that would mean for a community, which is an older population that’s struggling financially.”
So WSIAAA created the “The Cherry Wine,” which it called the “chocolate cherry.”
It was designed with a lower sugar content than most cherry wines, and made with a blend of sugar, fruits and grapes.
The flavor of the blend was supposed to complement the cherry juice, while still being flavorful enough to satisfy those who were seeking a taste of the island.
WSIPA’s DeLucae says the team was “a little bit worried” when the PRRAA and WSIUA launched their campaign.
The community had always been happy with cherry wine, but “this was the moment where it was time to put that cherry wine to the test.”
They took a taste at the cherry wine and found that it had more of the flavors of the cherry than most wines of that type.
“That was the beginning of the beginning,” DeLucaa says.
But for the PRLAA, it was also a “time of uncertainty” as they started their campaign, and there were “no guarantees” about the success of the product.
The campaign was delayed for about a year as the PRMAA and PRWIAA worked to make sure it could be delivered on time.
“There was no doubt that we were doing something right,” says PRWA president and CEO Jorge Arruche.
“They did everything they could.
But there was a problem.
The cherry wine didn’t taste as good as other wines.
And they had no clue what to do about it.”
The PRLAAs problems were compounded by the fact that the cherry-infused wine had no added sugar, which may have affected the flavor of some people.
But even the PRHAA didn’t know how to make the cherry blend.
DeLucia says he knew it had to be something “that people could taste,” but he couldn’t come up with a way to make that taste.
After weeks of trial and error, they came up with what they called “The cherry wine” in December 2017.
The winery and the PRAAA agreed to a price for the product