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Inside the Unforeseen Battle Against Blue Wine in Spain

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In early 2015, five Spanish entrepreneurs, all twenty-somethings who hadn't made wine before, formed a collective called Gik. They launched a product the world’s wineries had never seen: blue wine.

Photo by Gik Live!

Like traditional wines—red, white, or rosé—blue wine is derived entirely from grapes. The color alteration is simply a result of two organic pigments, anthocyanin (a red grape skin property) and indigotin (often found in woad plants). These additions are purely for cosmetic value, giving the drink its blazing blue hue; they don't change the wine's taste, described as possessing a “mellow, sweet, slightly syrupy mouthfeel" due to the presence of non-caloric sweeteners.

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Since launching, Gik has sold nearly 90,000 bottles of this fetchingly photogenic wine, expanding beyond Spain to over two dozen countries. Back on its home turf, though, Gik has run into trouble, and that may delay the product’s worldwide expansion significantly. Last week, Gik publicized the fact that the company had been mired in a months-long legal battle with Spanish authorities. These officials were clamping down on Gik’s blue wine due to the claim that, per Spanish law, wine could only be red, white, or rosé. To stay in the Spanish market, Gik would have to re-label itself as an “other” alcoholic drink.

Photo by Gik Live!

The makers of Gik are furious, and they’re fighting back. Aritz López, one of the founders, explained to me that the trouble began last August, when an anonymous tipster alerted two Spanish inspectors to the fact that this blue wine violates a regulation introduced in 2013, which dictates that wines must either be red or white to be sold as such in markets. This tipoff prompted authorities to visit Gik’s headquarters in the Basque town of Portugalete. Authorities told Gik that they’d have to stop labeling their product as wine. To comply with these orders, Gik changed the labeling of its product to say that its composition was 99% wine and 1% grape must (a pressed grape juice with stems and seeds intact), even though it was made completely of wine. This visit also came with the imposition of a hefty fine. These newfound financial constraints forced Gik to reluctantly fire two of its recently-hired team members.

Gik hasn't run into similar problems anywhere beyond Spain, where laws regarding what constitutes wine are less rigid. Dealing with this process has proven so stressful for the company that it’s delayed its planned expansion to the States, originally slated for October. The product has already amassed 6,000 preorders in the States.

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Photo by Gik Live!

Gik has mounted a Change.org petition to broadcast its fight to the world and rally support. (They've also begun their own hashtag on Twitter, #FreedomofColor, which—just a hunch here—probably wouldn’t pass muster with many people in the States.) “There's no revolution without a counter-revolution,” the petition reads. Like most of Gik’s communications collateral, the petition speaks a language of righteous optimism, toeing the line between entrepreneurial enthusiasm and full-on myopia. “When we created Gik, our aim was to innovate in the most traditional sector of our country: wine industry," the petition continues. "They considered us fools for trying. They called us blasphemous for 'playing' with [sic] Chrits' blood. But nothing stopped us.”

The petition currently has 18 signatures.

Photo by Gik Live!

Gik isn’t the first company to suffer at the hands of this law. There were reports that Viñedos Amaya, a winemaker from the region of El Bierzo, marketed its own rainbow-colored “technowine” for a few months until it was told last October that the product defied Spanish law. It’s now called a Rainbow Drink, “made with wine and in any color you wish.”

Gik is more bullish about kowtowing to what they perceive as a preposterous law. López views this controversy as Spain’s attempt to turn a blind eye to its homegrown wine-industry’s many problems, coupled with a conservative resistance to innovation. “After centuries of tradition and production of two main and almost unique wine types, there are currently 61 regulating councils that strictly control the majority of wine-growing products grown in around 700,000 hectares,” López claimed. “In Spain, 40.6 million hectoliters of wine are produced every year, and thousands of them are absolutely wasted. This is a monopolized industry where a few giants constantly impose their standards and values.”

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As for now, López is hoping that Gik can sway public opinion in their favor and convince Spanish lawmakers to amend the law. That begins with a grassroots online campaign. The internet is where most constituents and people likely to cheerlead for their product—young people—live. Gik's campaign against this governmental decree is also something of a curious pivot for the company. Just last year, when speaking to VICE's Munchies, López said that "we wouldn’t even say it is a wine, because its taste may be more similar to a beer, a soft drink or a cocktail, so we really see it as a creation to lead a new category of beverages."

Now, it seems that Gik has backtracked, embracing its "wine" moniker the minute that very aspect of its product has come under attack. López embraces the belief that Gik is disrupting an industry in dire need of fresh blood.

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“We understand that there are people who defend tradition and the respectable names of their favorite wines, but we think we are not doing something bad,” Lopez said to me. “We just try to approach the industry as young people like us would. We strongly believe there must be a place for everyone.” These entrepreneurs imagine themselves as spearheading a revolution, after all. They just didn’t see this coming.

NOTE: An earlier version of this story misstated when Gik launched its flagship product. We've updated accordingly.

Think wine should just be red, white, or pink? Does the idea of blue wine compel or disgust you? Let us know in the comments.

Tags: spain, wine, blue wine