Profile series: Innovators in low/no alcohol

My Drynuary: ‘The beauty of the non-alcoholic space is that there are no rules! We're creating the category for the modern drinker'

By Rachel Arthur

- Last updated on GMT

My Drynuary: non-alcoholic wine Surely on flavor complexity

Related tags alcohol-free NABLAB non-alcoholic Us Wine California Entrepreneurship

Ryan Hanson co-founded non-alcoholic wine Surely in 2020, attracted to the opportunity to innovate in a very traditional category. In our series on entrepreneurs in the low/no alcohol industry, he takes us through what he’s focusing on as a leader of a start-up brand in an emerging space – and the opportunities he sees for the future.

The brand uses high quality California grapes and works with a team of winemakers to create a non-alcoholic wine: which is fermented, dealcoholized and then blended with organic teas, botanicals and other natural ingredients.

Introduce us to Surely!

Ryan Hanson, Surely Founder & CEO

I founded Surely in late 2020 with my friend Justin Mares. We were both actively looking to drink less but couldn’t find any quality NA options. 

We desired something dry, bold, and complex - like a fine wine. Something to pair with great food and good company.

We felt that wine has the most range of any beverage, and offered us the most room to creatively innovate.

With a mission to “maintain your wine ritual and stay social”, Surely debuted with a Sparkling Rosé in November 2020 and sold 150 cases in the first 30 days. 

All of Surely’s products are non-alcoholic, low sugar, low sulfites, low calorie, vegan, gluten-free, non-GMO and made in California.

Surely can be found online (​ & Amazon) and in over 1,400 stores nationwide in the US including Sprouts, Target, Total Wine, and more!

Tell us a bit about how you make your alcohol-free wine

Our process is as follows: making the wine; distillation to remove the alcohol; then blending in 100% natural ingredients to balance the wine and layer in complexity.

This starts with our vineyard partners who make beautiful wines that serve as the base material for Surely. We work in tandem with these partners to develop wine that meet our specifications.

An important element of our process is fermentation. Fermentation produces complex alcohols, acids, and esters that create unique flavor profiles.

Then we take the wine and put it through a vacuum distillation process to remove the alcohol. 

Our winemaker and wine chemist then team up to blend in 100% all natural ingredients to balance the wine and layer in complexity.

Surely Non-Alcoholic Wines

What should we expect from the drinking experience?

Our core objective is to create enjoyable experiences for those who love wine but want to consume less alcohol.

We don’t necessarily want to go head to head with alcoholic wine and message to the customer - “hey we taste exactly like this alcoholic wine that you like so try this!”

Over time we want people to say “that tastes like Surely” not “this kind of tastes like this other thing”. As a young company it takes time to lock in that association with customers, but that is the journey we are on. 

We wish to be judged by the complexity of the flavors we create, not a comparison to anything else. We strive to craft unique taste profiles that will carry a variety of interpretations.

Some of our customers think they’ve found their 1:1 wine match with Surely. Others don’t think it reminds them of a specific wine but love it for what it is. And some people don’t like our stuff - and that’s okay too!

We started with sparkling wines as we knew that carbonation was going to be an effective tool. As we expanded into still wines, we challenged ourselves to think outside-the-box more and began to incorporate a more diverse list of natural ingredients to build body, texture, etc.

We built a lab in Northern California this year so we could test new concepts weekly. The beauty of the NA space is that there are no rules. We are creating the category for the modern drinker.

Our sparkling products aim to be dry and crisp, while our new still blends (Red & Blanc) are bold and complex.

Some people would say non-alcoholic wine is just a glorified grape juice. What do you say to that?

FERMENTATION! Grape juice is loaded with sugar and doesn’t offer the complexity that a fermented beverage like non-alcoholic wine does.

What does your job involve?

We are still a small team of 8 people which makes it easier to have a pulse on all things as a CEO.

' I think being visible on social media is a requirement for the modern founder. Having a direct line to your community is mission critical.'

I like to be hands-on across all the functions of the business but also make sure I’m giving our talented team enough space to do their thing. 

To ensure we are always in building mode we aim to minimize meeting time but make it high impact when we do meet.

The CEO role at a startup often shifts based on what the biggest problem to solve is. 

I view the flow like this:

  • starts with creating an MVP product
  • taking rigorous feedback from your first customers to make an amazing v2 product
  • fundraising to support your product launch (enough money to hit MOQs for first PO)
  • brand building (social channels, brand identity, website, packaging, etc.) once you’ve started to establish traction
  • storytelling & selling - going deep with repeat customers and learning how to expand your audience
  • hire passionate team and build a winning culture

Then it’s all about how you take these 'Phase 1' learnings to scale in phase 2 (omnichannel expansion, new product extensions, generate sustainable profitability, etc.)

Right now my main focuses are (1) helping the wine team on innovation projects and (2) selling Surely into new accounts like Target.

I’ve also recently started to push myself to post more on social channels (IG, LinkedIn, TikTok). I think being visible on social media is a requirement for the modern founder. Having a direct line to your community is mission critical.

The unique challenges of a Founder & CEO are (1) fundraising and (2) being the face of a brand. These are often new challenges for Founders but if you figure out how to become elite at these you will be able to separate from the pack. 

What does January look like for your brand?

January is our biggest sales month of the year! 

We see a spike in sales but these customers are also the best performing cohort of any month all year. Meaning January customers repeat more than customers who start their journey with us in any other month.

What’s on your radar for 2024?

We launched two new wines in the last 4 months. A Red Blend and white blend we call Surely Blanc. Continuing to push these products will be our focus for the 1st half of 2024 and we’ve got some really exciting stuff we are working on to release in the 2nd half of 2024.

For both of these new products we expanded outside of a traditional winemaking approach and layered in teas, botanicals, and other natural ingredients to add body & complexity.

We’ve adopted the tagline “Sip Beyond the Ordinary” for these wines and they’ve been the top two sellers during Dry January this year.

The non-alcoholic wine category has been slower to take off than the non-alcoholic beer category. Why is this – and what does the industry need to do to boost its prospects?

Education, Awareness, and Storytelling.

The beer and wine industry are set up differently. 

In beer you have a number of massive household names (Heineken, Budweiser, Molson-Coors, Heinken, Corona, etc.) that together are spending upwards of $100MM dollars to push the narrative that NA beer tastes good now - which it does!

The quality of NA wine has dramatically improved over the last three years but less people are aware of it because the wine industry historically invests far less compared to beer and doesn’t have household brands pushing the same narrative that NA wine tastes good now - which it does! 

What inspires you on your journey in the low and no alcohol category?

For me Low/No is about a personal quest for balance. Balance for me as I’ve entered my 30’s and took on founding a company has meant mostly an NA lifestyle with a very few special drinks mixed in throughout the year. 

But it’s a personal journey for everyone and as a company we aim to create quality options for people so they have sophisticated choices when they want an NA option.

Bill Shufelt (Athletic Brewing) is an inspiration for being the first through the door changing the narrative around NA.

Melanie Masarin (Ghia) is an inspiration for making everyone feel cool with an NA drink in their hand.


Previously: Optimist's alcohol-free botanical spirits are shaped around the landscapes, culture and mindsets of Los Angeles. 

Co-founder Lisa Farr Johnstone tells us about the brand's journey to date.

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