By Emily Merrell
Michelob Ultra isn’t the only “light” alcohol out there. SOCIAL Sparkling Wine is an 88 calorie alcoholic treat made out of sake, featuring delicious flavors like pumpkin chai and elderflower. After battling cancer in her early 20’s, SOCIAL Sparkling Wine founder Leah Caplanis started exploring what “clean” alcohol looked like. Read on to learn how she built out her national brand and is revolutionizing the industry.
SDS: SOCIAL Sparkling Wine was created after your treatment for thyroid cancer. Why did you want to start a healthy alcoholic beverage?
LEAH CAPLANIS: When I went on my holistic healing journey, I followed a primarily vegan diet. I went on juice cleanses, cut out sugar and gave up alcohol. Two years without alcohol made me look at it with fresh eyes. I saw that it has value for society and helps people relax and feel comfortable. Alcohol can lower emotional guards and make it easier to connect and exchange energy with those around us. I was surprised to learn that the first traces of human consumption of alcohol date back more than 10,000 years to The Stone Age. This connection that can be created with one other is what inspired me to create my wine, in order to support and help people interact.
In the book The Blue Zones, it talks about the seven places in the world where people have longer, healthier lives. Surprisingly, author Dan Buettner identifies that what they have in common besides a primarily plant based diet and a glass of wine each day, is that their top priorities are being connected and social in their community. As humans, we need this connection and need to feel accepted by a tribe. Helping to bring people together to express themselves and feel connected is part of my mission.
SDS: Tell us more about the base of the wine, sake. How did you decide on sake as the foundation of the product?
LC: When deciding how I would create a high vibe alcohol, I knew more of what I didn’t want to use. I didn’t want to use grapes because they have sulfites and I didn’t want to use wheat because of the gluten. I didn’t want to use liquor because it’s hard for the liver to process. When one of my partners suggested sake from rice, that really felt in alignment for me. Brown rice was one of my diet staples in my earliest years.
My parents explored many diets when I was young and until I was six or so, I was raised on a macrobiotic diet with the staple item being organic short grain brown rice. We used to buy it in 50lb bags and sometimes my parents would let me play in piles of it on the kitchen floor. Macrobiotics means the study of long life. Rice is thought to have evolved around the same time as humans and therefore, it is the easiest for people to eat. In Asian cultures, rice is one of the Twelve Symbols of Sovereignty along with fire, earth and even the symbol for peace. This is based on the principle that when rice or prosperity is evenly distributed among people, there is peace.
SDS: What does “clean alcohol” mean? Can you give examples of other clean brands you admire?
LC: “Clean” is the word to use because in alcohol you can’t use the word “healthy”. Clean represents organic, low sugar and transparency in ingredients. In alcohol, believe it or not, the producers are not required to put ingredients on the packaging or the nutrition panel. This is starting to shift, but there are still so many preservatives, GMOs, synthetic flavors, added sugars, and MSG in the beer and wine made in the United States today. The Food Babe has done a great job exposing some of those items.
SDS: 1% of your proceeds benefit nonprofits that support peace, joy and love. What inspired you to have a charitable component to your product?
LC: I don’t share this often, but I was actually raised on food stamps for several years. Though my father and I are very close and he has supported me so much the past 15 years, for many years he did not contribute much financially. My mother raised us on $35,000 a year. I am who I am today because of the emotional and financial generosity of countless wonderful people. Given that America is set up to incentivize companies to donate to nonprofits, I have the option to do it — so I do! Rather than why would we do it, the question should be, “Why wouldn’t everyone on an individual and corporate level do it?”
SDS: What’s been the most exciting part of running your business?
LC: The most exciting thing for me is when people tell me that by switching to SOCIAL Sparkling Wine, they are feeling better and have more energy to be the best versions of themselves. Giving love to women is part of my mission and I believe that if they feel better it affects everyone around them. I also love creating awareness of organics, sugar and what people may put in their bodies. The more we all become conscious of that, the better choices we can make.