It began as most collections do. Someone gave Allan Green a wine can, which led to another, and another. Soon, shelves were ordered.

 

Today Green, owner and winemaker of Greenwood Ridge Vineyards in Anderson Valley (Mendocino County), has the largest wine can collection in the world. It's an interesting honor because, as far as he knows, he is also the only person accumulating them.

 

"There are a lot of can collectors around - collectors who collect soda cans, beer cans, coffee cans, oil cans, whatever cans," he says. "While some collect eclectically and include a few wine cans, mine appears to be the only one that is wine-specific."

 

Most of his 450 or so cans he keeps at home in a room that's lined floor to ceiling with shelves. Green was a beer can collector before receiving his starter wine can, that was in 1980.

 

A graphic artist by trade, his interest and passion had turned to winemaking several years before. Greenwood Ridge Vineyards was well on its way, creating wines that helped attract attention for the bucolic Anderson Valley, at the time the first wine can sparked his interest.

 

"I looked at it and thought, 'Whoa! What's this?' " he recalls. "I was pretty excited."

 

The can was an attempt to jump on the bandwagon of the successful tin packaging of beer in 1935. Acampa Brand California Muscatel from Acampa Winery in Lodi (San Joaquin County) was one of the first to give it a try in 1936. With this can in his possession, Green's fledgling collection was off and running.

 

Bear Creek Vineyards, also in Lodi, entered his collection with three canned wines - Port, sherry and angelica. An early addition that remains a favorite is "Smile-with-Vin-Tin-Age" California Port, produced in Elk Grove (Sacramento County). It features, as he describes, "a bow-tied, red-faced guy lifting his glass in salute who looks as if he is enjoying his wine to the extreme." Contents: 20 percent alcohol.

 

If he has what he calls the "unfortunate circumstance" of obtaining the wine cans when they're full, he disposes of the contents. After all, canned wines aren't exactly meant to be aged.

 

In fact, a host of problems accompanied early efforts at canning wine, from linings imparting off flavors to the wine eating tiny holes in the tins.

 

Green's collection picks up in 1954 with Yosemite Winery's tin packaging of "Carina Kan-o-Wine White Port," also 20 percent alcohol, and with "Mother Goldstein New York State 100% Pure Sacramental Concord Grape Wine, Sweetened with Excess Sugar."

 

The 1970s ushered in another try. From France came canned Beaujolais; Villa Bianchi, now known as Bianchi Winery in Paso Robles, introduced "the Canteen" wine coolers and tins of red and white still wines; Taylor entered the scene in 1980, striking a deal for its stubby cans with United Airlines and Delta.

 

"It's not a hobby with a lot of action," Green says, given limited production and wine canning's start-stop-start history, versus the nonstop success of beer in cans.

 

"Beer-can collectors deal, buy and trade at well-attended 'canventions,' " he continues. "Obviously, since I'm the only collector of wine cans there's no such opportunity. Six months may go by without a can emerging. When one does, I really get excited."

 

The future for collecting is looking up, however, with producers claiming an end to the technical problems that plagued early efforts. Francis Ford Coppola's canned Sofia Mini blanc de blanc sparkler leads the pack. Australia is actively embracing cans, and France is giving them another try.

 

France's vintage-dated cans are among Green's most prized. England has emerged as a reliable source of additions, with Japan going at it full bore.

 

"Japan has vending machines everywhere and seems to like to put most everything in cans," he says. So far, Green only has a handful of Japanese cans.

 

While the bulk of Green's collection, which encompasses some 450 plus specimens, is housed away from Greenwood Ridge's tasting room, an octagonal-shaped glass case displays a sampling of dozens of labels. According to Green, visitors are amazed by the amount of wine that is canned - and that it began so long ago.

 

And then comes the inevitable question, "Would Greenwood Ridge ever consider cans?" Green's answer comes as a question of its own: "If you made a fine wine that you were very proud of, would you put it in a can?"