- Darren Rovell, ESPN.com Sports Business reporter
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In 1995, Keith Villa had just returned from the University of Brussels having earned his doctorate in beer brewing, when he began working on a Belgian beer that would become Blue Moon.
Blue Moon's story is pretty well documented. Funded by MillerCoors, it's now the 18th-largest beer brand in the U.S., according to Beer Marketer's Insights.
Popularized by the famous orange, which Villa convinced bartenders to carry, you can find Blue Moon -- and a slice of citrus -- just about anywhere in the country.
What many don't know is that Blue Moon was conceptualized at the Sandlot, a microbrewery located inside Coors Field that has served as the developmental ground for the entire Blue Moon label operation.
Come up with a concept. Make the beer. Bring it to Rockies fans and see the reaction.
The same year Villa invented Blue Moon, the brewmaster toyed with the idea of brewing a beer/wine hybrid product, which was not being done in the states.
Villa put the beer and Chardonnay grapes in the same barrel at the Sandlot and called his 51 percent beer, 49 percent wine creation Vintage Blonde Ale.
Those who had tasted it at the ballpark weren't too keen on it at the time, so Villa didn't do anything for about a decade.
When he resurrected it again in small batches, it started to win awards over and over again.
In an effort to see if the beer/wine hybrid would now be received by the mass market, Vintage Blonde Ale was released in five test markets -- Chicago, western New Jersey, Denver, Seattle and San Francisco -- last year.
It sold out.
Full disclosure: I know this because I loved the combination so much I purchased a case, but I could tell the supply was dwindling.
"In 1995 and 1996, it was before its time," Villa said. "Sixteen years later, people's tastes have evolved."
Now, the Blue Moon Company is bringing the beer/wine hybrid out of the ballpark to produce for the masses.
A half-beer, half-Sauvignon Blanc bottle called Proximity and a half-beer, half-Cabernet Sauvignon bottle called Impulse will hit shelves as soon as this week. Vintage Blonde Ale will be renamed Golden Knot and be produced with another beer/wine hybrid in the summer.
It won't be as limited as the test market, but Villa says it's limited to the amount of grapes he can find.
"We can't get any grapes from Napa and Sonoma since they're all reserved," Villa said. "So we get as many grapes as we can from the central coast of California."
Complicating matters is the fact Blue Moon products are actually kosher. That means only Jewish people can run the vineyard operation and a rabbi must certify the grapes as kosher for use by the brewer.
Villa, who makes his own wine at home, thinks that the beer/wine hybrid could be the next big thing. With the 750 ml bottles in the wine section of liquor stores, it might require some buzz for that to happen.
That's something that Villa knows a bit about from the rise of Blue Moon.