“Whatever idea comes to us, it’s there because we are uniquely designed to make it happen,” says Leah Caplanis, founder and CEO of SOCIAL Sparkling Wine. “Our experience has brought us that idea, based on our life.”
It’s rare that I meet a founder whose personal story and business story aligns like Leah’s does.
When Leah was 26, she was diagnosed with thyroid cancer. “My life wasn’t in a great place,” she says. Instead of surgery, she chose holistic treatments and a radical shift in her lifestyle, which included going vegan and abstaining from alcohol, as well as cutting out sugar entirely. “Really, my diet came down to juicing vegetables.”
Three years later, her cancer was gone. “My body became really clean,” she says. “I started feeling really good.” She noticed that when she ate certain things –– for her, the culprits were cheese and sugar –– she really felt the negative effects. “My body’s not numb to it anymore, since it’s had a clean refresh. So then it’s like, no, I’m not doing that anymore. I started learning what works for me and listening to what my body needs.”
While she kicked cancer’s ass, Leah’s social life had taken a backseat. But once she was healthy again, she wanted to get together with friends –– and enjoy an occasional adult beverage. Yet there wasn’t anything in stores that she could feel good about drinking (and not regret the next day).
“With nothing on the market that fit my standards, I set out to create a truly clean beverage with both flavor and health benefits,” Leah writes on SOCIAL’s website.
She launched her company in 2014 with a range of certified USDA organic sparkling sake wines that are made with fermented brown rice, not sugar. They’re flavored with superfoods like ginger, hibiscus, and coconut instead of artificial chemicals.
At 88 calories and 4% ABV, SOCIAL wines are a guilt-free indulgence that clearly has broad appeal. Distributed in 48 states, it’s the #4 canned wine brand in the nation and the only certified organic canned option.
If you’re not into the canned thing (but you should be, because they keep things super fresh and are endlessly recyclable), SOCIAL offers bottles, too.
Leah’s long-term goal is ambitious: to change the industry itself. “My mission is to bring balance and health consciousness to the alcohol industry,” she says. “I feel that I’m the person uniquely designed to do this. If I don’t do it, it may not happen for a while, or in the same way that I’m going to be doing it.”
A purpose-driven mindset is what drives her, she says. “It’s keeps me working late at night, gets me up early –– all of those things that help me to get stuff done.
“There really is a momentum and a serendipity that comes with creating something that sort of comes through you. I think we have to be in the flow of that when opportunities arise.”
What’s Leah’s advice for entrepreneurs who want to channel their passions into a business that reflects their values?
“You do have to be grounded, you have to be healthy, you have to be clear, you have to be confident,” she says. She also stresses the importance of good communication and not being afraid to ask for help.
For Leah, the way forward is to always keep growing.
“As entrepreneurs, we’re emotionally developing. We’re becoming who we want to become on this journey,” she says. “We might end up in tough moments, but they help us to rise to the occasion, and it stretches us to understand what we’re capable of being.”
To get your fix locally, head to Jewel Osco, Mariano’s, Binny’s, Whole Foods, or Plum Market – or shop online!