No-alcohol wines are booming – a reduced alcohol alcohol wine is next

There is a growing interest in the nonalcohol, low-alcohol end of the wine market as we move into the 1990s. Observers agree that there are several factors at work fueling the growth in that market, including the anti-alcohol forces, health concerns and fears of lower blood alcohol levels for DUI.

For whatever reasons, current shipments of non-alcohol wines are booming and a major new product has just come on the low alcohol market.

Michael Houlihan, the very successful entrepreneur behind Barefoot Cellars-one of California’s better wine ideas in the last few years – is aiming at creating a whole new category – Reduced Alcohol Wine.

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms presently has categories based on alcohol content: regular or full alcohol wines, which are 10 % to 14 % by volume and low alcohol wines which are 7 % to 10% by volume. The new category which Houlihan would like to see would be .05 to 7 % by volume.

Houlihan has just come on market with his Barefoot Beau Gamay Beaujolais, a 5 % alcohol wine made from 80 % Napa County grapes. The wine (because of its low alcohol content) falls under the jurisdiction of the Food and Drug Administration, which controls the labeling. However, FDA agreed to let BATF approve such matters as grape varietal and appellation. At this point, the label is a hybrid of FDA/BATF regulations. Houlihan believes it will take legislative action to set up the Reduced Alcohol category within BATF.

Sara Schorske of Compliance Specialists in California handled the tricky regulatory negotiations for Houlihan.

In the meantime, he is up and running with Barefoot Beau. He says the brand was pre-sold to several supermarket chains and Liquor Barn. He expects to ship 50,000 cases by the end of the year. It sells in the $3.99 to 4.99 range. Following the Gamay Beaujolais will be a Chardonnay and a Cabernet and perhaps a red and white table wine.

Long-range plans include a new winery which will make only reduced varietals under the Beau-Vin label.

Houlihan believes the time is right for a reduced alcohol wine. “Concern over label warnings, and the reduction of DUI to .08 has created a demand for an alternative. ” According to Houlihan, persons weighing 98 to 128 pounds (the weight of many women) can only have one four-ounce glass of wine (at 10 % alcohol) over a two hour period and still legally drive.

The wine is vinified stop-fermentation and is finished by Dr. Richard Carey (Vitis Research Inc., 3112 E. Butler Avenue, Fresno, Calif. 93702) using a proprietary process that he has been working on for some time.

Carey could not give details of the process but said a thin film evaporation method is used to reduce the alcohol. He has also perfected another method which he calls Vapor Arbrated Pervaporation which “will be coming on stream in a few months.” He said equipment in use included different membrane combinations and “other black box material.”

“The over all guiding principle is a keen understanding of flavor and aroma balance,” he said. Carey added that when the alcohol is reduced various sensory perceptions about the wine can be thrown off, especially sugar perception.

Carey’s method also includes recapturing aromatic components to blend back into the wine after the dealcoholization process is complete. What happens in effect is that the wine is reconstructed for balance and flavor at the lower alcohol level.

“The goal is not to lose the wine quality,” he said. “I think the best use of modern filtering equipment is to reduce the alcohol content, not remove it entirely. It is necessary to have some alcohol present to retain certain elements of wine character.”

The leader in the non-alcohol wine division is St. Regis, owned by Vintners International. The company is projecting a sales increase of 30 % this year to over 200,000 cases. The wine is made at VI’s plant in Monterey County, using a reverse osmosis filtering process.

J. Lohr’s Ariel Vineyards brand is also up, with 110,000 cases shipped in 198 a 30-35 % gain. Projected sales for 1990 are 160,000 cases.

Barry Gnekow, the winemaker at J. Lohr, who helped develop the reverse osmosis process for dealcoholization, told Wines & Vines that people are finally beginning to approach no-alcohol products as “serious wines. ” We have had to grow with the market as we went along, gradually working through the trade beginning with the generics to the higher end of the market, where I believe the market will be even stronger.”

Coming on market this spring is an Ariel Blanc de Blanc which was on the yeast for six years. It will retail in the $20 range. Also new is a barrel-fermented Chardonnay at about $15.

The best markets for Ariel are San Francisco, Los Angeles and Seattle. Craig Rosser, national sales manager for the brand, said it is distributed in all 50 states and 11 countries. Best export markets are Japan and Norway.

Gnekow said that as a winemaker he didn’t like to compare the non-alcoholic wines with regular wines. “The gold medal (which Ariel won in competition with regular wines) gave us a lot of publicity, but that really isn’t the point. The point is that it is a whole new beverage category. When you are drinking alcoholic wines, you are in another dimension of wines. “

Gnekow said the point he liked to make was that drinking non-alcoholic wines keeps a bottle on the table. It puts people who can’t drink alcoholic wines back in the wine category.”

Gnekow said that Ariel began life as a low-alcohol wine, the first bottling being a 3 % a. c. wine for the Hyatt Hotel chain.

The third non-alcoholic wine on the market is Sante Vineyards, which is made by Guild Wineries of Lodi for the Barton Co., an importer and distributor in Connecticut.

COPYRIGHT 1990 Hiaring Company

COPYRIGHT 2004 Gale Group

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