Alcohol removal on the up in US
One in four bottles of “premium” Californian Pinot Noir and Chardonnay have been through the industrial alcohol removal process supplied by ConeTech in the past year.
Speaking to the drinks business at last month’s World Bulk Wine Exhibition in Amsterdam, ConeTech’s vice-president of operations at Jack Ryno stated that the company “processes one quarter of all the premium Pinot Noir and Chardonnay produced in California”.
ConeTech’s alcohol removal technology sees a portion of wine go through a spinning cone which separates all the volatile aromas compounds from the liquid, before removing the alcohol from the remaining odourless liquid.
The aroma compounds are then added back to the de-alcoholised wine, before this product is blended back into the original wine to achieve the desired alcohol level.
Explaining the high level of demand for the technology in California, Ryno said that winemakers would rather take out alcohol from a ripe wine than risk creating lighter, possibly greener wines from harvesting earlier for naturally lower abvs.
“We are finding that Californian producers like the flavour profile of riper fruit, and then they are coming to us for alcohol removal,” he said.
Speaking further about the demand for ConeTech’s services, Werner Engelbrecht, from the company’s South African office, said that over 9 million cases of Californian wine goes through the alcohol removal process each year.
Addressing attendees of the Bulk Wine Exhibition during a seminar, he explained that the most common grape for ConeTech’s facilities in California was Chardonnay, closely followed by Pinot Noir.
Nevertheless, looking at the ConeTech’s processing volumes for Chardonnay over time, he said that vintage conditions in California have played a significant role in the demand for alcohol removal.
“We adjusted 26% of Chardonnay produced in 2013, and 22% in 2013, but in the cooler harvests of 2010 and 2011 we adjusted just 8% and 7% of Chardonnay respectively,” he said, before pointing out that in 2009, the figure had been 21%, proving that the change was due to the weather, not a growing interest in ConeTech’s services.
However, he did observe a general trend among producers worldwide towards “lower alcohol wine styles”, while adding, “just harvesting earlier won’t help, because you need the right flavour profile”.
Explaining the increasing demand for ConeTech’s services in California, Spain, South Africa, and Chile – the four countries where the technology current exists – Engelbrecht said that the combination of rising alcohol levels in wine and a demand for ripe wine styles with moderate abvs was encouraging producers to resort to alcohol removal.
“More virus-free plant material, particularly in South Africa, and climate change, means that vines are accumulating more sugar,” he began, explaining the climatic and viticultural causes of rising abvs.
Continuing he said, “The consumer preference is for riper style wines, with juicy fruit, but consumers want this with more moderate alcohol levels.”
He then attributed a call for lower alcohol levels to “social reasons” such as concerns over drinking and driving, as well as “an ageing population that is more sensitive to higher alcohol levels.”
As for ConeTech, he stated, “We can adjust the alcohol to any level”.
However, he admitted that the company’s technology couldn’t solve all winemakers’ problems.
“People are also looking for wines with more freshness, and to create that you need to look at all aspects of production, with alcohol removal as the last stage,” he said.
Since initially posting this story, ConeTech’s Jack Ryno sent db this further explanation of the figures quoted in the news piece above:
“In using the word premium I focus on the coastal growing areas of California – essentially Mendocino, Sonoma, Napa, Monterey, San Luis Obispo, and Santa Barbara Counties. The difference in reporting for the 2013 harvest based on the California Grape Crush Report for example, is that 42.1% of the Chardonnay and 61.8% of the Pinot Noir harvested were from these sources. The balance being harvested from areas of significantly lower grape pricing. Further, these premium counties are the growing areas producing wines retailing $10 dollar per bottle or more. 95% of our business comes from the makers of wines selling at or above this level.”