In focus: Low-and-no alcohol wine

Sandro Bottega hosted a vertical tasting of the Prosecco brand’s vinatges spanning back to 2013 on 13 June (Photo: Bottega)

Pierre Chavin is not the only wine producer looking at zero-alcohol products in this way. During an interview last month, Italian fizz mogul Sandro Bottega mentioned to db that his Prosecco brand is in the process of developing its own alcohol-free alternative to the sparkling wine, and hopes to release it to coincide with next year’s Dry January. “I’m not sure if it will be ready,” he said, “but I think so.”

Owing to the strict production and labelling rules in Italy’s Prosecco region, Bottega said that it had been “extremely difficult” to develop a product of this kind and include it in the portfolio. “The regulation we have on wines is much stricter than in beer,” he said. “You cannot call it a wine, and you cannot use the word ‘Prosecco’, and you cannot add sugar.

“We also cannot de-alcoholise wine. It is not permitted. So if you want to make a good wine without alcohol you have to start with a must and maintain it throughout the year, and this is tremendously difficult.”

With brands such as Aecorn Aperitifs entering the on- and off-trade, and bartenders producing booze-free serves almost identical to their full-strength counterparts, wine bosses are only too aware of the need to present something that doesn’t compromise on quality.

While it is a fast-growing new category, the wine trade isn’t exactly under threat from the rise of mindful drinking. Companies like Pernod Ricard have answered the call by releasing lighter versions of their wines with ABVs of around 9%. Regardless of whether or not the new generation of consumers is drinking, they’re definitely buying less wine.

Using data gathered from all areas of the UK drinks market, figures from the IWSR released at a Vinexpo press briefing in March showed that still wine sales have fallen by three million nine-litre cases.

Juliane Schmitt, who runs German producer Schmitt Söene, says while there is “certainly a niche for these types of products” the taste is “so different to ‘regular’ wine, we do not foresee any loyal drinkers moving away from traditional wines.”

In most cases, she says, the trend “will manifest itself in moderate drinking, rather than a move towards alcohol-reduced wines.” Patel agrees, and suggests that non alcoholic wines have struggled in the past because of giving a bad first impression. “If people’s first experiences are bad that does have a potential to impact it in the future.”

As more consumers are seeking alcohol-free alternatives to their usual staples, winning them over isn’t necessarily the hard part, says Boulachin. Far more challenging are buyers and trade insiders who are more acquainted with full-strength products and demand a certain level of familiarity.

Pierre Chavin has met this challenge by working directly with culinary schools in France, and collaborated with high-profile bartenders such as Jennifer Le Nechet, of Café Moderne in Paris, on bespoke drinks recipes that include her sober-focused range.

Boulachin notes that within the last year there has been a 42% spike in Google searches for “mocktails” “You have bars that don’t even serve any alcohol anymore – now you have cocktails but you also have the other side and that is as trendy as the one with alcohol.”

Engaging with bartenders, she says is useful for her brand as it allows her to “bring the sparkling touch” with a 0%-ABV fizz. “Usually they get it from sparkling water, but our wine brings more complexity and elegance.”

Education is essential

Taking part in the wine-focused conference TexSom in Dallas this August, wine educator James Tidwell MS is organising a seminar exploring the future role of the sommelier, in which Seedlip will make a cameo – and says that more education about alternative serves is essential for sommeliers.

Offering education and training on the options available “allows the sommelier to fulfil the role of ‘all-rounder’ in the restaurant and to increase the value of the position by showing an understanding of the current market, how to offer a great guest experience, and how to provide revenue for the restaurant,” says Tidwell.

Companies that do want to experiment in this space shouldn’t feel constrained by the rules of wine production, but instead use it as an opportunity to spark debate. The wine trade, Tidwell adds, is “still focused on wine, but the rise of natural wines shows that there is broad interest in experimentation within the category”. db

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