Forrest: I find the idea of zero abv wines offensive
New Zealand-based lighter wines pioneer, Dr John Forrest, has spoken out against the rise of zero % abv wines in the UK, saying that he finds the concept “offensive”.
Speaking at a lighter wines tasting at New Zealand House in London last week, Forrest was keen to point out the fundamental differences between lighter wines (under 10% abv) and alcohol-free wine.
“I think there is an unrealistic push on 0% abv drinks in the UK at the moment, which shows a lack of understanding of the science. The beer industry can do it but when it comes to wine it’s nonsense to say that you can go to zero percent and replace all the characteristics of a 14% wine – I find that idea offensive.
“Alcohol is part of the charm of wine so people shouldn’t be buggering it up by making wines at 0%.” While Forrest made his feelings on alcohol-free wine clear, he also admitted that he was in the process of developing his own 0% abv wine.
“I want to make a 0% Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc with all the typicity and character you would expect from the wine to show the naysayers that I can do it,” he said.
“In order to make a successful zero alcohol wine you need to think like chef Heston Blumenthal and deconstruct all the elements in the wine then reconstruct them in a different way.
“Sugar is a great substitute for alcohol – in order to get closer in mouthfeel to a higher alcohol wine, sugar is a wonderful thing, but a low sugar, low alcohol wine is nirvana,” he added.
Over the last decade Forrest has been developing techniques in the vineyard that allow him to control the alcohol levels in his grapes ensuring they are picked at the right time to make his range of 9.5% wines that retain their varietal character.
He has developed a canopy management system that limits the plant’s ability to produce sugar by reducing the number of upper leaves covering the vines, allowing the grapes to remain on the vine for as long as possible without raising their sugar levels.
“Canopy management is by far the most important element in the production of lower alcohol wines and it doesn’t cost a dime more than making conventional wines.
“In order to make a lighter alcohol wine range I needed to think about how to make wine differently and came up with a range of legal additives that made up for the loss in alcohol.
“The technique can work for all grape varieties but getting the Pinot Noir right was so stressful it turned my hair white,” Forrest admitted.
The Doctors’ range includes a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling, Pinot Noir and Rosé, all of which have an abv of 9.5% save for the Riesling, which is 9%.
“I called it ‘The Doctors’ to piss Ernie Loosen off because he’s not actually a doctor, but I also thought it was a good name for a wine range focused on innovative science.
“We should celebrate lower alcohol wines as they allow for so many more drinking occasions. We need to overcome the negative perceptions of lower alcohol wines among consumers,” said Forrest, who aims to be the dominant player in the global marketplace for lighter wines.
“New Zealand is leading the lighter wines charge at the moment in terms of the breadth of the range that’s available and The Doctors’ wines are winning awards against their higher alcohol counterparts.
“I’m surprised that we don’t have more competition from other wine nations, but a lot of producers are removing all the alcohol altogether rather than making lighter alcohol wines,” said Forrest, who believes lighter wines should be packaged similarly and sold in the same supermarket aisle as their higher alcohol equivalents.
“We don’t need to trash the price to sell the wines. The Doctors’ Sauvignon Blanc is selling well in New Zealand at NZ$20 a bottle and professional women are leading the growth trend for lighter wines,” Forrest said.
Brancott Estate, Wither Hills, Spy Valley, Yealands and Villa Maria all have skin in the lighter wines game and Forrest reports that a further 25 or so New Zealand producers are currently developing their own lighter wine ranges.