Research over many years has shown a growing openness by consumers towards lower alcohol options in wine. Indeed, nearly 30 percent of people aged 18 – 34 claim to abstain from alcohol and the market for low and no alcohol beverage options is growing.
Reasons may vary between consumers from perceived health benefits to the lowering of drink-driving limits, to a simple preference for drinking wine as a beverage without experiencing the effects of alcohol to the same extent. Whatever the reasons, the wine industry has seen an opportunity to innovate new products and styles to meet this consumer demand.
The New Zealand Lighter Wines Initiative is the largest research program our industry has ever undertaken. Its goal is to position New Zealand as the world’s leading producer of lighter wines; that is, those under ten percent alcohol. The programme aims to deliver economic benefits of $285 million per annum by the end of 2023.
This research spans seven years from 2014 to 2021 and has been funded to the tune of $17 million by government and industry contributions. 18 New Zealand wine producers are participating. Together, the participants are seeking to develop wines, styles and techniques to deliver lower alcohol options that don’t compromise on flavour and varietal expression.
Good technical success has been achieved in the lower alcohol segment with wines of around 9 – 9.5 percent of naturally occurring alcohol by volume, which not only pack plenty of the aromas and flavours New Zealand wines are known for internationally but importantly the texture and mouthfeel that alcohol provides to wine too.One of the leaders in this lower alcohol segment is John Forrest with his The Doctors’ range. Since releasing the first The Doctors’ Riesling in 2006 to critical acclaim, the range has now grown to include Sauvignon Blanc, Rosé and Pinot Noir.
Medal winning wines have been produced by other Lighter Wines members from Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Gris and in the sparkling category, that contain as little as 6 percent alcohol by volume.
The focus of several of the research program participants has recently switched to the alcohol-free category (less than 0.5 percent alcohol by volume) which involves another set of technical hurdles entirely. Where low alcohol wines can be made by modifying traditional viticultural and winemaking techniques, alcohol-free wines involve the physical removal of the alcohol by a non-traditional process, such as reverse osmosis or spinning cone column distillation.
Reverse osmosis is a process where the wine is passed over a semi-permeable membrane at high pressure, literally forcing the alcohol out across the membrane while retaining the larger molecular weight flavour and acid constituents in the wine. While very effective for small alcohol adjustments to improve the balance of wines, reverse osmosis isn’t an ideal solution for the complete removal of alcohol.
Spinning cone column distillation on the other hand, is an advanced process that, as the name implies, uses a series of spinning cones in a vertical column to create a thin film of wine within the column. Then, by applying a vacuum within the column, the alcohol can be removed from the wine in its gaseous phase at very low temperature – around 30 degrees Celsius – via distillation. The result is a wine that retains its aroma and flavour profile, along with acids, sugars and other natural components but with around 0.5 percent alcohol by volume, at which it classifies as alcohol-free.
In October 2019, Vintech Pacific Wine Technologies with assistance from Callaghan Innovation, introduced spinning cone column distillation technology to the New Zealand wine industry. Lion and Giesen were foundation customers.
Lion have successfully produced Lindauer Free Brut and Lindauer Free Rosé sparkling wines and Giesen have released a very successful Sauvignon Blanc, all produced via Vintech Pacific’s spinning cone column.
Vintech Pacific’s spinning cone technology is available to all New Zealand wine producers seeking to enter or develop products for the growing alcohol-free wine category or brewers seeking to develop alcohol-free beer products.
Vintech Pacific Wine Technologies
Phone: 021 783 236