First, there was the Impossible Burger; meat that almost tastes like meat. Now there’s alcohol-free wine and if it raises as much interest as the impossible meat did, this beverage has a bright future!
Jerome Eckert Nathan, the CEO of Conetech, a Santa Rosa company doing alcohol and flavor management for the wine industry, has shared his insights with MerciSF.com. Our conversation happened through a French Founders get together, just before the latest Napa fire, and the fire makes this conversation even more relevant. But let’s focus on alcohol management for the time being…
The first question that comes to mind is “why”, why would you remove alcohol from wine?
Jerome Eckert Nathan explains that “The company started its business by adjusting the alcohol percentage in wine. This excess of alcohol is a problem that occurred as the new world was developing its wine industry… Warmer, sunnier regions like Australia, Latin America, or California trigger more sugar in the grapes, which develops more alcohol at the fermentation stage.
The consumers of those regions like their wine fully flavored. But at some point, with wines that can show from 14 to 15,5% alcohol (vs 12,5 to 14% in Europe), the excess alcohol burns the flavors and the taste is unbalanced”.
This is where Conetech helps with its unique technology.
It uses low-temperature vacuum distillation process. It allows to extract “volatile wine aroma” first, then to extract alcohol, and finally to put 100% of aroma back in the wine to preserve product integrity. Only 10% of the total wine blend needs to be processed for each degree of alcohol reduction, the rest remains untouched.
This process does not change the flavor of the wine, it simply uses what was already part of the wine, minus some alcohol; the de-alcoholization happens at the end of the winemaking when the winemaker is already happy with the flavors of the wine. By law, wine flavor can’t be tweaked.
Nathan highlights that “Alcohol adjustment is not a need for new world wines only. With climate change, the excess exposure to the sun occurs in the old world too, and it has the same effect in some southern regions of France for instance“.
But the desire to adjust alcohol percentage in wine doesn’t stop there. For the last few years, a new category of wines showed up: the “lifestyle wine”. These are wines that are having from 8,5 to 11% alcohol.
“This is a growing market in New Zealand, Australia, and even the USA. As the name implies, it is targeted at people who want to drink “healthier” wines, easier to digest, more in line with reduced-calorie diets”.
And according to Jerome Eckert Nathan, “Even if the volume is still small compare to the global wine production, this is a fast-growing market. Prime examples of those growing market of lifestyle wines include Cense still and sparkling wines, Klean still wines and Cupcake LightHearted, all lower alcohol wines sold in the US”.
But the most surprising part of our conversation revolved around the last category or the wines that are reduced to 0% or 0,5% alcohol.
“It shows great potential and represents a completely new beverage category. According to which country this is sold, it might not even be called wine, but it can have all the attributes of wine with a recognizable glass container, and a wine-like label”.
The most obvious targets are Muslim countries. In the South of France, a winemaker called Pierre Chavin seems to have quite a lot of alcohol-free wines”. By looking at their website, it even shows a section in Arabic language. Their products are targeting large volume countries like Malaysia, Indonesia, and Pakistan for instance. The Middle East is less interesting as beyond airlines, volumes are smallish.
And Jerome Eckert Nathan assured us that “We should see more interesting products within six months. Wine without alcohol becomes a base for all types of other beverages. Some clients are testing it with CBD, or THC for instance, so stay tuned”.
Beyond religious factors, the demographics of those alcohol-free beverages are different from the average wine drinker. It’s more targeted at millennials who have less interest in alcohol. It’s a way to provide them with a beverage that is not fruit juice, nor a soda.
It’s very important to highlight that those “wines” keep interesting tastes, as until they go through dealcoholization process, they are produced using the same process as “traditional wines”. And the choice should be broad, as removing alcohol can be applied to all types of wines, red, white, rosé or sparkling.
Finally, Jerome Eckert-Nathan says that “All the large vintners in France are interested in this new category in a way or another.”
For younger generations, zero-alcohol wine is not a substitute for wine, this is a different type of drink. Let’s see if the older generation buys into these new types of beverages!
In our conversation, Eckert Nathan mentioned that Conetech was treating smoke tainted wines… and we decided to learn a bit more but it will be an other time.