Researchers study how to produce premium non-alcoholic wine as demand grows beyond Dry July
Winemakers are scrambling to capitalize on the growing popularity of non-alcoholic wine as more Australians choose to limit alcohol beyond Dry July.
- Like meat substitutes, wine drinkers may be denied non-alcoholic alternatives because they don’t taste the same
- A researcher from Adelaide studied how to replicate the alcohol-free wine experience
- Non-alcoholic wine is a growing space for winemakers and restaurateurs
However, one of the biggest annoyances for wine drinkers is that non-alcoholic versions just don’t taste the same.
Wes Pearson, a researcher at the Australian Wine Research Institute, has spent the past two years conducting sensory research into how to make the flavors and sensations of non-alcoholic wine as similar to the alcoholic version as possible.
Mr Pearson said that although the alcohol-free or low-alcohol beer had tasted close to the full-strength version for a while, the wine had lagged behind.
He said the reason was that there were fewer ingredients to play with in winemaking.
“You’re working with grapes, fermented grape juice,” he said.
But Mr Pearson said non-alcoholic wines were much better than before, especially the sparkling and white varieties.
“They often have a tiny bit of sugar and bubbles in them, so all of those things can add to that alcohol-replacement experience,” he said.
“So those are good tools that you can work with.”
Mr Pearson said red wine was particularly difficult to replicate due to its generally higher alcohol concentration.
To make alcohol-free wine, producers typically remove ethanol using rotating cone technology, which extracts the alcohol using steam.
But removing alcohol adds an extra step and therefore a cost, which consumers can hardly justify.
So to cut costs, growers often use cheaper grapes, Pearson said.
“If you start with poor materials, you’ll end up with a poor finished product,” he said.
He said his research would extend at the end of the year to figure out which grape varieties worked best and what could be done on the vineyard to help the process of eliminating alcohol later.
Mr Pearson said the research would help small Australian winemakers get the information they need to make the best possible products.
Non-alcoholic wines are gaining popularity
This research was driven by the wine industry‘s desire to improve its non-alcoholic offerings due to growing consumer demand.
Wolf Blass, in the Barossa Valley of South Australia, has won numerous awards for its red wines.
Sourcing director Kerrin Petty said non-alcoholic wines were a growth space for the company.
“A third of our consumers would choose a low-alcohol wine if they could find it and the flavor was at the level of quality they expect,” he said.
“So it’s really the hunt for us, to make sure that the quality we deliver is in line with our consumers’ expectations.”
Mr Petty said consumer feedback indicated people wanted a non-alcoholic drink, rather than a carbonated drink, that they could have on a special occasion.
“So when people are socializing and other people are drinking and they don’t want to drink for whatever reason, that alternative is just important,” he said.
Diners drive demand for non-alcoholic beverages
Leigh Street in Adelaide’s central business district is a popular street filled with restaurants, but not all potential visitors to the street want to drink alcohol.
Shobosho, a restaurant and bar on Leigh Street, has potential customers contacting the restaurant in advance to inquire about their non-alcoholic offerings.
Venue manager Charlotte Martin said the restaurant had expanded its non-alcoholic wine list to five different options, as well as mocktails and non-alcoholic beers, over the past six months.
“We really noticed that people were asking for a lot more, so we decided to start exploring those options and seeing what we could offer people,” she said.
DrinkWise chief executive Simon Strahan said his organization’s research shows there are a range of reasons people opt for non-alcoholic alternatives.
“Certainly people want to be able to drive, and we found that around 28% of people use that as their primary reason,” he said.
“But overall we’ve seen people wanting to cut down on alcohol, have low calorie options, low carb options [and] making sure they could wake up the next day feeling refreshed.
“It sounds unusual, but 18-44 year olds are twice as likely to consume alcohol-free and low-alcohol products, compared to those over 45, according to DrinkWise research.”
Pivot after the imposition of Chinese tariffs
Australian Wine and Grape chief executive Tony Battaglene said the push to diversify the industry’s products was also important because of China’s tariff punishment.
“It was a really tough time,” he said.
“So for the last couple of years when we lost that $1.2 billion market overnight, people were quick to look to try to diversify markets… [to] Korea, Thailand and Hong Kong.”
But he added that alcohol-free and low-alcohol products also play an important role in diversification.
“By far the fastest growing category for consumers has been alcohol-free and low-alcohol and we’re seeing younger consumers, in particular, moving towards those options,” he said.
Job , updated