The Ultimate Cellar Management and Wine Reference Software ™
Home Detail Review Demo Order Update Contact Links
Contacts Articles Australia/NZ Links General Regional Related Add your link Audio...
Index Previous Next
Low Alcohol Wines by Richard Gibson
The purpose of this presentation is to provide (a) an understanding of the marketing difficulties associated with low-alcohol wines and (b) a brief overview of the production process options for low alcohol wines.

Generally the market for low alcohol wines in Australia has been characterised by a lack of acceptance product in the market. On several occasions the Australian wine industry has assessed the success of the beer industry in this area, which over the last decade has achieved considerable sales, and attempted to reproduce this success in the wine market. Seemingly inherent problems exist between the products in this area due to limited consumer response.

One of the feature observations is the difficulty in the establishment of an acceptable style of low alcohol wine. As noted later, the alcoholic component is an important ingredient in the overall taste of wine, and its removal is not easy to overcome.

The experience of marketing low alcohol wines in the United States has proved to be similar to that of Australia, with wines lacking in acceptable flavours, tending to be marred by unattractive and/or simple characteristics.

The media has endeavoured to explore the quality of low alcohol wines by running tasting comparisons of these wines against wines of traditional alcoholic strengths. Although results of some of these comparisons were encouraging, it is important to recognise that low alcohol wines (on the basis of experiences to date) will appeal only to a niche market.

There have been a number of attempts over the years to address this market, but the results were disappointing, and indeed have lead to "admissions of failure".

Southcorp Wines' (Australia's largest wine producing group) current view on the low alcohol wine may be summarised as;

If there is a boom in low alcohol wines, it is not going to start in Australia. A small and successful trade in low alcohol products takes place through exports to Scandinavia and Canada.

The company, in light of historical outcomes and current market impressions, is not prepared to invest and concentrate in developing a low alcohol wine interest in the Australian market at this stage.

Despite all of this, Australia currently produces amongst the best low alcohol wines in the world.

The production of low alcohol wine is essentially an exercise of wine manipulation; breaking the wine down and then rebuilding it with some of the available material (i.e. the alcohol) being left out.

There are essentially three separation techniques which may be utilised to create low alcohol wines;
  • Membrane Separation,
  • Reverse Osmosis, or
  • Osmotic Distillation,
  • Evaporation, and
  • Spinning Cone Column application.
Southcorp Wines uses the Spinning Cone Column, which has its origins in the nuclear power industry. First developed in Germany, it was created for the separation of heavy water isotopes. Since that time, the technology has been embraced within a number of other fields, and has been adapted in Australia within the food industry for separating out volatiles.

It is in essence a low temperature vacuum distillation column, using vapour phase separation.

The three-step process of creating low alcohol wine from the Spinning Cone Column appears simple, although the technology itself is complex;

  • The base wine passes through the column to remove, in the first instance, the flavour / aroma volatiles.
  • This "flavourless" product is then returned to the column to remove the alcohol.
  • The flavoured component is added back into the wine.
Step #2 is indeed creates effective de-alcoholisation, with the wine's alcoholic concentration under 0.5%.

One of the critical drawbacks of the alcohol reduction process is its huge effect on the "mouth feel" of the wine. The challenge for winemakers is to compensate for this. In the United States, one producer has attempted to counteract this effect by further manipulating the wine by the addition of pre-prepared commercially marketed flavours to impart some palate fullness. While this has had partial success, Southcorp chooses not to pursue this option in order to maintain as much of the "natural integrity" of the product as feasible.

In conclusion, this presentation has attempted to demonstrate how the wine is produced, and briefly question the future outlook for the product from the marketing perspective. While Southcorp Wines does not see an immediate role in the Australian market for this product at this point, and is not prepared to actively develop this market in light of other priority areas, perhaps in a few years there may be a surge of interest (?). Time will tell.

This presentation was followed by a tasting involving two wines;

  • Loxton De-Alcoholised Chardonnay
  • Loxton De-Alcoholised Sparkling Blush.