What is non-alcoholic wine anyway?
When you see a 'non-alcoholic' wine, it could be one of several things:
- 'Dealcoholized' or 'alcohol-removed' wine: This starts with real wine, then the alcohol is removed using technologies such as vacuum distillation or reverse osmosis. This is what Sovi is, and we use vacuum distillation to remove the alcohol from our wines.
- Grape juice that has never been fermented: These products tend to be sweeter because the sugars are still in the juice, rather than being converted to alcohol, which is then removed. 'Verjus' is an example of this where the grapes are picked early to maintain their acidity and then crushed into juice. Verjus is best when mixed wither ingredients to make a cocktail because of the high acid and sugar content.
- Wine proxies: They are not wine at all. Some might contain grape juice, but typically they are mixtures of teas, vinegars, juice and herb extracts that are meant to mimic the flavors of wine.
Why did we choose to make alcohol-removed wine when making Sovi?
What makes something wine and not juice is fermentation. Fermentation is the process of converting the sugars in the grape juice into alcohol, and this is the key step to developing all of the complex flavors that are found in wine. To make a non-alcoholic wine that is actually reminiscent of wine rather than juice, it must be fermented so that is develops all of those aromas. A 'non-alcoholic wine' that is simply unfermented grape juice will never be as complex as a dealcoholized wine.
Wine proxies on the other hand can certainly have complex flavors by blending lots of different ingredients, some of which can be fermented. And while we do enjoy these, for us they are not wine-like enough to satisfy the craving for a non-alcoholic wine. Mixing teas and vinegars does not recreate the aromas unique to wine, but this is just a personal opinion.
How do you remove the alcohol?
With a technology called 'vacuum distillation,' we're able to distill the wine in a vacuum at a relatively low temperature. The alcohol gently boils off at about 90 degrees which helps to maintain as many of the original aromas and flavors as possible in the resulting alcohol-removed wine. This same technology is sometimes also used for some kombuchas to ensure that final product is less than 0.5% ABV.
But doesn't removing the alcohol take away some of those great aromas in the wine?
The short answer is yes. Some components of the wine are bound to the alcohol, like certain aromas and elements that form "the body" in wine. When you remove the alcohol, you remove those as well. They key is to figure out which aromas stay and which ones go. Through experimentation we've been able to figure out what varietals or blends work to achieve the wine-like characteristics that we want in the final alcohol-removed wine to craft the best possible non-alcoholic wines that we can.
But many wine connoisseurs and wine industry people think that removing the alcohol from wine takes away its soul. What do we say to that?
If you asked us that question a couple years ago before we started on the journey of making quality non-alcoholic wine, we probably would have had a very different answer. You can read more about our story here. We are true wine lovers and life-long learners of the world of wine. We have worked across the industry in many different types of jobs, we have spent countless hours reading about wine, preparing for exams, and blind tasting; for most of our adult lives, our travel, free time and social lives have all revolve around wine.
We start at the very beginning for our non-alcoholic wines. The grapes that we source, and the wine that we make is destined to be a great non-alcoholic wine from the start. And every decision we make such as how ripe to let the grapes get, or how much time to let the juice sit on the skins in the cellar are all things that we think about how they will translate into the final non-alcoholic wine.
We realize that this is a controversial opinion in the world of wine. And to us, that's okay. We are here to make great non-alcoholic wines for when you want a glass of wine, but not the effects of alcohol. No matter the reason.