Lowering the bar

26 February, 2016

Lower-alcohol wines are flourishing in some markets and languishing in others. Christian Davis reports

The increasing interest in a healthier lifestyle, led by various governments, has resulted in growth of lower-alcohol, zero-alcohol and lower-calorie wines.

Wine Intelligence, the specialist market survey organisation, has just published its latest report, Lower Alcohol Wines – a Multi-Market Perspective.

Author David Thompson notes that, since the last report in 2014, Canada has shown “remarkable growth” in buyers and potential buyers of lower-alcohol drinks, while there has been a sharp fall in drinkers in France due to an attitude that they are not ‘real wines’. Similarly, a lack of product awareness has blighted the sector in neighbouring Belgium and the Netherlands.

On the other hand the US, the world’s largest wine market, is seen as promising and more than half of wine consumers in the UK are at least open to buying lower alcohol wines. Germany, where many wines are naturally and historically low in alcohol, relatively speaking, is seen as having potential as concerns about health abound.

Thompson notes that New Zealand has potential as a producer and consumer following its government’s initiative back in 2014.

In June of 2014, 13 Marlborough wine companies announced they were investing in the industry’s largest research and development project to explore better ways of producing high-quality, low-alcohol, low-calorie wines.


The seven-year programme, Lifestyle Wines, is a NZ$17m partnership between the Ministry for Primary Industries, New Zealand Winegrowers and 16 wineries. MPI would invest $8.13m in the programme and the wine industry $8.84m.

Whitehaven chief winemaker Sam Smail says his company invested in the programme because it saw a “great future” in wine that was lower in alcohol and had fewer calories.

“We wanted to potentially make great low-alcohol wines without losing the quality impact,” he says.

Low-alcohol wine was typically produced by extracting alcohol from finished wine, but this programme would focus on natural production using sustainable viticultural techniques and native yeasts.

Smail said at the time the aim was to pick fruit at a lower sugar level, but that would not come without its difficulties. “They can be quite green [if you pick them early] so you want ripe fruit with low sugar levels.

“We want to do it naturally without intervention.” Whitehaven has no low-alcohol wines on the market and Smail said it would be a few years before any came to fruition.

Mount Riley chief winemaker Matt Murphy said the company also invested in the programme to educate itself and apply that knowledge to producing quality, lower-alcohol wines.

Two New Zealand producers responded to Drinks International’s request for information and insight into the low-alcohol wine category. Accolade Wines says it is in support of the zero and low-alcohol category and its NZ group winemaker, Ben Glover, has been involved with the Lifestyle project. Accolade launched a zero-alcohol Echo Falls Sparkling Infusion in the UK in 2014. 

Specifically to the UK, Accolade says the whole non-alcohol still wine category has more than £6.5m in sales and is currently in growth, by 43% year on year (Nielsen 52 w/e December 5, 2015). It says the majority of buyers of Echo Falls Sparkling Infusion are thought to be women aged 25-35. Upcoming campaigns are planned to target expectant mothers and the health conscious. 

Keywords: low alcohol wine

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