Dealcoholization of wine

Sparkling winery Schloss Wachenheim AG has been involved in wine dealcoholization since the 1980s, when there was also a mini non-alcoholic and reduced-alcohol wine innovation boom.
© unsplash/ User: Brandy Turner

You can get by without it. New dealcoholization technology, improved methods, and hand-selected base wines are delivering increasingly better results. Non-alcoholic wines and related beverages based on dealcoholized wines, usually bottled in carbonated form, are an exciting new trend in the innovative beverages market.

Non-alcoholic beers as a role model

Wine producers look to the beer industry as a role model for emulation. Non-alcoholic beers now account for seven to eight percent of the beer market and are important to both the retail and hospitality sectors.

Beer only contains about half as much alcohol as wine. This makes dealcoholization considerably easier, providing an advantage to breweries and beer producers. Furthermore, beer has little acidity, but malty grain and bitter hop notes instead. Acidity concentration is associated with dealcoholization and is one of the main challenges encountered in the production of non-alcoholic wines. The boom in non-alcoholic beverages production is attributed to changed societal consumer behavior and the eschewal of alcohol in a modern employment and career world. However, on the other hand, there are still plenty of occasions during which more than just mineral water is consumed.

Vacuum extraction process has been in use for more than 100 years

Back in 1908, Carl Jung filed a patent application for his “vacuum extraction process” and thus invented what is currently the most frequently used full dealcoholization method. Generating a vacuum enables the boiling point of alcohol to be reduced to temperatures of around 30 degrees. The spinning cone column method, which was developed in Australia and is frequently used in many overseas countries and in Europe for the purpose of partial dealcoholization, also removes alcohol completely at lower temperature. However, since it uses cooling energy, this method is energy-intensive and therefore expensive.

The key formulation is contained in Par. 1, § 47 of the German Wine Regulation: Non-alcoholic and reduced-alcohol wines are no longer categorized as products as defined in Germany’s wine law – they are regarded as food.This shifts the complex issue of appellation and production regulations to the realm of food law.

Naturally, grape juice is the simplest form of a “non-alcoholic” grape-based beverage. Grape juice has been available in sterile-filtered, boiled or concentrate form for many years. The problem, however, is the high sugar content of generally 200 or more grams of sugar per liter. Grape juice makes you feel full and is full of carbohydrates, which is a reason that the average consumption of one liter per person per year is stagnating. Juice only contains the primary grape aromas. The aroma components created during fermentation are missing.

That is exactly the goal of non-alcoholic wines – the ability to offer wine or sparkling wine containing less than 0.5 percent alcohol by volume. There is no alternative to dealcoholization.

Other methods of removing alcohol include reverse osmosis, electrodialysis, the extraction method involving liquid carbon dioxide, and various membrane methods, including “osmotic distillation.” To date, all these methods have not had any major commercial success. 

Carbonation helps

Seit den 80er Jahren, als es schon einmal einen kleinen Innovationsboom für alkoholfreie und alkoholreduzierte Weine und Derivate gab, beschäftigt sich die Sektkellerei Schloss Wachenheim mit der Entalkoholisierung von Wein.
© Schloss Wachenheim

Non-alcoholic sparkling wine is currently the largest non-alcoholic wine-based beverage category in the German market – at an estimated volume of 15 to 20 million bottles. In second place are wine-based, non-alcoholic mixed beverages at some 8 to 10 million bottles, followed by non-alcoholic wine with a current sales volume of 3 to 5 million bottles. The last category is called “non-alcoholic wine”, the labeling and production of which is specified in § 47 of the German Wine Regulation. All three categories, especially the sparkling and still versions, are currently recording double-digit sales growth, which is also likely to be attributed to an increase in the number of suppliers.

Sparkling winery Schloss Wachenheim AG has been involved in wine dealcoholization since the 1980s, when there was also a mini non-alcoholic and reduced-alcohol wine innovation boom. Around 30 years ago, they installed a then-innovative, glass-encased vacuum distillation facility at its Böchingen in der Pfalz location at a fair bit of effort and expense – a double-digit million Deutschmark investment. Production is currently based at the company’s Trier location and features a new vacuum distillation facility. The most well-known product to emerge from this facility was Light Live “sparkling wine,” which nowadays includes an entire range of fruit varieties. For a long time, they enjoyed monopoly-like status, due to a lack of competition.

This status suddenly changed in 2010 when Henkell & Co. Sektkellerei put its dealcoholization facility into operation and has since been launching non-alcoholic sparkling beverages and various fruit varieties on the market under its different umbrella brands. This was followed in 2015 by Rotkäppchen-Mum Sektkellerei, which different from its competitors, commissioned a spinning cone column method-based dealcoholization facility at its Eltville location. In spring of the same year, Weinkellerei Adam Trautwein, based in the Rhine-Hesse town of Lonsheim, also commissioned its dealcoholization plant, which operates on the principle of vacuum distillation with aroma recovery. The market has grown rapidly with the appearance of these branded products. Rotkäppchen claims to be the market leader in the branded segment, along with Light Live. Schloss Wachenheim is likely to be out in front in terms of quantity for its production of private-label products for discount and food retailer clients.

New providers invigorate the market

Start-up Kolonnenull GmbH conducted product and market tests in June 2018 and launched its contract-manufactured products on the market for the first time in November 2018. Its range now includes a Green Veltliner from Austria and a Silvaner and a Riesling from Germany. These are available via the company’s own store and throughout Germany in many food retail outlets. The Berlin-based team purchases the base wines which are crafted specifically for dealcoholization in close consultation with the wine growers.

A very recent newcomer who only entered the market this year is Strauch Sektmanufaktur, based in the Rhine Hesse town of Osthofen. Like many newcomers, this family business opts to subcontract the dealcoholization process and uses its own base wines, sourced from its sparkling wine production. “Demand for non-alcoholic products that taste good is massive, particularly in the organic segment,” founder Isabelle Strauch-Weißbach asserted. She is observing increasing export demand, for example, from Norway. Along with others, she sees the biggest growth opportunities in non-alcoholic white wine, rosé and sparkling wine.

Dealcoholization at drinktec 2021

Anyone who is interested in the technical developments related to dealcoholization will find the right forum at the world’s leading trade fair, drinktec. Exhibitors from around the world will be showcasing their solutions here. The next drinktec will be held from September 13-17, 2021 at the Munich trade fair. Do you have innovative approaches to the production of non-alcoholic beverages that you would like to present to an international audience? Then join us at the next drinktec.

Dr. Hermann Pilz

Dr. Hermann Pilz has been in charge of the trade magazine WEINWIRTSCHAFT as chief editor for over 20 years. He loves writing about many different topics of the wine and spirits industry.