When White Claw and other hardcore seltzers emerged on the scene in 2016, the wine industry was left alone. This new category exploded almost overnight and grew exponentially year after year, and even the pandemic has not stopped.

What was $41 million five years ago is expected to exceed $2.5 billion by 2021 and as much as $14.5 billion by 2027. Wine prices are still over $330 billion a year, but every bite hurts.

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Hard seltzer is especially appealing to the younger generation because it contains less alcohol and calories, which is in line with today’s feel-good attitude. Suddenly wine, long considered a healthier alternative to alcohol and even beer, not to mention its essential role in the life-extending Mediterranean diet, no longer seemed quite appropriate.

The hard seltzer made the wine seem too much in the category, which was never a problem for us, says Jessica Tomei, Cupcake’s winemaker. The hard seltzer has begun to permeate a space that wine has enjoyed for years.

Last year, Cupcake, part of The Wine Group, joined a handful of leading producers who have launched low-calorie, low-alcohol wines.

The cupcake is called a light heart. Trinchero does Mind and Body, Kim Crawford has Illuminate, and Yellowtail offers Pure Bright. They join a parade of seltzers from great wineries like Del Mar (Trinchero), Line 39 (O’Neill) and Bubble Butt (WarRoom Cellars). All of this is part of what we call the best wine for you.

 

The sale was good right away. The turnover rate is high, Tomei said. Now we’re replenishing the shelves.

De Cense Flessenreeks / Photo courtesy of Wine Recipe

This is also confirmed by Heidi Scheid, whose family winery Scheid Family Wines launched the low-alcohol brand Sunny with a Chance of Flowers last year.

It’s probably too early to tell whether consumers will make low-calorie wine the next White Claw, says Schade, who likes to drink two glasses of Sunny on a Tuesday night and still wake up at 5 a.m. But I think it will be a very successful category.

While many winemakers make adjustments to balance the alcohol, the concept of removing alcohol from wine dates back to at least 1992, when Trinchero introduced his alcohol-free wine. About five years ago, the global company WW (formerly Weight Watchers) began asking wine producers if they could reduce calories by drinking less alcohol.

Courtesy of Sunny with a chance of flowers.

Weighing experts noted that one of the two most viewed items by their four million members was wine, and there were no wines in that category, says Haydn Muath of Precept Wine, whose innovation director Phil Hurst took on the challenge in 2017. The result is the Cense system, which includes a Smart Points nutrition rating system on every label. The company now also produces flavored wine spritzers.

According to Muath, early labels did not proclaim their nutritional status so loudly. We said these wines are good enough to serve regardless of being low in calories, he says.

To produce these low-alcohol, low-calorie wines, most producers use spinning cone technology, in which one-third of a batch of wine is passed through a low-temperature vacuum column from which ethanol is released. The aromatic and flavour compounds also evaporate, but can be collected and returned to the wine.

This process reduces the volume of the wine to approximately 4% alcohol (abv). The treated wine is then blended with the rest of the batch. The final product has an alcohol content of about 9%, while most traditional wines have an alcohol content of 11-13%.

A woman on the beach drinking Mind and Body Cabernet Sauvignon / Photo courtesy of Trinchero Family Estates.

However, Scheid’s Sunny with a Chance of Flowers uses a reverse osmosis process, a two-stage filtration normally used for a small alcohol adjustment.

We found that our wines exuded the grape character we love to look for, says Casey DiCesar, winemaker of Sunny With a Chance of Flowers. We found it softer. It takes time, but I think the end result is worth it.

When it comes to potential, the why of this movement is perhaps more important to understand than the how. And it comes down to a passion for health and wellness.

How you view wellness affects everything you put into your body or not, says Bree Wohld, vice president of marketing for Trinchero Family Estates, which produces Pinot Grigio, Cabernet Sauvignon and Rose under the Mind & Body brand. We didn’t call it a six-bottle press wine. We called it Mind and Body because we think consumers are really thinking about mindfulness ideas.

Moderation may be the key to this health, a concept that appeals to younger generations who enjoy soft drinks and celebrate permanent or temporary sobriety.

Today’s wine drinkers may also be more concerned with self-control than their predecessors.

You can’t ignore the influence of social media, Wald says. When I was in school, the worst case scenario if you didn’t behave was that someone would have a bad story. It’s not endlessly broadcasting on social media channels to people you don’t even know. Losing control is not cool.

In pursuit of these healthier wines, Wohld doesn’t think they will hurt the traditional wine market.

We’re actually making room for more people in the wine category, she says. You don’t have to give up alcohol completely to fit in with the idea of a healthy lifestyle.

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