We’ve had a number of questions related to alcohol reduction for Hoo Knew:
- Who is your target buyer for this product?
Our target buyer is anyone who is concerned about alcohol levels or calories. A lot of people are looking to control their intake for a variety of reasons: health, help with weight loss, a focus on less potent drinking, etc. It is important to note that we make no representations about the health impact of alcohol reduction. The Federal warning on the back of the bottle remains the same.
A key consideration for us was defining what our targeted buyer would buy. What we decided was that our customer wanted a true wine experience. Wine that tastes like wine.
And that drove our decision to produce a high quality wine product that would be accepted as the same as a premium wine. Key to our decision to proceed was research that confirmed that we could make a wine that would meet our high standards. And importantly, be delicious.
What that means is that we take no short-cuts. The same grapes — grapes that we grow on our ranch — that go into our other products are used in the low alcohol version. The grapes are the same quality and maturity level. And they receive the same attention through-out the growing season and in the winery.
- How do you know that the alcohol is reduced?
During the winemaking process, we subject the wine to a battery of tests on a regular basis to ensure that it is progressing as planned. One of those tests at the end of the process is confirming the final alcohol level. We use an external laboratory to confirm our metrics.
- Why do total calories decrease with the reduced alcohol?
Alcohol is said by experts to be similar to a fat and has calories. If you reduce the level of alcohol, you also reduce the total calories of a wine serving. Said another way, the alcohol is the major source of calories in a glass of wine. It is important note that we ferment our wine to “dry”, which means almost all sugars are converted by yeast into alcohol and other compounds. Dry usually means a “residual sugar” level after fermentation less than .2 grams per liter. Basically what is left are certain sugar molecules that are not digestible by the yeast. In our case, the residual sugar for Hoo Knew is .14 grams per liter. The TTB allows producers, in certain circumstances, to describe residual sugar under .2 grams per liter as zero. Important to note: We don’t add back sugars after fermentation.
- Why didn’t you reduce the alcohol further or all the way to zero?
That’s a great question. During product development, we sampled wines with different levels of alcohol. Initially, we were very interested to determine if we could get alcohol down to 7% or lower. Our testing, which also included sampling various products already on the market, confirmed that the achievement of our product objectives would require us to finalize our plans at an alcohol level that was not severely reduced.
There were a variety of reasons for this. One of the main reasons is that the removal process itself can weaken the flavors inherent to a wine, thinning it out so to speak. Also, the alcohol content of wine is a key component of the balance we expect with a wine. If you remove too much alcohol, the resulting liquid doesn’t taste like wine or it resembles a wine of poor quality.
There are solutions to the odd taste and flavors of an extremely reduced alcohol wine — you’ll see industry winemakers using additions such as flavorings to make the taste experience more acceptable. We chose not to add back any flavors with additives.
In our case, our original objective was to produce a high quality wine. That meant, through trial and error, that the wine we wanted couldn’t be reduced below 80 calories per serving.
We’re confident that you’ll find our hoo knew very competitive as a Chardonnay, not as a reduced alcohol “beverage”.
- Were the grapes picked before they were fully ripe, when sugar levels were lower?
No, we harvested the grapes for Hoo Knew at the time we thought they were optimally ripe. Given our climate and soils, we harvest all of our grapes around the end of September at a Brix level of 22.5 to 23. We let the flavor and condition of the grapes dictate our harvest schedule, not an arbitrary schedule. Our focus is developing a high quality wine based upon the high quality grapes and not using chemistry to achieve the effects we desire.
- Is alcohol reduction achieved through dilution? Wouldn’t that significantly reduce aroma and taste?
No, we don’t dilute the wine to reduce alcohol. Instead, we make the wine in the normal manner. It has all the characteristics of our other wine products at that point. Then we add a processing step to use a technology based technique to reduce the alcohol.
- Which particular technique did you use to reduce the alcohol?
Commercial wineries have two main choices to reduce alcohol. Reverse Osmosis, which is forcing the wine through a membrane that is calibrated to exclude alcohol molecules, or two, what is known as “spinning cone”. Spinning cone is a technology that slightly warms the wine and causes the alcohol to be reduced through evaporative techniques. With either choice, the alcohol is recovered and used for industrial purposes.
Both of these processes are well known and have been used by years by winemakers to make adjustments to alcohol levels. We believe that alcohol reduction will be a growth business as our warming climate is resulting in higher than historical sugar levels in wines, which, in the thinking of some winemakers, creates a need for alcohol removal.
After trials, we decided to use the light touch “spinning cone” technology. In our case, we take a batch of wine and reduce alcohol to the 4% ALC/VOL level. Then we add back a quantity of the original wine to reach our targeted alcohol level. The benefit of this approach is that it allows us to ensure that our wine has the “fruit” flavors and tasting experience that are the signature characteristic of our wines.
- Do you have the equipment for the reduction?
Alcohol reduction is based upon very specialized technology and requires an intense knowledge of chemistry in addition to winemaking. We make our base wine and send it out to a specialized vendor for processing, following our requirements. It takes about a day for them to process one of our tanks.
- How significant is the reduction of alcohol to the quality of the wine?
This is an interesting technical question. Wine is essentially a soup of various chemical compounds that are resulting from the grapes, the fermentation process, byproducts of the fermentation process such as alcohol, and exposure to gases, like in the air that we breathe. When you drink wine, we like to say that the wine is in “equilibrium”. That means that taste experience is the result of the various chemical compounds being at a consistent level to one another. However, it is important to note that enthusiasts know that wine “equilibrium” changes over time and that is what accounts for changes in the aroma, taste, and color of a wine as it ages. When you remove alcohol, you change the “balance” of chemical compounds in relation to one another and new reactions occur. Some of these impact the wine enough to be discernible to us and customers. Some of these changes are ok and some have the potential to degrade the wine. Essentially, we expect, and so should you, that our “Hoo Knew” is another expression of Chardonnay and that it will be different from our other products because of the alcohol reduction. Going back to the question: Yes, the wine is different. However, we wouldn’t sell it to customers unless it met our minimum standards for the JL WOOD brand.
- What steps do you take to ensure that the wine is the best it can be?
There are a number of extra processing steps associated with alcohol reduction. They include removing and transporting the wine to be processed, the process itself, and then the returning of the wine for final blending. All of these steps can increase the fragility of the wine and subject it to possible degradation in quality. We have established tight procedures in the winery to minimize these situations and contact with oxygen. It is important to note that we have to use increased sulfites in the wine processing to prevent negative impacts to the wine. You can see the level of sulfites in the wine in our standard disclosures on the product pages of our website. Specifically, the total SO2 is slightly higher but well within industry limits when compared to our other wines.