Sober Sips Up Ahead

The US continues to advance as the world’s most valuable wine market, generating a revenue of $63 billion in 2021, followed by China, Canada and Japan. Growth in India’s wine market is relatively slower, projected to be worth $274 million between 2021 and 2026, as per Technavio market research reports.

But a global boost is gradually lifting the spirits of the Indian wine sector thanks to various workshops and wine tasting events organised by the Agricultural and Processed Food Products Export Development Authority (APEDA) at various international trade fairs, for creating awareness about the potential of Indian wines.

For instance, in June 2022, APEDA facilitated participation of ten exporters namely Resvera Wines, Sula Vineyards, Good Drop Wine Cellars, Hill Zill Wines, KLC Wines, Soma Vine Village, Grover Zampa Vineyard, Plateaux Vintners, ASAV Vineyards and Fratelli Vineyards in London Wine Fair, regarded as one of the world’s most important wine trade events.

Currently, Maharashtra has become an important state for wine manufacturing as there are more than 35 wineries in the state. Around 1,500 acres are used for grape cultivation and wine production in Maharashtra. To promote wine manufacturing, the state government has declared the wine-making business a small-scale industry and has also offered excise concessions.

While most wineries and production are concentrated in the Nashik region in Maharashtra, other significant wine regions include Sangli (Maharashtra), Nandi Hills (Karnataka) and Bengaluru (Karnataka). The country’s diverse mix of climates allow it to grow an array of grape varieties for wine, including indigenous varieties such as Anab-e-shahi, Arkavati and Arka Shyam in addition to imported varieties such as Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Zinfandel, Shiraz, Chenin Blanc, and Clairette Blanche.

Apart from grapes, many players in India are exploring the use of different fruits such as mango, chikoo, pineapple, banana, chilli, jamun, amla etc., for developing wines. A few companies are also fermenting pure honey and then blending it with various fruits and spices, to bring new flavours in the market.

Although wide opportunities are emerging for the Indian wine sector, it also needs to keep an eye on the newer market trends. For example, consumption of low or no alcoholic (LNA) wine is increasingly becoming one of the mainstream trends that is shaping the global beverage industry. Avoidance of alcohol is becoming the norm for a growing minority of consumers around the world. While this trend is seen across all age groups, it is most apparent in Generation Z, with as many as a third of consumers aged 18-25 now saying that they may not consume alcohol. 

This trend is creating an entirely new sub-category within the alcoholic drinks market. As a result, globally, alcohol manufacturers are moving their focus to low and non-alcoholic beverages to boost profitability margins. The growing prevalence of heart diseases and other health problems due to the consumption of alcohol has driven consumers to opt for alcohol-free beverages to reduce the risk of diseases. 

Natasha Kumar, former Mintel Food and Drink Analyst, India, says, “Responsible and healthy drinking has become the mantra amongst young Indians today. While this behaviour is seen across all age groups with Indians showing interest in the LNA category, it is more noticeable amongst young consumers aged 25-34 years. Brands need to explore opportunities around reduced or no alcohol options. With the current pandemic causing consumers to be even more conscious about their health and diet, the LNA category is expected to grow further. It also offers brands the opportunity to connect with health-conscious and responsible drinkers.”

To cater to such an evolved consumer base looking for varied options to suit their preferences and moods, multiple global brands of LNA wines are entering the Indian market. For instance, French alcohol beverage company Pernod Ricard has recently forayed into the non-alcoholic wine category with a launch of a non-alcoholic wine called- Unvined, in India. The wine has less than 0.5 per cent alcohol and is available in two varieties – Riesling and Shiraz. The Unvined range has 50 per cent less calories than regular wine of the same varietal, catering to the evolved consumer base, looking for varied options to suit their preferences and mood.

Nikhil Agarwal, Founder, All Things Nice, a luxury, wine and spirits Marketing and Consulting Agency is of the opinion, “The non-alcoholic wine industry in India is at a very nascent stage. However, a substantial number of Indian consumers are moving towards non-alcoholic beverages. There is a growing number of Indian consumers that are extremely health conscious, especially the younger generation that is looking for alternatives to alcohol. In the HoReCa industry, we could see some hotels welcoming guests with non-alcoholic wines instead of classic sherbet or welcome juices. There are people who want to experience wine but don’t want the health hazards and hangovers associated with it. That’s where the potential lies for the Indian wine industry. Globally, the trend for non-alcoholic wine is on a sharp rise and that trend is slowly entering India as well. Industry always reacts to market demand; Indian wineries will also innovate in the non-alcoholic wine space in the near future.”

While India’s domestic wine-makers are still figuring out ways to address this new trend, its global counterparts are moving at a faster pace.

A peek into the global wine basket

US-based Miller Family Wine Company has recently released its newest wine venture, Hand on Heart – a premium, non-alcoholic wine brand. These wines are lower in sugar, calories, and carbs than most other zero- and low-alcohol beverages. Cutting-edge technology has been used to remove the alcohol while preserving the delicate aromas, flavours, and mouthfeel of the wine. 

“As health and wellness considerations have cemented themselves as key factors in consumers’ purchase decisions, the alcoholic beverage industry has responded with an influx of innovation aimed at meeting our consumers’ changing needs. While there are an increasing number of premium non-alcoholic spirit and beer offerings out there, non-alcoholic wine options continue to be extremely limited” says Tommy Gaeta, Director- Marketing, Miller Family Wine Company

On the other hand, a South Africa-based player, The Duchess Drinks Studio, has introduced a new addition to its range of premium alcohol-free drinks, The Duchess Spritz which is a new alcohol-free wine spritzer. Experimenting with the natural sweetness of botanical and fruit extracts, the company landed upon the perfect blend to match the wine’s acidity to form a wine spritzer. The spritz is available in Berry Rose and Elderflower White flavours.

In the low-alcoholic wine category, Italy-based House of Gancia, a producer of Italy’s first sparkling wine, has introduced a new range of low-alcohol flavoured sparkling wines under its new “Atto Primo” line. Each Atto Primo offering contains less than 100 calories per 4-ounce serving. The wine is available in lychee, peach, mango, and blackberry flavours. 

Furthermore, US-based Rancho La Gloria, a brand in the wine-based ready-to-drink beverage category, has recently unveiled a unique low-alcohol table wine- AgaVida. The low-alcohol agave wine is infused with four different fruits namely strawberry, mango, peach, and green apple, offering consumers four different flavours. 

Moving down south, Australia-based Accolade Wines has launched a new alcohol-free wine brand called &Then in two variants. Made with high-quality grapes sourced from South Australian cool climate vineyards and bottled using a revolutionary de-alcoholising technology, the drinks offer a truly elevated zero-alcohol wine experience.

In India, although the wine industry is experiencing a push from the government as well as the industry players, significant attention and investment in terms of wine innovations is the need of the hour. As compared to the international market, the Indian market notably lacks diverse offerings in wine, especially in the LNA category. With the rise in number of health-conscious consumers in India, it’s high time to explore the functional benefits of wine and initiate R&D efforts in this direction. 

The highs and lows of de-alcoholisation

The removal or reduction of alcohol content of wine and other alcoholic beverages has been the focus of various winemakers and researchers over the past years, as trends in wine styles as well as climate change has affected the consumption of alcoholic wines. To achieve this, different technologies have been used at the various stages of winemaking. Although the technologies used during the pre-fermentation and fermentation stages show promising results, post-fermentation alcohol reduction techniques, particularly membrane separation (nanofiltration, reverse osmosis, evaporative perstraction, and pervaporation) and thermal distillation (vacuum distillation and spinning cone column) represent the most common and widely used commercial techniques in the production of dealcoholised beverages. 

While highlighting the challenges associated with these dealcoholising techniques, Faisal Eudes Sam, Researcher, Department of Grape and Wine Engineering, Gansu Agricultural University, China says, “Despite the ability of these techniques to preserve the phenolic components, volatile composition, and sensory qualities of wine within certain limits of de-alcoholisation, problems such as changes in colour and losses of desirable volatile aroma compounds, which subsequently affect the sensory quality could occur. Additionally, the operational costs related to these techniques are relatively high. Moreover, reduced-alcohol or alcohol-free wines and beverages may be susceptible to microbial contamination and should be produced under aseptic conditions.”

Despite these challenges, many commercial reduced alcoholic strength products have been produced and marketed successfully. Moreover, the combination of some of the techniques as well as reconstitution (aroma enhancement) after de-alcoholisation may provide a good alternative for balancing production costs and the sensory profile of reduced-alcohol or alcohol-free wines and beverages. 

A greater understanding of the various post-fermentation de-alcoholisation techniques and their influence on wine quality during the de-alcoholisation process could pave the way forward in developing the market for these products. An understanding of growing consumer trends and the non-alcoholic wine market would also help winemakers in choosing the best technique to limit adverse effects and help meet the needs and acceptance amongst differently targeted consumers including younger people, pregnant women, drivers, and teetotalers.

Mansi Jamsudkar

image credit- getty images

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