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If you want to be hip, you do without alcohol: „Cool sober drinking“ is the trend. The increasing demand for non-alcoholic wine and sparkling wine is beginning to change wine community. Raffaella Usai reports on a topic that has long since arrived in the mainstream.

There is no daily newspaper, no magazine, no trade journal that has not reported on the topic of abstaining from alcohol in the first days of January. It's clear that after the holidays, many people want to take it down a notch, spare their livers, soothe their consciences. But more and more people are not only abstaining from alcohol during "Dry January". No, the so-called "Mindful drinking", the new sobriety, has become a self-declared lifestyle for many.

"The growing interest in Dry January is an expression of the fact that cool sober drinking, i.e. conscious non-alcoholic enjoyment, is increasingly becoming a topic for many consumers," confirms Cathrin Duppel, Marketing Manager at Rotkäppchen-Mumm. According to the GfK Household Panel 2021, alcohol-free or de-alcoholised drinks are often the first choice, especially in the under-40 age group. And at the latest when the Germans' favourite primitivo, the "Doppio Passo", came on the market as an "alcohol-free" version last summer, it was clear: it is no longer possible to imagine supermarket shelves without de-alcoholised wines.

Young women in particular are giving up alcohol more and more often
© hofstätter

A new drinking culture is emerging

A study by the London-based market research institute IWSR, which specialises in alcoholic beverages, confirms that dealcoholised wine, sparkling wine, beer, cider and spirits, including their reduced-alcohol variants, will increase massively in global sales in the coming years. The analysts assume that annual consumption will increase by a third by 2026. At the same time, non-alcoholic beverages are the most important driver of the trend, accounting for more than 90 per cent of sales. Reduced-alcohol wines and sparkling wines, from which only a part of their alcohol has been removed, hardly play a role at present.

Germany has been the world's largest market for non-alcoholic wines, beers, sparkling wines and spirits for years, followed by Japan, Spain and the USA. This trend is also promoted by politicians in many states of the Western world: in the EU, a fierce dispute has been raging for a long time about guidelines for restrictions on advertising, sales and access to wine. Since the beginning of this year, Ireland as well as Canada have been focusing on stronger alcohol prevention. Both countries - as well as Scotland - are planning much stricter guidelines to reduce alcohol consumption. This will presumably further increase the sale of non-alcoholic alternatives there. In many other countries, political debates on the topic are underway, which have so far remained inconsequential. But the approval of those in charge is growing slowly but steadily.

So it is no wonder that this year, for the first time, the leading industry trade fair ProWein is dedicating a separate hall to the topic of de-alcoholised wines for exhibitors and visitors with the "World of Zero". So far, these have been located at the stands of the respective producers or importers and exporters throughout the fair. Now they will be focused in Hall 1. There will also be a dedicated tasting zone as well as lectures and audience discussions on the topic.

The St. Antony winery in Rheinhessen has had dealcoholised wines in its range since last year. Managing director Dirk Würtz speaks of a boom: "Since 2019, the demand for non-alcoholic wines in Germany has increased by 30 percent. This is no longer a niche but a serious market."

Politics versus business - Italy stands up to them

While more and more German as well as Spanish wineries see the trend as an opportunity and bring alcohol-free wines to the market, they are rarely found in Italy so far. Most Italian producers, especially the smaller and medium-sized ones, are sceptical about dealcoholised products. It is therefore not surprising that the Italian Minister of Agriculture, Francesco Lollobrigida, wants to lobby the EU Commission not to allow alcohol-free wine to be labelled as such. "If you want to make wine without alcohol, you should not be allowed to call it wine," Lollobrigida said at a recent press conference.

Sporty, fit, healthy: that is the target group for non-alcoholic wines
© hofstätter

Italy's current wine law, the "Testo Unico del Vino", also takes this conviction into account. This defines wine as a "product obtained exclusively by the total or partial alcoholic fermentation of fresh grapes, crushed or uncrushed, or of grape must".

However, Lollobrigida's position is opposed by the big Italian wine companies, which do not want to give up important market shares in the future. "It's a bandwagon we have to jump on because consumer interest in these new products is real and cannot be ignored" said Giulio Somma, spokesman for the Italian wine association Unione Italiana Vini, at the Simei wine technology fair in Milan last November. The association has been campaigning for two years to keep dealcoholised and reduced-alcohol wines in the family of wine products because they represent a fast-growing market for producers. If the beverage industry were left in charge of the product segment, wine producers would create "dangerous competition" for themselves.

Sandro Sartor, managing director of Constellation Brands and Ruffino, sums up the Italian dilemma: "The problem is that there is a demand and the trade is asking us for it, but if we, the biggest wine producers in the world, cannot produce, we leave this market to others. It is important that these products remain legally in the wine world and are regulated. There is a lot of pressure to reduce alcohol consumption: to oppose such products would not be in line with the times."

Set trends, don't run after them

Martin Foradori from the J. Hofstätter winery in Tramin (South Tyrol) is one of the few Italian winemakers who is convinced of the great potential of non-alcoholic sparkling wines and wines. Since 2014, Foradori has also owned a winery in Kanzem on the Saar. A few years ago, he expanded his range there, first with a non-alcoholic sparkling wine, then with a dealcoholised wine.

Martin Foradori, Hofstätter Winery


For this decision, he has had to listen to a lot of scorn and ridicule from colleagues in Italy. But the criticism leaves him cold: "It's typical Italian behaviour. They make a big polemic out of it and rail against the EU, which supposedly does not protect the 'real' winegrowers enough. And in the end they don't even notice that the world is overtaking them left and right."

He says that the Italian gastronomy in particular has not yet dealt with the issue enough: "The restaurateurs don't understand the sales opportunities they are missing out on. A bottle of non-alcoholic wine could be sold at the same calculation as a bottle of wine, it does not take away any turnover from the wine list. With other non-alcoholic alternatives like beer or soft drinks, the margin is nowhere near as big," said Foradori.

In Germany, he said, restaurateurs are far more open. "Restaurant owners are not beating down our doors yet, but the demand is increasing. I see non-alcoholic sparkling wines or wines on more and more wine lists," observes Dirk Würtz.

According to Martin Foradori, one of the handicaps of dealcoholised products is the arrogant attitude of the professional public: "Sommeliers, wine merchants and wine journalists have built up such a blockade on the subject that they don't even notice that the market and the consumer have changed."

Dirk Würtz also confirms this: "Wine fans and many vintners have a completely wrong attitude towards this. They compare dealcoholised products too much with the original - and forget that the target groups are completely different. You will never convince a real wine freak with such products. But that is not the approach at all. The aim is not to pick up the wine critics, but the consumers who want to do without alcohol."

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