Wine with low-alcohol percentage a la carte through Catalan start-up

by Lorraine Williamson
low-alcohol wine

Conscious drinking; worldwide more and more people are convinced that more conscious use of alcohol and drinking less is a good habit. The supply of alcohol-free beer and its quality have been steadily increasing for some time now. Alcohol-free, and low-alcohol wine lagged behind. However, a Spanish start-up is changing all that. 

Drinking with a conscience is a trend that continues worldwide. And it’s no longer limited to Dry January in the Netherlands. There’s also talk of Sober September and Go Sober for October. Belgium has the Tournée Minérale; the alcohol awareness campaign that was first organised in February 2017. Australians can participate in Dry July.  

Catalan start-up 

Last week, the Dutch newspaper NRC paid attention to the rise of alcohol-free wine and published an interview with Aleix Barandiaran, CEO and co-founder of the Catalan start-up Alacarte Ventures. For anyone who wants to drink less alcohol but still enjoy a good glass of wine, the company invented the ‘Alacarte’, an Alacarte solution that allows consumers to choose a low-alcohol content just before consumption. It is the first machine in the world that reduces the alcohol and therefore calories of wine & spirits in minutes. In addition, the Alacarte can also filter out allergens such as sulphite and offers a solution for people with intolerances and allergies. 

Traffic and safety 

The demand for low-alcohol drinks is not only increasing due to a healthier lifestyle, but safety in traffic is also an important reason for cutting down on alcohol. Raising awareness of the risks associated with drinking alcohol while driving has had a significant impact. Especially since the introduction of the points-based driving licence. As a result, the hospitality industry is experiencing a decline in wine consumption during lunch and dinner. Restaurants, bars and local distributors could easily meet consumer demand for low-alcohol drinks with this small machine. 

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Taste remains important 

Barandiaran tells NRC that the Alacarte extracts alcohol from the wines without changing the essence and the original organoleptic properties – everything that can be perceived with the senses. And that is special; many other companies and wine producers have not succeeded in this.  

Alacarte Ventures conducted research in which test subjects tasted the same wine, but with different alcohol percentages, blindly and without any prior knowledge. The remarkable thing was that 54% of the respondents rated some of the de-alcoholised versions higher than the original. The wine with 9% alcohol proved to be the favourite. Barandiaran advises against taking all the alcohol out of the wines: ‘At a certain point, the quality turns, the acids predominate and the wine becomes thin and skimpy’. Because preserving taste is so important, the company maintains close contacts with Pere Castells of El Bulli and Pere Planagumà, the former chef of El Celler de Can Roca – two Catalan three-star restaurants that both earned the title of ‘Best Restaurant in the World’ several times. 

Change in strategy  

‘The machine was designed as a business opportunity for the hospitality industry,’ says Barandiaran, ‘but at first it worked too slowly to be applied in the hospitality industry. It took about two hours to de-alcoholise a bottle of wine. A year later, it worked in five minutes. The technique for the Alacarte was copied from petrochemicals or medicine. But, as often happens with start-ups, the company recently changed course, reports NRC. After a pilot, it turned out that diners had some trouble ordering a wine that had been stripped of alcohol on the spot. Difficult to sell at the moment was the conclusion. At the same time, there was a lot of interest from unexpected quarters, from the wine industry.

Due to climate change, wine producers are struggling with excessively high alcohol percentages in their wines, which can be easily remedied with the technology from Alacarte Ventures. We are currently implementing our technology in wineries and distilleries,’ Barandiaran continues. The pilot model is now back in the laboratory. Alacarte Ventures is currently focusing on industry. The hospitality industry is a target group that has been postponed to a second phase. When time and consumers are ready. 

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