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Low-Alcohol Wine, Dye Could Promote Grapes

Associated Press

Wine with virtually no alcohol and dyes made from grape skins are being studied in hopes they can help California’s sagging grape industry.

California’s grape growers have been afflicted with falling grape prices and declining land values. Wineries worry about flat sales and a flood of inexpensive imports.

Richard Carey, a research enologist at California State University, Fresno, is studying alternate uses for grapes “to increase the profitability for both the wine grower and the wine maker.”

Two options are under study: developing wine with almost no alcohol for specialty buyers and using grape skins for food coloring.

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The alcohol content of wine normally ranges from 10% to 12%. Low-alcohol wines range from 3% to 5%. The de-alcoholized wine studied by Carey is allowed 0.5% alcohol.

“The idea is to appeal to a wide market and open up new areas that the wine industry can reach so that the growers will become healthy and the wine makers will become healthy,” he said.

Potential customers would be those who shun alcohol for medical or religious reasons and those who like the flavor and ambiance of wine but want to keep a clear head at business lunches and cocktail parties, Carey said.

The procedure Carey developed removes most of the alcohol but captures and restores volatile compounds that give wine its unique flavor.

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The remaining alcohol is inconsequential, he said. The human body produces three to four times that amount naturally in digestion, and drinkers would have to consume three to four cases to feel any effect.

“The effort that it takes to take that last little bit of alcohol out is really a heroic effort and really strips the wine of its essence,” Carey said.

He hopes some beer drinkers will switch to the new wine product.

“If we could just tap 10% of the beer market and have them drink some of the low-alcohol, low-calorie type of beverages, the wine industry would be extremely healthy,” he predicted.

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Some wineries already have expressed interest in Carey’s research, and results could be available for them to apply next season, according to Carlos Muller, director of the university’s enology center.

“Let’s face it,” Muller said. “There are a lot of products out there on the market that are fairly decent products, but Richard feels he can make a better product.”

Replace Synthetic Dyes

The second research goal is to stabilize a grape pigment that could be used in place of synthetic dyes for red or blue food coloring.

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The Food and Drug Administration is pressuring food processors to eliminate problems linked to synthetic colorings. That encourages natural dyes that possibly could be made from grape skins, Carey said.


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