Kelly Hayes: WineInk
“I can do that.”And with that confident declaration over dinner four years ago, Bob and Ingrid Grueter embarked on a adventure to change the way that non-drinkers view the wonders of wine.Bob’s comment was a response to a friend who asked: “Why can’t they make a wine that doesn’t have alcohol?,” or something to that effect. His emphatic reply prompted the dinner companion to reply: “If you can do that, I’ll get the money to fund it.”Well, today, VinSant, a grape product with zero percent alcohol, lives.And while the promised funding from their dinner companion has yet to materialize, Bob and Ingrid continue on a quest to market their unique product.VinSant is an all-natural, grape-based product that is currently available throughout the Roaring Fork Valley in liquor stores, as well as at selected Whole Foods stores in Denver and Boulder. There is a white, made from Sauvignon Blanc grapes and a red, made from a blend that is predominantly Syrah and Zinfandel. The product is packaged in wine bottles with twist tops, has an appealing grape display on the label and, when opened and poured into glass, looks very much like wine.But it’s not wine. For one thing, it has virtually no alcohol in it. For another, it has just 10 percent residual sugar, much less than what is required by the FDA to classify it as a juice. VinSant is, in fact, an entirely new category of beverage that can serve as a perfect alternative for those who want the experience of drinking wine without the alcohol or taste of wine.A little background. Bob and Ingrid have both been in Aspen since the 1970s. Bob, a former Pitkin County judge, always had a love of wine and, in 1986, got into the wine business by opening Aspen Wine and Spirits (AW&S), which the couple ran until 2001. During these years they spent many harvests in California and came to love dirt, vines and wines.At AW&S, Bob was struck by how often someone would ask for a non-alcoholic product, be it beer or wine. An idea was planted, but until that dinner in 2006 it remained just a notion. Once motivated, the Grueters went to work on figuring out how to make a true non-alcohol grape-based product.There already were similar products on market. Ariel, now a part of J. Lohr Vineyards, has produced a de-alcoholized wine with less than 0.5 percent alcohol since 1985. Anything less than 0.5 percent can use the phrase “non-alcoholic wines.” FRE is a Sutter Home product. Both use processes that remove the alcohol from wine that has already been fermented.Bob and Ingrid wanted to create a truly alcohol-free product. They contacted Lamanuzzi and Pantaleo, a grape supplier in California, who recommended they contact Leslie Norris, a flavor scientist (cool gig) to see if it was possible to make a beverage that was truly free of alcohol but had the characteristics of wine.Significant trial and tribulation followed, but eventually it was determined that if they were going to make this concept a reality they had to halt the natural fermentation process of the yeast and sugars in the juices before they even began. They began to “flash pasteurize,” using heat to effectively “cook” the yeast in the blended grape juice and stop the fermentation.Behold, VinSant.Now that that they have a product, Bob and Ingrid are consumed by the details. Production, packaging, marketing, all of the vagaries and mysteries of how to educate consumers about the health benefits of VinSant, while still positioning it as an alternative to wine. They have received tremendous feedback from consumers and industry professionals as well. Leslie Rudd, of Dean and DeLuca, has expressed interest in making it a catalogue product. A Saudi businessman sees potential in the Muslim world.VinSant does not taste like wine. Rather, it is a little sweeter, a little juicier, with no tannins and a mouth feel that dissipates once it is swallowed. But that hardly seems to be the point. The bottles and the way it looks in the glass allow non-drinkers to join in the social, feel-good, aspects of wine drinking with their friends without compromising their desire not to drink. The opportunity to toast a special occasion is reason enough to have the product.VinSant is a new and truly innovative product that serves a real constituency of consumers. Give it a try.This could be big.
Kelly J. Hayes lives in the soon-to-be designated appellation of Old Snowmass with his wife, Linda, and a black Lab named Vino. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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