Everyone is debating hang times, sugar levels and alcohol percentages in wines from California. The current
issue of the PinotFile lists several Pinot Noirs with alcohol percentages approaching or exceeding 15%.
Vintners want to push flavor profiles and obtain maximum flavor development. To accomplish this task, grapes
are left to hang long into the growing season with the result that sugar accumulation in the grapes increases
markedly. High sugar, of course, translates into high alcohol in the finished wines.
California has become a leader in higher alcohol wines, primarily due to the warm climate, and the high scores
that many of these wines garner from wine critics. The higher alcohol does produce mouth filling taste
experiences at the expense of “hotness” which is most evident when the wines warm in the glass.
There are various technologies for reducing alcohol in wine. Vinovation, located in Sebastopol, championed
the process of reverse osmosis for alcohol reduction beginning in 1992. ConeTech, with offices throughout the
world, including Santa Rosa, California, introduced the Spinning Cone Column(SCC) first into California in
1991. ConeTech claims SCC technology enables precise adjustment of a wine’s alcohol level, aimed at
achieving the “sweet spot” (between 12 and 14% for most wines) of harmony and balance and without
changing the wine’s natural flavor. Cost is only a few cents per bottle.
Other options for reducing alcohol include filtering, blending with other wines, and diluting the wine with water.
Many winemakers are convinced that all of these procedures sacrifice flavor and mouth feel and significantly
change the structure of a wine.
Half of all California is said to undergo some type of technological alcohol reduction. Vinovation claims to have
the largest consumer base with over a thousand clients, but neither Vinovation or ConeTech will disclose
names of their winery customers. Alcohol adjustment is one of those things that is frequently done, but no one
willingly talks about it, for fear the consumer will be judgmental about the quality of the wine. There are few
winemakers who openly admit to their little secret.