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Managing Alcohol

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.

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