Let's face it, there's a lot of contraversy and polarization when it comes to non-alcoholic wines. When we opened SIPPLE, we knew wine was going to be our biggest seller but also our biggest battle. As a beverage director and sommelier, Danny knew what Houstonians looked for and expected when it came to wine. And while perceptions and palates have shifted over the last two years, there are still two very clear camps: the lovers and the haters. What we have come to realize, though, is that it comes down to two things: how the wine is made and whether or not the consumer is actually ready to give non-alcoholic wine a solid try.
We chatted about some of these things with Giesen's Chief winemaker, Duncan Shouler, and we hope you enjoy getting to know him too!
Give us the scoop! When did Giesen start and when did you make the decision to pursue de-alcoholizing some of the wines?
The Giesen brothers created their first vintage of wine in 1984, and have now made almost 40 vintages of wine from New Zealand's premium wine growing regions. We first decided to pursue zero alcohol wines in 2019, after a company-wide health and wellbeing challenge. This challenge included abstaining from alcohol for a month, and this was the motivation the winemaking team needed to try and create a great quality premium zero alcohol wine as there weren’t many quality options available back then. We launched with the world’s first Zero Alcohol Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc which is now the #1 premium (>$16) non-alcohol wine in the United States.
Anything other wines coming out this year that we should be excited about?
We’re really excited about our latest release, the Giesen 0% Sparkling Brut. This wine is crisp, playful, refreshing and is all about celebration. And of course, zero alcohol!
What’s the craziest thing you’ve ever experienced as a winemaker?
As a Chief Winemaker, coordinating vintage throughout the global pandemic! That was an incredible challenge for the New Zealand wine industry, and everyone involved. New Zealand was in lockdown so at times we had to organise our day and night shift teams into ‘bubbles’ where they couldn’t be in contact with one another and before they ended their shift ensure that everything had been wiped down and disinfected for the next shift team. We had hired out an entire hotel for our production teams, which was just down the road from my family home who I couldn’t be with during the pandemic, due to the lockdown rules.
Something I’m proud of, is that this year within a space of a month, we won the International Wine Challenge (UK) trophy for the ‘World’s Best Syrah’ with our Clayvin Syrah 2021 wine and soon after our Giesen 0% Pinot Gris won the Best Non-alcoholic Wine at the International Wine & Spirits Competition (UK). This shows our diversity in making Champion full-strength and no-alcohol wines.
Which is your favorite Giesen non-alcoholic wine? Why?
For me, it’s the Giesen 0% Sauvignon Blanc. This was our first wine, and it’s still our biggest seller. It’s a great example of how a great 0% alcohol wine can be—dry, low in calories, refreshing and, most importantly, have classic varietal characters.
We know that Giesen is a long-standing winery in New Zealand, but tell us a little about your vineyards and your de-alcoholization process.
We own vineyards in the Marlborough region of New Zealand, famous for its distinctive style of Sauvignon Blanc. And we source fruit from several of New Zealand's premium wine growing regions. Giesen produces a wide range of wine styles, ranging from crisp refreshing fruit-driven style of white wines, through to small production complex single vineyard expressions of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. And now of course, zero alcohol wines as well!
We produce all of our zero alcohol wines on site at our winery in Marlborough, where we use spinning cone technology to remove the alcohol. This method of dealcoholization allows alcohol to be gently removed at low temperatures, so that the flavour of the wine is not compromised.
What has been the biggest lesson you’ve learned since launching your NA wine lineup?
Any zero alcohol wine is only as good as the base wine used to create it. For all of our zero alcohol wine range, we start with premium New Zealand full alcohol wine, then gently remove the alcohol to create the zero alcohol alternative. We firmly believe that the success of our zero alcohol range is down to two key things:
- Our in-house dealcoholization process, and having a specialist team who manages this process.
- The quality of the full alcohol wine used.
How many NA bottles have you produced?
Since we started producing non-alcoholic wine for all markets around the globe, we have seen incredible growth and have produced millions of bottles since. A demand we are seeing demonstrates a huge testament to the consumer lifestyle changes we are seeing which is contributing to the growth in the non-alcoholic category.
What’s the best and worst feedback you’ve gotten about Giesen’s NA wines?
People either love it or struggle adjusting to the very idea of NA wine. There are some consumers who love the idea of drinking NA wine, to help moderate their alcohol intake during the week or when their lives are busy and they just don’t want the after-effects of alcohol. Then there are consumers who just don’t think there is a place for no-alcohol wine, what’s the point in taking the alcohol out. Here are two common consumer comments we often receive on our social media platforms:
Best: Giesen 0% is hands down the best NA wine I've tried. Most are too sweet or they're carbonated and just don't really taste similar. The first sip, I was totally fooled, but would have realized with subsequent sips.
Worst: what’s the point of drinking no-alcohol wine, just drink grape juice or juice.
Our answer to the ‘worst’ comment, is that for people who enjoy drinking wine but for various reasons they don’t want the effects of alcohol, perhaps for health reasons, they are the designated sober driver, or they just have a busy day planned. But also our 0% wines are low in calories and dry in style, especially compared to fruit juice or soda. Also 0% wines are a much better choice to have with dinner, they pair nicely with a variety of foods.
What’s the number one thing you wish customers knew about NA wine?
That not all NA wine is made as a wine first. The quality across all NA wines is so varied because most producers don’t make wine first and then remove the alcohol. We make premium New Zealand wine first, so we have the privilege of using that wine to then make our NA wines.
What’s in Giesen's future?
To continue to innovate within the no-alcohol space and to be consumer’s #1 choice for when they are drinking no-alcohol and full strength wines.
If you could describe All the Bitter in one word, what would it be?
Family. The three Giesen Brothers have worked extremely hard developing Giesen Wines for over 40 years and have nurtured the people supporting the business.