Efforts to reduce alcohol consumption must not stop at the end of dry January. More and more consumers continue to explore non-alcohol (or alcohol alternatives) options throughout the year and Studio Null is the latest to introduce thoughtful products worth considering. Founded by Dorothy Munholland and Catherine Diao, Studio Null wines are sourced from renowned winemakers in Germany and Spain, then undergo a state-of-the-art Northern European dealcoholization process that allows the liquid to retain its charm. The brand’s attention to design includes labels that use art to hint that what consumers will find in each bottle is both premium wine and something entirely new; that craftsmanship is at the heart of it all. Currently, Studio Null has three vine-to-glass wines on the market with more releases in the works. To learn more about the thoughtfulness, care and concern with which they approached their brand, we spoke to Munholland and Diao and tasted their three wines together.
How did it all come together? What inspired you to start a non-alcoholic wine business?
Dorothy Munholland: Catherine and I are college friends. We met upstairs in our freshman dorm. We both love wine and the social experiences, and the foodie experiences that come with wine, but in recent years, personally, we’ve recognized that sometimes we’d like to have those experiences without alcohol. Simultaneously, the nonalcoholic (NA) category over the past two years has exploded in the United States. Since the United States is the largest wine-consuming country in the world, we kind of figured it was only a matter of time before some really good non-alcoholic wine would hit the market here. We waited and waited and didn’t find anything really sleek, transparent and beautiful coming. A little over a year ago we decided to tackle this problem together and try to come up with something we would be happy to drink and serve to friends.
What has held the category back as the non-alcoholic beer market has grown so rapidly across the world?
Catherine Diao: I think the reality of the situation with wine, and there are many ways to make dealcoholized wine, is that it’s more difficult. If you’re building a botanical concoction from scratch that’s meant to replace an alcohol-free spirit, there’s plenty of room for experimentation and layering juices, teas, and herbs. On the beer side, you usually start with low ABV products. There is also a longer history and larger existing consumer base for low or no ABV beer. But, on the wine side, the original liquid is more expensive than other raw materials in the category – and the engineering and science needed to remove the alcohol without boiling or leveling out the complexity, character and life wine are very difficult. There have been some advances but now that the market demands it, the innovations are catching up.
Without a wine background, what was your first training process?
CD: Dorothy and I are both research enthusiasts. Dorothy also comes from an incredible background in product development and luxury consumer goods. His palace is amazing. She has a great sense of aroma. And she really thinks about how to approach a problem from a product innovation perspective. It was very helpful in establishing a framework for us – to look at what was currently in the market and what the gaps were. Honestly it helps that we don’t have traditional wine knowledge as it allowed us to be a bit more experimental. We knew where we wanted to end up.
We also did a huge competitive analysis. We conducted third-party research with wine lovers on their interest in the non-alcoholic category. We found that about two-thirds of respondents said they would spend the same amount of money or maybe even a premium to have something they considered a higher quality NA alternative. It helped us realize that a lot of people were looking for that.
And do you commit to educating consumers now?
DM: What we face with non-alcoholic wine brands is a kind of double education. Wine is already intimidating to people and there is so much to understand. You can be a super-specialist in Italian reds and feel completely overwhelmed by a South American wine. This is something we are trying to figure out: how to indicate where our wines come from. We give all the information to our consumers, but we don’t present it as a barrier to entry.
CD: It’s a new category. We want it to be really inclusive. We want people to feel welcome to try it out and have an opinion about it and not feel embarrassed not knowing where Rheinhessen, Germany is.
Can you explain how you manage to achieve this level of flavor and complexity, qualities sought after by wine lovers?
DM: There are some things we do slightly differently than our competitors. For starters, what we found was “quality on the inside equals quality on the outside”. Historically, some of the longest-running NA brands (that you might find on a dusty bottom shelf) didn’t start with a wine you’d be happy to drink full alcohol. We spent a lot of time testing different wines and putting them through trial and error processes to select beautiful and complex wines on arrival.
For dealcoholization we partnered with experts who truly understand the process and calibrate it by hand to the original wine and work closely with the winemaker to understand the profile, aroma, flavor and driving characteristics that we want to maintain on the outing. side.
Let’s talk about the three wines.
DM: The sparkling rosé is a blend between a Silvaner and a Portugieser, so it’s a little less traditional insofar as it’s a blend of white and red grape varieties. It comes from a vineyard in the hills of Rheinhessen in Germany. This is a very good example of an inherited winemaking family that is transitioning their farm to organic and hopefully biodynamic farming – it takes a long time to transition. They embrace their tradition, but they are truly excited to be part of the change that is happening in winemaking. We wanted it to be a refreshing, palate-cleansing sparkling wine that you would love to pair with something elegant for an important occasion.
For Blanc Burgunder, this is another family wine group in Germany. The brothers harvest by hand here. It is a blend of Pinot Gris and Pinot Blanc. This region in particular is known for balancing the acidity of its wines. That’s what we wanted to emphasize with this one in particular: that the acidity of German white wine can withstand a tasty meal.
With the red we find that it can take a while to breathe like with a typical full-bodied red. This wine was produced by a group of winemakers led by women in a dry climate in Spain. Much attention is paid to water resources and land stewardship. It’s something that we were also very passionate about. It is a blend of Syrah and Tempranillo. You’ll notice it’s called Prickly Red. We added a very, very light carbonation to it. Although it’s almost imperceptible, it adds a mouthfeel that resonates a lot with people looking for an alcohol-free red. The non-alcoholic red is an area that has quite polarized people, but the overwhelming response to this has been that people are thrilled to have it.
For all these wines, there was a lot of consideration for the American palate. People’s perception of softness is very different from person to person. What one person might consider very dry, another person might consider very sweet. We wanted to keep this on the drier side of the profile. Interestingly, Americans opt for sweets but see themselves as not wanting sweets. It was a balance we wanted to achieve.
Is there a possibility to scale your volume and do you plan to release different variations every year?
CD: The limit in terms of production is not on the dealcoholization side; it’s about finding source wines that we like and that there are enough wines available to go through the process. At this time, we are excited to seasonally, and year after year, showcase different wines from different vineyards, different winemakers and different grape varieties. This is something we’ll be doing on a smaller scale for future runs. As we receive feedback and understand what strikes us, we can begin to partner with winemakers who can devote more and more of their grapes to what we do. There is plenty of room to play around with sourcing anywhere in the world.
DM: This is just the beginning of the category and the more people who try it – even those who may have had a bad experience with NA wine in the past – I think the more we can go on. to push him.
Hero image courtesy of Studio Null