How is Wild Idol breaking the ceiling for alcohol free wines? Decanter Magazine’s Amanda Barnes goes behind the scenes to learn the fascinating story of this ground-breaking sparkling alternative that is rewriting the story of premium non alcoholic wine and innovating the category without a blueprint.
When the creators behind Wild Idol decided to make a premium non alcoholic sparkling, they knew they wanted to do something completely game changing.
The goal was to break the ceiling in the world of low and no alcohol wine, by creating a brand-new category. The innovation would be making a high-quality sparkling from wine grapes –without ever being fermented.
“The big difference with Wild Idol sparkling is that we are not going through fermentation,” explains CEO Paul Beavis. “And that’s the big challenge. But we knew that the fact that Wild Idol has never had alcohol in it makes a big difference and is very important to many drinkers of alcohol free alternatives.”
Although the main ingredient – high quality wine grapes – is the same as Champagne and high-end sparkling wine, the process for producing Wild Idol is totally different.
All wines rely on fermentation, using the combination of yeasts and oxygen to transform the grape juice sugars into alcohol and CO2. Champagne and sparkling wine are first made into a wine, known as the base wine, and then undergo a secondary fermentation to capture that CO2 by-product as bubbles and make it a sparkling wine.
The mission would lead the team into a two-year journey of research and investigation before finding the ideal combination of wine grapes and innovative winemaking.
Finding the right terroir and wine grapes for Wild Idol
Finding the right wine grapes was the first stage in the process. After scouring different wine regions in Europe, the creative team behind Wild Idol decided on the Rheinhessen wine region in Germany.
For premium non alcoholic wine, they knew they needed a combination of a cool climate — which can make fresh wines and produce wine grapes with natural high acidity and crisp fruit flavours — and the right grape varieties.
The Rheinhessen is prime territory for refreshing white wines and sparkling wines, with an impressive wine history that spans 2,000 years. Soils of loamy limestone and a cool microclimate tempered by the Rhine and Nahe rivers have led to renowned white wines from the region. It was the local variety of Müller-Thurgau that showed the potential for top-quality alcohol free sparkling.
“Müller-Thurgau has the aromatics that we wanted in our alcohol free sparkling white, and we wanted to find those aromatics naturally — without adding anything to it,” explains Paul Beavis.
“Müller-Thurgau grapes give us a great steeliness but also with a delicate white blossom note. And structurally it has that zingy freshness that we were after.”
For Wild Idol Rosé, it was a case of finding two wine grape varieties which would work well together to create the ideal balance between bright red fruit aromatics with freshness as well as a fine tannin to create texture.
Although both red wine grapes, the Merlot and Dornfelder grapes are gently pressed to extract only the lightly coloured grape juice for rosé. This gentle pressing process, which is common for all rosé Champagnes and sparkling wines, releases solely the most delicate flavours and a gentle spine of structure from the red grape tannins.
“Not only do these varieties give us the beautiful aromatics and tannin content we were looking for, but they also have a really beautiful colour - it’s just incredible,” explains Paul. “We get this beautiful rosé colour that we often describe in Champagne as œil de perdrix, or partridge’s eye. It was that colour that we used to look for a lot in Rosé Champagne — a sort of Provence rosé colour but with a tinge of copper which makes it very bright and clear.”
Having found what they considered the ideal terroir and the right varieties, the creative team at Wild Idol now needed to work on developing an alcohol free sparkling process that they had never done before.
Working without a blueprint
The team knew they wanted to make a premium non alcoholic wine from top quality wine grapes and create a similar experience to when drinking a great Champagne, but without ever letting the grape juice ferment. It was unknown territory.
“There was no blueprint!” Paul exclaims. “We are genuinely making something which hasn’t existed at this level before.”
The English winemaking team worked closely with the vineyard and winemaking team in Germany to develop the process. The first step involves gently pressing the grapes to extract the delicate grape juice, known as a grape must, in the same way that would be done for Champagne or other top quality sparkling wines. But then, rather than letting fermentation happen, the must is chilled to just above freezing to a state of cryo-stabilisation.
“By keeping the must at only a couple of degrees Celsius, we don’t allow the yeast to become active and start the fermentation process — and that’s the critical difference with Wild Idol Sparkling,” explains Paul. “We then have a process of removing the tartaric crystals (which is a very natural and normal process for white wines) and filtration. And then we use natural dosage and natural wine vinegars to enable us to have the mouthfeel and flavour profile we are looking for. That really is the art of blending — looking for that layering effect with structure but also freshness and cleanliness.”
The process of blending a dosage is also typical in Champagne and sparkling wine production, although rather than using aged wines for the dosage, as Champagne would, in Wild Idol the dosage is made with a blend of grape juices. This, along with some structure from natural wine vinegars, builds complexity. Once the team achieved the balance desired, the next challenge was getting Wild Idol to sparkle.
Making Wild Idol sparkle
As Wild Idol has never undergone fermentation (or created the by-product of CO2), the bubbles have to be added through refined carbonation. Finding the right partners to deliver a delicate and consistent, fine stream of bubbles was also a key part of the search in developing Wild Idol, and seeking this expertise is also what led the team to Germany.
“Germany has the best carbonation methods in the world,” explains Paul. “As a region they’ve been making some of the most amazing sparkling products for many years. And we needed that consistency of quality year on year of making high quality sparkling.”
There are many different levels of carbonation that are used for different drinks — from adding the sparkle to sparkling water to giving the pop to tonic water. What Wild Idol wanted to achieve was a steady stream of fine bubbles as you would expect to find in a fine, low dosage Champagne or world class sparkling wine. Through a special process, the winemaking team can achieve over 5 bar of pressure — which is a similar pressure and stream of fine bubbles you can expect from Champagne, Franciacorta or English sparkling wine.
Cheers to an alcohol free sparkling wine experience
After over two years of development and several different trials of alcohol free sparkling, the team are confident that they have reached the profile they were seeking for Wild Idol.
“Ultimately Wild Idol uses natural ingredients and fresh grapes, but the number one factor is that it has never gone through the fermentation process,” summarises Paul. “That’s where we are different, and we are creating something new that hasn’t been done before. We are not trying to replicate or copy anything, we are genuinely making something which hasn’t existed to this level before.
In addition, trying to create something that is so much better than anything that exists today in the market today. The passion is to ensure we have a world class naturally alcohol free sparkling wine that we think and got told by our customers is the best they have tried.
“Years ago if you decided you weren’t drinking one evening, you simply weren’t given much of a premium alternative to drinking alcohol. The idea behind Wild Idol is to give people the option to have something all inclusive, healthy, and has a balance that enables you to feel that you are having a lovely premium experience but without compromise.”