After two decades in the luxury Champagne market as Managing Director of Champagne Lanson, Paul Beavis began looking for a new direction in premium alcohol-free sparkling and is now CEO of Wild Idol. Decanter Magazine’s Amanda Barnes finds out why Paul believes that there’s no need to compromise on quality when seeking a top-quality, sparkling alcohol-free wine alternative.
Tell me about your experience in the world of Champagne and why you think it has such enduring global appeal?
A: I was very blessed to have a 20-year career in Champagne. I think it has such a global appeal because the Champagne industry has been going for over 275 years!
Champagne has always been synonymous with celebration and good times. But in recent years it has become a much more accessible as part of daily life and something that people sometimes drink once or twice a week. Without question Champagne will continue to be around in the future and the market is now big enough for the future stars such as premium English Sparkling wines too.
After so many years in the Champagne industry, what attracted you to the concept of making a premium non-alcoholic sparkling wine like Wild Idol?
A: During my years in the industry, I’ve seen many changes and cycles over time. Ultimately, I was interested in how we could create something in a brand-new category, that hasn’t existed before, which is both really exciting and challenging at the same time.
We were seriously passionate about making an authentic non-alcoholic sparkling alternative that would be totally inclusive and would give people a healthy lifestyle choice without being gimmicky. It was essential to produce something that was made well and had a genuine story behind it. With Wild Idol there was an opportunity to create something that hadn’t been done before and step into an area where there was no roadmap to copy or reinvent.
Have you had an interest in low and no alcohol wines for some time?
I am fortunate to have attended many elegant events during my career. Although I would often start with a glass of Champagne, quite soon I would be looking for something else that was alcohol-free. And I couldn’t find anything that would give me the experience I was looking for that (dare I say) wasn’t overly confected or made me stop at one glass.
The idea behind Wild Idol is to give people the option to have something inclusive, healthy, and with a balance that enables you to feel that you are having a lovely experience but without compromise. And that to me was the big opportunity to explore.
How have you seen the low and no alcohol market develop over the years, and where does Wild Idol fit in?
We’ve seen the spirits companies doing very well with premium low and no alcohol spirits, and there are some exceptionally good low and no alcohol beers available too. But I can’t recall having anything in the wine category that has given me a premium experience – which is where Wild Idol comes into its own.
The overall low and no category is going through a period of premiumisation, and we have seen this with spirits and beers already. The quality of non-alcoholic sparkling wines continues to improve but you can’t cut corners, nor do we believe de-alcoholisation is the right process either (i.e. removing the alcohol mechanically to make it alcohol-free).
How has Wild Idol developed since your involvement?
It’s been harder than I thought. One thinks that producing alcohol-free might be simple, but it isn’t.
I’ve been with the business for almost two years now, and we’ve gone through many different tastings and blending sessions to get the flavour profile we are looking for, much of which comes from the vintage and the natural effects of the climate.
My Champagne experience really helped me in knowing what we were looking for in the flavour and profile. For me, a good sparkling needs to have structure, a dry finish and that fresh acidity which makes you come back for a second glass, made as naturally as possible using the least amount of intervention.
There have been many milestones in developing the brand, but the most important to me is that we have been able to let the natural fruit characters of the grape varietals to express themselves and to really shine.
In the first three months we had Wild Idol ready we went on a ‘baptism of fire’ trip, tasting with 80 of the top sommeliers in London. Tasting with that many sommeliers can either make you or break you!
The feedback was everything for us, and we really needed genuine comments from the trade to feel confident that we were going in the right direction.
Creating premium alcohol-free wine alternatives is not for the faint hearted. But when you have passion, it’s worth it.
What is a ‘premium experience' in drinking alcohol-free sparkling wine?
Taste is critical, but so is the look and feel of the serve and the physical product itself — the elegance of it.
So many people say to me that they are looking for a premium sparkling experience, and don’t want to be given anything that feels like they are being treated as an afterthought. If you’re in a lovely venue, why don’t they have a high-quality alcohol-free option which is equally representative of that venue and the consumer as an individual?
Do you see vintage differences in Wild Idol, like you would Champagne or other sparkling wines?
Yes, to some extent. The 2021 vintage has a slightly different flavour profile to the previous vintage for example. Ultimately it is about nature giving us something to play with which we can then create a delicious product from.
The 2021 vintage of Wild Idol White is 100% Müller-Thurgau and has no dosage at all — therefore we are allowing this vintage to some extent be reflected in the flavour profile. The 2021 vintage was also the first time we started working with Merlot and Dornfelder for Wild Idol Rosé which gave us a bit more of that tannin that we love!
How has the experience of marketing and explaining Wild Idol been different to working with Champagne?
Working with sommeliers to develop mocktails has been really stimulating and will no doubt help build the category which is in its infancy.
How have you seen the ‘sober curious’ movement grow, and do you think it combines well with a modern luxury lifestyle?
Reducing alcohol intake is part of the wellness revolution that has been gaining huge traction in recent years. Drinking culture has changed and people are discovering new and alternative ways to have a good time, with less social stigma around abstaining from alcohol.
Luxury retailers and venues have started to respond to this trend, expanding their wine lists to include premium alcohol-free options such as Wild Idol. With Wild Idol, we are not demonising alcohol in any way, rather we are helping to provide a high-quality alternative for people choosing not to drink.
During your time at Lanson, you saw strong growth of Champagne sales in the UK and North America market. Which markets do you think will be ideal for a high quality no-alcohol sparkling like Wild Idol?
The UK is our home market and probably one of the hardest markets to launch in, but we wanted to prove our value in the UK first.
But there is certainly demand in the Middle East. In fact, this month Wild Idol will launch our non alcoholic wines in Dubai. Wild Idol has never been fermented and so has never had alcohol in it – which is a very positive message in the Middle East and in all markets. By contrast, something that has been made with alcohol and then de-alcoholised will to some extent still have the essence of alcohol in it.
There is also a growing interest from North America in the low-and-no category – especially in high quality restaurants with Sommeliers searching for a premium non-alcoholic sparkling wine – and early interest from China, Hong Kong and Singapore.
Why is Rhienhessen in Germany the ideal terroir for top quality alcohol-free sparkling wine, and will you make any Wild Idol elsewhere?
It was Müller-Thurgau that we were really looking for as the grape of choice that was able to give us this flavour profile and structure that we really wanted for the current version of Wild Idol.
The Rhienhessen have been making some of the most amazing sparkling styles for many years but there are other locations in the wine world that are capable of producing some lovely alcohol-free sparkling options.
Not forgetting that the human element is fundamental too. The winery and winemaking team are an important ingredient, and we have two English winemakers that are actively involved in every part of the process.
But that’s not to say we will only ever make our sparkling in Germany – we have been experimenting with trials in the UK with Chardonnay and Bacchus grapes in search of a purely English iteration of Wild Idol. And there’s nothing to say that if we find excellent grapes in Napa that we won’t make a Californian sparkling in the future!
But the quality and integrity of the product will always be the priority.
Do you have any ideal pairings or moments to enjoy Wild Idol?