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De-alcoholizing Wine at Home

Readers continue to write, and we continue to have answers.

Bill from Roanoke contacted Master Vintner:

Some members of my family don't use alcohol. I'd love to be able to offer them a non-alcoholic version of my wine so that we could all share it together. Is there a way I can make alcohol-free wine, or de-alcoholize it so they can enjoy it too? I hear reverse-osmosis will do it, but what about just boiling off the alcohol on the stove?

Bill, this question comes up frequently. Folks see non-alcoholic wines in the supermarket and wonder if they can do that too. The short answer is yes, it's possible. The long answer is, few people want to spend that kind of money on infrastructure or equipment.

Commercial non-alcohol wine is just regular wine that's been put through a finely tuned reverse-osmosis filter. It's different from a standard water filter or a Wine Filter in that the screen on it is so small that it will pass alcohol molecules, but nothing else. It requires very high pressure to operate and wastes a lot of the wine that goes through it. The right kind of RO unit will cost many tens of thousands of dollars, but the advantage is that the finished product isn't all scorched or cooked by heating (more on that below) and has a roughly wine-like taste.

There's another doohickey that can remove alcohol from wine and it's even more science-y than RO: the Spinning Cone. It sounds like an amusement park ride, but it's a complex machine that pumps the wine through a stacked series of cones spinning at incredible speeds, under incredibly high pressure. Wine goes in, alcohol blows off through the edges of the cones through some quirk of physics, and de-alcoholized wine comes out the other end.

The drawback? Spinning Cones cost hundreds of thousands of dollars and require a team of operators and engineers, and you can't turn them on unless you've got hundreds of gallons of wine to run at once.

You can use vacuum distillation to take the alcohol out of wine. A vacuum still uses reduced pressure in a sealed vessel to lower the boiling point of alcohol below 120F. While this works, vacuum stills actually beat the wine up pretty bad (120F for hours is sad treatment for good wine, but distilling only cares about the alcohol) and they're gigantic and expensive, and if you get caught using one, they hand you over to the IRS and that's the end of that.

So is the answer for home use boiling it on the stovetop? Sadly, no. While it will work, you need to heat the wine up to 170F (the boiling point of alcohol) and keep it there until the volume reduces by the alcohol percentage--if you've got five gallons of wine and it's at 15% alcohol, you'll have to boil off 0.75 gallons of liquid. That takes hours, and by then the wine will taste like burnt grape syrup, no matter what you do.

This is all moot though: even the best RO commercial de-alcoholized wines still contain 0.5% ABV: getting that last half percent out is really tough. If your friends and family don't use alcohol, then de-alcoholized wine might not fit the bill anyway, especially if they're avoiding it because of a matter of faith or other choice. Pour them a glass of sparkling water or some delicious fresh-squeezed juice and share their fellowship that way.

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