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Sainsbury's works with new research centre to develop lower alcohol wines consumers want to drink

Published:  22 May, 2015

Sainsbury's has teamed up with the University of Adelaide to part-fund wine research at a new wine innovation centre in Australia that will look at developing lower alcohol wines.

The Training Centre for Innovative Wine Production at the University of Adelaide is looking to address challenges facing the industry and has a pipeline of 18 projects ranging from climate change, water limitations and increased production costs, to changing consumer preferences. They will straddle viticulture techniques through to fermentation projects and consumers preference and insight. Other partners include Treasury Wine Estates.

Sainsbury's winemaker Ryan Carter told Sainsbury's had been working with the University of Adelaide since 2012 and its funding supported thirteen projects in the consortium research activity.

"We are participating in the consortium to better understand innovative wine production and alcohol management in a challenging climate - both environmentally and also in a social responsibility context," he said. "I'll be there myself in June to participate in tastings and other activities relating to the entire scope of the consortium. Some of the projects do have relevance to our 20 x 20 targets of doubling the sales of lighter alcohol wine and reducing the average alcohol content (abv) of own brand wine and beer."

"Being able to participate in such a forward-thinking, professional research consortium is a great opportunity for Sainsbury's and I'm delighted that we'll be able to bring our own technological insights and experience to help drive the research forward," he said.

Professor Vladimir Jiranek, Professor of Oenology and director of the new facility, told he had particularly wanted to a UK retailer on board because the UK is such an important export market and the majority is sold through the multiple grocers.

He confirmed Sainsbury's is expected to be particularly involved in two projects that investigate lower alcohol and lower sugar wines. One will look at consumer and market barriers to accepting reduced alcohol content, while the other will research viticulture practises to boost the yields of flavour-rich grapes that are not high in sugars.

The Australian Reserch Council Training Centre for Innovation Wine Production [photo credit: Duc-Truc Pham, University of Adelaide]Duc-Truc Pham, University of Adelaide

There was an increasing emphasis on lower alcohol, lighter styles, Jiranek said, and the project was keen to look at managing alcohol at the 16 - 12% abv level. "The core objective [of these two projects] will be balancing all the ingredients, and flavour and alcohol are the most important in that. We would love to produce a wine with 0% alcohol that tastes like 15% but even if we get a quarter of the way, that would be good. 10% or 5% is also desirable," he added.

The government's Responsibility Deal it is looking to remove one billion units from the UK market, and Sainsbury's says it has already boosted its sales of lighter alcohol wines 32% since 2010 under its 20x20 Sustainability Plan.

The Australian Reserch Council Training Centre for Innovation Wine ProductionThe Australian Reserch Council Training Centre for Innovation Wine ProductionSource: Duc-Truc Pham, University of AdelaideThe Australian Reserch Council Training Centre for Innovation Wine Production [photo credit: Duc-Truc Pham, University of Adelaide]

Jiranek added the centre would take a "multi-faceted" approach to tackling key challenges facing the industry, building a body of knowledge and finding technological solutions.

"The knowledge and technologies arising from the Centre will help the industry make the best wines that will be sought after domestically and internationally," he said. "We aim to underpin and enable more profitable grape-growing and winemaking while achieving the desired flavour and alcohol balance that consumers want."

The centre was funded by a three-year grant of Aus $2.4m from the Australian Research Council, and the Australian Grape and Wine Authority, along with 11 other organisations, including Sainsbury's, Treasury Wine Estates Vintners and Lowe Wines. Although the funding is initially running for three years, Jiranek there was potential to extend this with a refunding bid sometime in 2017.

The Australian Reserch Council Training Centre for Innovation Wine Production was opened at the University of Adelaide this week [photo credit: Duc-Truc Pham]Duc-Truc Pham, University of Adelaide