While Kiwi winemakers put the finishing touches to vintage 2018, New Zealand is gearing up for export growth as this year’s harvest will see an increase in naturally produced lighter in alcohol wines.

A leader in innovation is New Zealand winemaker Dr John Forrest of Forrest Wines in Marlborough. Forrest’s The Doctors’ range of lighter in alcohol wine will soon be stocked at Marks & Spencer in the United Kingdom under the retailer’s own-brand wines. The wine is available from April, just in time for the UK summer when the demand for lighter wines peaks.

A significant export achievement for the NZ lighter wine category, this landmark listing follows on from award wins at prestigious wine competitions such as the Melbourne International Wine show where the Doctors’ lighter in alcohol Rose and Sauvignon Blanc won gold and silver respectively, up against tough competition from full strength wines.

Dr Forrest is a pioneer in the production of wines that are naturally lighter in alcohol. Innovative viticultural techniques and select parcels of grapes are behind his award-winning wines, which he first started to develop more than a decade ago.

Forrest Wines is one of 18 leading New Zealand premium wine companies taking part in the 17-million-dollar (NZ) seven-year research and development initiative called “NZ Lighter Wines” which is led by New Zealand Winegrowers, and co-funded by the New Zealand Ministry for Primary Industries’ Primary Growth Partnership (PGP).

As part of this programme, New Zealand winemakers have developed innovative sustainable viticultural techniques that can help slow the natural grape ripening process in the vineyard yet still produce full-flavoured, varietally expressive wines with less alcohol than conventional wines.

Through the New Zealand Lighter Wines initiative, Dr Forrest says they have made “startling progress” for the wine industry and the lighter in alcohol wine category.

“We’re well ahead of conventional achievements – lighter wines can now win medals in open class competitions up against standard wines as evidenced by the success The Doctors’ range has enjoyed,” said Dr Forrest.

Industry experts seem to agree. With more than 30 years’ experience in the global wine industry, Master of Wine Philip Reedman recently assessed several wines from the NZ Lighter Wines programme, including The Doctors’ range. The Doctors’ Sauvignon Blanc, he argued, was of a high enough quality to have won gold in the standard category against conventional wines.

“It would have been hard to tell they were lighter in alcohol wines if you had them in a line-up. They had the same flavour intensity and varietal characteristics you would expect from wines with standard alcohol levels.”

Part of the increasing popularity of lighter wines can be attributed to the wellness and moderation trend that is sweeping the globe. As people place more of an emphasis on their health and wellbeing, lighter wines have a growing fan base both internationally and locally.

The results of a 2017 study conducted by Wine Intelligence showed lighter in alcohol wine was becoming more popular with premium wine drinkers in all five markets studied: New Zealand, Australia, Canada, UK, and Sweden. There was also clear evidence across all markets that more consumers were moderating their alcohol consumption on more occasions.

Philip Gregan, Chief Executive Officer at New Zealand Winegrowers, says demand for lighter in alcohol wines continues to grow internationally and the success of participating lighter wine brands such as The Doctors’ is testament to New Zealand innovation in the category.

“It’s not easy figuring out how to produce full-flavoured, premium-quality, naturally lighter in alcohol wine, but through this joint Government and industry investment in research and development we are now well along the learning curve. I’m looking forward to seeing what Dr Forrest and the other 17 participating wineries create in the next three years of the programme. Our ultimate goal is to be the global ‘go to country’ for premium lighter in alcohol wines.”