Fre of alcohol

Sutter Home has been producing wine since the 1800s; however, nine years ago it also began producing non-alcoholic beverages. Earlier this year, Fre, the non-alcoholic wine from Sutter Home, was launched in the region. Dr Selim Sadek talks to Caterer about why Fre is a breath of fresh air to the beverage market.

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By  Laura Barnes Published  June 1, 2006

With a saturation of wine and alcoholic beverages in the market, Dr Selim Sadek, president and managing director of Advanced Solutions International Standard, decided that the regional market needed more than just soft drinks to counter this. As such, since January this year, Sadek has acted as the sole agent for Fre non-alcoholic wine in the Middle East.

Based in Napa Valley, Sutter Home has been producing wine since the late 1800s, with a portfolio of 13 varietals ranging from White Zinfandel and Pinot Grigio, to Merlot and Pinot Noir. However, in 1997 it expanded its portfolio into the alcohol free market, and now produces seven varietals of non-alcoholic wines and sparkling wines.

“There are a number of grape juices in the regional market, but no non-alcoholic wines. As such, I decided to bring Sutter Home’s range here. It tastes exactly like wine, but doesn’t contain the alcohol,” comments Sadek.

Fre is now available in a number of hotels and outlets; including JW Marriott, Dubai Marine, Harvey Nichols and the Millennium Abu Dhabi Hotel. However, getting approval to import Fre was a long process, and led to the labelling being changed in order to feature both English and Arabic.

“It took around 18 months for the drink to be approved by the Abu Dhabi Municipality. We spent a lot of time discussing the labelling and wording on the bottle. Instead of calling it ‘dealcoholised’ wine, we changed it to say ‘non-alcoholic wine’. The label will also be printed in Arabic from later this year, which is great for this market,” comments Sadek.

Changing the label for a client was a first for Sutter Home, but Sadek said it would help raise the profile of Fre in the region, as Arabs will be able to easily identify that it is non-alcoholic, despite it looking like a bottle of wine.

Additionally, the wine also had to go through a series of laboratory tests to prove that there was no alcohol present. The legal level for a drink to be termed non-alcoholic is less that 0.5%; anything above this level is deemed alcoholic. Fre contains 0.2%.

However, Sadek is eager to add that although Fre is non-alcoholic, the taste is no different from an alcoholic wine, making it ideal for people wanting to enjoy the taste of wine with a meal, without having the side effects that accompany the drinking of alcohol.

“A friend had a glass of Fre and when I went to pour him a second glass he told me to stop pouring because he was driving. He thought it was alcoholic. It just goes to show that it really is identical to alcoholic wine,” he comments.

In fact, the seven different varieties have won numerous awards at blind wine tasting events, including the California, Florida and Indiana state fair international wine competitions. The reason for the success behind Fre in wine competitions, says Sadek, is because of the way it is processed, using the spinning cone column process.

Developed in Australia, the spinning cone column removes the alcohol from the wine, yet retains the flavour of the grape. However, the process is more thorough than steam distillation and reverse osmosis procedures, as it protects the aroma and flavour by removing them at low temperatures prior to the removal of alcohol, before inserting the aroma and natural flavours back into the liquid.

“The fruit gives 95% of the flavour so that is why it tastes the same,” comments Sadek.

Already available in the UAE through Horeca Trade, sole distributor of Fre in the UAE, and Food Choice as sole distributor in Kuwait, by the end of the month Fre is also expected to be available in Saudi Arabia, which will prove a major market for the non-alcoholic wine.

“The Middle East is a big market for Fre, especially in Saudi Arabia and Kuwait. They are dry kingdoms so there really is a lot of interest there, especially with five-star hotels,” says Sadek.

“However, the UAE is also a big market. Not only do we have Muslims drinking Fre, but also Western expats who, for one reason or another, cannot or do not want to drink,” he adds.

The rise of non-alcoholic wines is proving popular across the globe, and in the US, non-alcoholic wine accounts for 8% of the drinks market. Sutter Home alone sells 11 million cases of wine a year, of which 1.8 million is attributed to its non-alcoholic range, and this number is growing year on year.

“People are more conscious of the side effects associated with alcohol, so they are looking for alternatives. It is also a great drink to have during business lunches, or with the whole family,” comments Sadek.

Available in a number of varietals; including Fre Premium White, Fre Premium Red, Fre Chardonnay, Fre Merlot, Fre White Zinfandel, Fre Sparkling Brut and Fre Sparkling Spumante, Sadek adds that regardless of what food is consumed, there is a non-alcoholic wine to suit every dish.

“We don’t have any competition in the market as you cannot put Fre and soft drinks, or Fre and water in the same category. Food and beverage directors did find the concept strange at first, but they are now intrigued. It is not only healthy, but it works well with food. It is just like wine, but without the hangover!” adds Sadek.||**||

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