Meet the German producer responsible for inventing alcohol-free wine and pushing its quality higher and higher.
Though alcohol-free wine may seem like a recent trend, the good folk at Carl Jung Wines have been crafting top-quality wine – without alcohol – since 1908. The brand is still alive and thriving, operating out of the famous German riesling region of Rüdesheim am Rhein, which is an hour's drive west of Frankfurt. It's a magical place to make wine, with verdant green vineyards and a stunning, medieval town set on the banks of the Rhine River.
Carl Jung's long-patented vacuum process of de-alcoholising remains one of the most advanced in the world, even now in their fifth generation of operation, so we spoke to Teresa Jung – marketing director and great-great-grandaughter of Carl himself – to find out how the winery continues to innovate and remains one of the world's leading brands of alcohol-free wine with over 100 years behind them.
The answer, Teresa says, is simple. 'People choose Carl Jung because we are the only winery specialising in alcohol-free wines, rather than making normal wines with an alcohol-free option on the side.'
By picking a lane and sticking to it, Carl Jung can focus all their attention on improving the de-alcoholisation process, which they consider to be the most important part when it comes to nailing non-alcoholic wine. That, and the quality of the base wine. They have partnerships with premium winemakers all over Europe, giving them access to a consistent supply of quality wines and the ability to cover for bad vintages in certain regions. They also know exactly what they're looking for in a wine to ensure the finished de-alcoholised product will be a success.
'We don't want a lot of sugar as it will be sticky in the machinery,' says Teresa. 'It should be young with fresh aromas, and really full in flavour. We can save maybe 85% of the flavours through the de-alcoholisation process, so there has to be a lot to begin with.'
Carl Jung's signature de-alcoholisation process, which was patented in 1908, was the first of its kind and the method used today remains remarkably similar to the original. Carl is said to have been inspired by his expeditions to the Himalayas, where he noticed the locals using rapidly boiling water at extreme altitudes. His aim was to preserve and capture the wine’s volatile flavours in the boiling process so they could somehow remain intact, and after a period of experimentation, Carl came up with the vacuum-extraction process. It gently withdraws alcohol from the wine at less than 30 degrees, capturing the natural aromas through aroma recovery and preserving the bouquet and taste. And while the basic elements haven't changed over the years, the winery is always tinkering with the process and trying to improve the final product.
'There are a lot of details that need to be perfect to create the best kind of de-alcoholised wine,' says Teresa. 'We're always trying to find new ways to make the perfect wine. We invest a lot into new machinery, as the invention is pretty old, so the machinery is constantly exchanged and gets bigger, more specific, and more efficient. It's something we're constantly working on.'
When asked who the typical Carl Jung customer is, Teresa admits that it's a tricky question. 'There are so many different aspects to non-drinking, or alcohol in general,' she says. 'There's a wide range of people who consume our wines, but the product started with elderly people who weren't allowed to drink for health reasons.'
It was Carl Jung’s wife who first identified this subset of the population. Originally, Carl had a small winery producing regular alcoholic riesling among other popular styles. While he worked on the vineyard making the wine, his wife Maria travelled around the country selling the products to wealthy customers who could afford it. She noticed that she was losing out on orders from customers who were no longer able to drink alcohol as their doctors had forbidden it. Mrs Jung wondered if there was a way for these people to enjoy the flavour and taste of real wine, without the detrimental effects of alcohol, sparking her husband's imagination in the process. The rest, as they say, is history.
Other common reasons to limit alcohol intake include pregnancy, religious beliefs, sobriety, athletic endeavours and general health and wellbeing. Carl Jung Wines have only a third of the calories of regular wines, and don’t contain any added grape juice – unlike many other non-alcoholic wines – nor any genetically modified products. The wines are also vegan. It's no surprise then that people abstaining from alcohol – for whatever reason – find themselves reaching for a glass of Carl Jung wine at meal times.
'If you prepare a really nice meal, and don't want to have alcohol, then what are your options?' asks Teresa. 'Soft drink doesn't really suit anything and it's like an extra dish on the side; juice makes you feel like a kid again; and water is great, but it's nothing special. Alcohol-free beer is always an option, but nothing will complement your dish like wine does.'
It seems that the general public agrees, with recent statistics showing that the demand for non-alcoholic beverages has skyrocketed in the past 12 months. Carl Jung's sales have reflected this, with consistent year-on-year growth of 5% exploding to 30% in 2021. And that's with several months still remaining.
'We were all sitting there wondering what happened,' says Teresa. 'None of us saw it coming, but coronavirus really played its part. At the beginning, people were enjoying an at-home happy hour while in lockdown, but then they began looking for alcohol-free options and became more conscious of what they were drinking.'
It's not just the pandemic though, with people around the world becoming more aware of the harmful effects of alcohol. With information more accessible than ever, people can research what they're putting into their body and how it affects both them and the environment. Teresa compares non-alcoholic wine to that of milk substitutes like oat milk, which is also experiencing meteoric growth.
'Those companies are now listed on the stock market, but a few years ago, people were like, "Ugh, oat milk?". It's something we say about our wines; they're never going to taste the exact same – they can't, because there's no alcohol in them – but they taste good enough to enjoy, so they should always be an option.'
These societal changes stand Carl Jung in good stead for the future, with Teresa hopeful that the newfound interest in alcohol-free wines will remain solid. 'I'm hoping so,' she says, 'because I think it helped people have their first taste of alcohol-free wine and the hardest part of a new product is convincing people to try it. And even if people don't start with Carl Jung, they might come to understand the alcohol-free category through a brand they recognise, and then they'll likely find out about us because we invented the category.' In essence, all roads – and glasses – lead to Rüdesheim am Rhein and Carl Jung.