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Jacob's Creek to cut alcohol levels by up to 1%

Jacob’s Creek is planning to lower the alcohol level of its wines to not more than 14%.

Philip Laffer, one of the company’s winemakers, told the UK Wine Show that he doesn’t believe drinking wine with higher alcohol levels is contributing to binge drinking, but that it could be contributing to people drinking more alcohol than they need to have an enjoyable glass of wine. As a result, he said, ‘We’ve set ourselves a goal to see if within two years we can produce wines of exactly the same amount of appeal as we do now but not exceeding 14% alcohol.’ He said that this would mean bringing the alcohol levels down by something like half to one per cent.

He explained that the reason wines are reaching such high levels of alcohol these days is because there has been tremendous investment in viticultural research over the past few years which has led to better vines. These, he said, have much larger canopies, partly because the vines are under less stress as they have less viral problems. But this also means that by the time the fruit is flavour ripe, the sugar development is higher than it traditionally was, so winemakers end up making wines with higher levels of alcohol.

However, Philip explained that there are several things producers can look at to try to redress the balance between the development of sugar and flavour. He cited using less nitrogen, being that this has an impact on vine vigour, as one possibility as well as delaying irrigation until vines are slightly in stress. Night harvesting - already a common practice in Australia - could also help as the grapes have the greatest amount of moisture when they are cold at night, so the percentage of sugar is fractionally lower and might affect a half per cent reduction in the wine, he said.

Using yeasts that are less effective in converting sugar to alcohol could also provide a solution. Philip said, ‘At the moment there is a small difference between yeasts but it’s possible that with breeding and selection that it could make a significant difference, maybe 1 – 2%.’

Philip believes the plan for the brand is ‘achievable and sensible’. However, he’s keen to stress that, ‘People are buying Jacob’s Creek not because of its alcohol content but because it’s an enjoyable glass of wine, so, first and foremost, we must retain the appeal of Jacob’s Creek.’