Sober thoughts on dealcoholized wine

I'm a wine fanatic and 25 days into a month of sobriety. It's been a strange experience, but I learned about dealcoholized wine and some shameless marketing.

Steve Tobak
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Steve Tobak is a consultant and former high-tech senior executive. He's managing partner of Invisor Consulting, a management consulting and business strategy firm. Contact Steve or follow him on Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn.
Steve Tobak
3 min read

A few years back I wrote a monthly letter on marketing and business strategy, but there was a section at the end called Tobak's Great Wine for Techies. I think that was the only part anyone read. It had tutorials on wine varietals, regions, aging and storage, plus monthly wine pics, on-line resources, all kinds of stuff to help folks enjoy great wine without breaking the bank or taking a class.

You can check out the archives here.

I'm only bringing this up because 26 days ago I decided to go sober for a month. I've gone a week or two before but never a month. I don't know what I was thinking, but it seemed like a good idea at the time.

About two week in I recalled reading about dealcoholized wine. I got on-line and found a handful of wineries in the business of making wine without the buzz.

They all use roughly the same process. They make the wine using typical fermentation techniques, then employ a filtering process to remove virtually all the liquid, including the alcohol. This produces a kind of dealcoholized wine syrup. Then they add water back in and bottle it.

Ariel Vineyards, owned by J. Lohr, claims to have won a gold medal in a blind tasting against wines with alcohol. The website also listed about 20 awards. This got my attention.

The next day I drove up to J. Lohr's tasting room in San Jose. The first sign that my hopes may have been a bit overblown was when the folks working the tasting room didn't believe I actually wanted to taste the Ariel wines.

Still, they dusted off the bottles for me and poured. To make a long story short, the blanc, the white zinfandel, and the brut cuvee weren't bad. That said, I had a hard time believing they could beat real wine in a blind taste test.

And that was the good stuff. There were three reds, including a cabernet sauvignon and a merlot, that were so weak and tasteless they were essentially undrinkable. The same was true of the Chardonnay.

I bought a case of the stuff I could stand and drove home. Still, I was a bit disappointed and perplexed about the whole award thing. So when I got home I hit Ariel's website again.

On the award page, after a laundry list of awards, way down at the bottom of the page is an award from 1986 where Ariel beat wines with alcohol in a blind taste test. That was apparently the only award on that list that the winery won against real wine. And it was the blanc.

Twenty years ago and they still promote the hell out of that one victory. Every bottle they sell has a blurb on the label about being the only nonalcoholic wine to win a blind taste test against wine with alcohol. I thought the marketing was a bit misleading, but my wife says I did the same thing when I used to be a marketer for high-tech companies. What does she know?

A few other companies make nonalcoholic wines, most notably Carl Jung, a German wine-maker. Still, I think I'll pass. I've got Ariel's stuff and, thankfully, only four days left to go.

So, what did I learn from this experience? That some marketers aren't nearly as good at dressing up the pig as we are in high-tech. I mean, you have to be subtle, guys.

And about the sobriety? Well, I'm apparently not an alcoholic. I complain a lot, but overall it wasn't so hard. And there weren't any noticeable physiological changes. My wife says I'm still a jerk, so it apparently didn't affect my personality.

I still feel like crap in the morning, so that's not a result of the previous night's consumption, as I once thought. I guess I'm just not a morning person.

Overall, I'd say it was worth the experience. Of course, I can't wait to get back to my drink or two in the evenings. I really miss the relaxation, the reward after a long day doing whatever it is I do for a living.

Still, getting in touch with my sober side wasn't so bad. Maybe I'll do this annually. On second thought, maybe not.