Ex-Mars R&D head creates ‘magic yeast’ to bring ‘grown up’ flavours to low alcohol wines

By Oliver Morrison

- Last updated on GMT

Image: Bolle
Image: Bolle

Related tags Fermentation Yeast low alcohol

The brainchild of wine-loving Italian and former chief R&D officer at Suntory Food and Beverage GB&I (previously Lucozade Ribena Suntory) Roberto Vanin, Bolle is a new low/no sparking brewed drink produced with ‘game changing’ technology that employs special non-alcohol producing yeast.

Vanin’s past roles also include R&D posts at Mars and Reckitt Benckiser, where he helped invent Vanish. He now wants to help hangovers disappear. In 2020 he saw an opening an opening to re-energise what he describes as a under-performing low and no alcohol wines.  

The category has struggled to enjoy the same levels of mass market approval compared to low & no alcohol beer and spirits. Vanin’s solution was to employ new ‘Zero Gradi’ technology. Instead of removing the alcohol from the wine, as is the typical way to make a low or no ABV alternative, Vanin has teamed up with a German-based biotech company to produce a yeast that’s engineered to not produce alcohol. The fermentation process therefore produces neither alcohol nor ‘unpalatable sweetness’.

“The biggest challenge for low- and no-alcohol products is to deliver a great taste,”​ Vanin told FoodNavigator. “Today’s range of low- and no-alcohol products are obtained primarily by de-alcoholization: a physical process to remove the alcohol from the liquid. I look at the opportunity from a different perspective: how to ferment juices without producing the alcohol in the first place, and this is a completely new challenge to solve.”

A mix of modern and traditional 

The Zero Gradi technology is leveraging a very traditional process like fermentation with very modern technologies, the scientist and oenologist explained.

“Yeast consumes the sugar in the juices producing all the flavour we are familiar with but are not able to generate the alcohol.”

The fermentation with Vanin’s ‘magic’ yeast is the same as what you'd normally use in wine or beer production – “the only difference is that the yeast I’m using is not able to produce the alcohol, all the other things are there. I don't need to remove any alcohol. There's no alcohol there in the first place.”

Bolle, or ‘bubbles’ in Italian, is free from alcohol and low in calories and sugar. Another draw of the technology is less reliance on equipment. “The massive difference versus the de-alcoholization is that no additional equipment is required for the scaling up on the manufacturing,”​ he noted.

Roberto Vanin
'I'm offering a different consumer experience': Roberto Vanin

‘I want to provide more options for consumers’

In the UK, the no/low category has grown 506% since 2015, supporting a growing lifestyle shift towards greater alcohol awareness and more conscious drinking habits; a greater awareness of wellbeing covering both physical and mental health, alongside growing mid-week/end of day drinking rituals.

Vanin believes the numbers of consumers who are moderating or avoiding alcohol altogether is growing tremendously worldwide. “25% of millennials don't drink alcohol,”​ he told us. Yet the industry is currently failing to provide enough options for these consumers.

Thanks to the unique production process, Vanin’s product is dryer and more complex than existing sweeter low/no alcohol offerings. “I'm offering a different consumer experience”​ he explained. “I want to provide more options for consumers.” 

He went on: “The expression that is commonly used for the consumer is ‘sober curious drinker’ or ‘mindful drinker’. The reality is that discerning adults that are looking to moderate their alcohol consumption finally have an option and they are my target audience.”

The drink, which officially launches at the June 22 London Wine Festival, comes in two varieties: Bolle Rosa (a delicate salmon pink colour, fine bubbles & notes of berries, blackcurrant, toast & herbs) and Bolle Ora (luxurious fine bubbles coupled with notes of apple, pear, toast & minerals).

“From the outset I wanted to create a fermented drink that not only over-indexed both in terms of taste and sparkling wine aspirations, but coupled seamlessly with great food yet minus the alcohol, unwelcome calories and overt sugary sweetness that has historically held this intriguing product category back," ​ Vaniin continued.

“To my mind Bolle offers historically inaccessible levels of sophistication, coupled with smooth, well-balanced acidity and a crisp yet refreshing taste. For too long wine - unlike small batch beer - has been weighed down by suffocating snobbery and elitism, which has historically stifled category experimentation (low calorie, low sulphur, organic..). With Bolle, we believe we offer the depth of character and enlightened flavour notes to spark a wider appreciation of sparkling wine.’

Vanin plans a full roll out of Bolle in other markets after the UK launch. “I have already developed few additional flavours, but I want to secure the successful launch and focus of Bolle Oro and Rosa. In addition, I have already in mind the next product range, that will be developed in due time.”

thumbnail_Bolle 2 bottles
Thanks to the unique production process, Bolle is dryer and more complex than other low/no wines, says its creator

Helping hangovers disappear

Finally, what can the man who helped create Vanish bring to the world of wine? “The success of Vanish is a combination of a very effective product with a powerful in front of your eye’s dramatization of the stain removal,”​ he replied. “A good product or a good marketing alone are not enough to define success, you need both. With Vanish we wanted to change consumer habit and compete against detergent. With Bolle I want to change consumer habit and provide consumer choices and have the full pleasure of a drink without any drawback.

"Wine is what I love and I saw the opportunity to use modern technology in very traditional processes to generate something consumers really want," ​noted the R&D stalwart. “Bolle is a sophisticated, complex sparkling drink for the grown-up palate.”  ​ 

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