We sat down with Rachel Martin, co-founder and CEO of Oceano Wines and Oceano Zero, to learn more about her journey into the world of non-alcoholic wines. While she knew there was opportunity and pleasure to be found in drinking dry, Rachel also felt the need for a more luxurious, elevated experience in the NA world. Having the wine expertise and business acumen to create it herself, Oceano Zero was born.
Out of a pristine, sustainable vineyard in coastal California, ultra-premium wines are made specifically for dealcoholization. We learned all about Oceano Zero’s Pacific-adjacent origins, the science behind dealcoholization, and a divine palate that balances fruit, umami, saltiness, and minerality. It has, undoubtedly, made a splash.
Take us back to the beginning. What inspired you to develop Oceano Zero after years in the traditional winemaking world?
In 2022, a surge of new non-alcoholic wine brands entered the market. While many pros were skeptical, I saw an opportunity. Dry January helped me understand consumers and explore non-alcoholic wine opportunities for Oceano Wines at Boisson. As a long-time fine wine producer and expert, I was inspired by the innovation but disappointed by the quality. I realized I could leverage my expertise to bring fine wine to the non-alcoholic category with my new Oceano Zero project, helping other fine wine drinkers like me reduce their alcohol consumption without giving up the experience they love.
Can you talk a bit about the research and development behind the dealcoholization process? What has been the biggest challenge in maintaining the wine's complexity?
Alcohol plays many important roles in wine, including transporting and stabilizing flavor and aroma compounds, contributing to sweetness and body, and acting as a balance to other components.
After thoroughly researching dealcoholization methods, I discovered BevZero, the country's most innovative and longest-running alcohol removal company. After studying their Spinning Cone Column (SCC) process, I determined it would be the best solution for Oceano Zero because it preserves the wine's flavor and aroma compounds better than other methods.
There's so much history around wine and viticulture in the San Luis Obispo Coast. What is the temperature like in the region when it comes to non-alcoholic winemaking?
As California's coolest grape-growing region, the San Luis Obispo Coast is ideal for non-alcoholic winemaking. Its cool winters and long growing season (average winter temperatures of 50-70°F and summer temperatures of 65-85°F) slow grape growth, resulting in smaller berries that are packed with flavor and aroma compounds.
Warm summers ripen grapes fully without sacrificing acidity, giving them more time to develop complex and nuanced flavors that approach the complexity of alcoholic wines. For the same reasons, I was drawn to make traditional wines from the region. The cool temperatures allow the grapes to ripen physiologically without accumulating high levels of sugar, resulting in wines that are less alcoholic than wines from other areas.
Spanish Springs Vineyard is closer to the Pacific Ocean than any other wine vineyard in California—how does this inform the taste and feel of Oceano Zero?
The proximity of Spanish Springs Vineyard to the Pacific Ocean influences Oceano Zero's Pinot Noir flavor profile in several ways. Cooler temperatures from the ocean breeze allow grapes to ripen slowly, developing complex flavors and aromas of red fruit, citrus, and spice. Salt particles in the ocean air can be absorbed by grapes, contributing to a subtle umami flavor that enhances the fruit flavors. Ancient seabed soils are rich in minerals that grapes can absorb, adding minerality or flintiness.
Combining these factors results in a wine with fresh, fruity flavors, a hint of saltiness and minerality, and a balanced, refreshing mouthfeel.
As the fall season approaches, could you recommend your favorite wine pairing that aligns well with the cooler months and offers a smooth transition?
One of my favorite fall dishes is cioppino. Oceano Zero Pinot Noir is the perfect complement. The wine's acidity and fruitiness perfectly balance the stew's rich, tomatoey flavor, while the seafood in the stew adds a touch of sweetness and umami. Add some crusty bread to sop up all the delicious broth.
What differentiates Oceano Zero from other wines in the non-alcoholic space?
Oceano Zero wines differentiate themselves from other non-alcoholic wines by our commitment to quality and craftsmanship. We start with prized grapes grown to our specifications in one of California's most unique and desirable vineyards. Our winemaking team gently transforms these grapes into fine wine using thoughtful and scientifically advanced methods.
Oceano Zero wines are made in limited production each year, designated by the vintage on our label. Our Pinot Noir is only 5 calories per 5-ounce serving because we do not rely on sugar to improve the quality but only to balance the other components in the absence of alcohol.
Oceano Zero will be our most premium wine option yet. Have you found there to be a demand for a higher end, top-shelf experience in the NA space?
As a newcomer to the NA space, I have been impressed by the growing demand for high-end, top-shelf non-alcoholic wines. Many of my wine-loving friends want to reduce their alcohol consumption but have yet to find options that match the quality and price point they are accustomed to. Consumers are looking for NA wines that are complex, flavorful, and well-made, and they are willing to pay more for a superior experience.
Additionally, the growing popularity of mindful drinking and the fact that alcohol is no longer acceptable in corporate business environments is driving demand for high-end NA wines. More and more people are choosing to reduce or eliminate their alcohol consumption, and they are looking for NA wines that they can enjoy on special occasions or in professional settings.
Our motto at Boisson is seeing the Glass Half Full. How do you think alcohol-free alternatives like yours allow people to see the glass half full?
The glass is always half full when alcohol is out of the equation. Alcohol-free alternatives allow people to focus on the positive aspects of social gatherings by being present and authentic, and connecting with others on a deeper level. And with high-quality options like Oceano Zero Pinot Noir, people are maintaining their enjoyment of wine while avoiding the adverse effects of alcohol.