Jessica Selander is used to changing people’s minds about nonalcoholic wine. It took years of careful research and development to launch her nonalcoholic wine company Jøyus.
In 2021, despite using the latest technology to create her award-winning, dealcoholized wine, some buyers still question its marketability. In Selander’s experience however, skeptics quickly change their minds the moment they taste it.
“It is so fun to see the look on a wine buyer’s face when they try it for the first time because they are not expecting it to taste like that at all,” she said. “The look on their face says, ‘Oh, this is different.’”
The judges at the San Francisco International Wine Competition were also convinced, awarding Jøyus’ sparkling rosé and sparkling white with gold and bronze medals, respectively, last November. The SFIWC is one of the oldest and largest competitions in the U.S., and in 2021 it drew 3,000 entries from 31 countries. The gold and bronze medals make Jøyus the only award-winning nonalcoholic wine on the market. According to Selander, it’s a big step in rethinking how we view alcohol in our culture.
Attitudes toward alcohol consumption have already been shifting, in part due to a millennial and Gen Z emphasis on health and wellness, as well as drinking changes during the pandemic. In 2021, nonalcoholic beverage sales increased by 33% to $331 million in the U.S., and a new wave of beverage companies cropped up in the last few years, catering to the sober-curious and sober-sometimes consumer with zero- and low-proof beers and spirits. Expertly crafted mocktails and nonalcoholic beers are one thing, but with the launch of Jøyus, Selander hopes to bring the same dry option to the wine category.
“Most celebratory moments involve alcohol, right? On New Year’s Eve, everybody’s drinking Champagne. [It’s] pretty much at every happy, celebratory moment that we’ve got,” she said. For nondrinkers however, alcohol isn’t a celebratory element. Selander said the idea behind Jøyus is to “bring back that happiness, that joy, that celebration and togetherness” — just without the alcohol.
Selander’s own sobriety spans 16 years, and for much of that time she yearned for a complex, grown-up nonalcoholic beverage that wasn’t just soda or carbonated juice. Ordering a Shirley Temple at a fancy dinner date never felt quite right. “Or I’d be at a ladies weekend, staring at a countertop full of wine bottles. If I’m standing there with my fizzy water or Diet Coke, I’d just feel so painfully different,” she said.
She wanted a nonalcoholic wine that could hold its own as a reputable alternative. “I can’t be the only person out there who wants this,” she realized, and set out to start her own nonalcoholic wine company.
Jøyus launched last year with two sparkling wines. The rosé balances Pacific Northwest berry flavor with California citrus, and is a blend of varietals, including zinfandel, pinot grigio and French colombard. Jøyus’ white wine has crisp apple and pear notes with a melon finish, and features a blend of mainly chardonnay, pinot grigio, French colombard and chenin blanc. Jøyus is real wine, just without the alcohol, an idea indicated by the O with a slash through it in the brand name. Jøyus plans on developing a full line of nonalcoholic wines, including reds like cabernet sauvignon.
After what Selander describes as years of making calls and “talking to anyone I could” about nonalcoholic wines, she connected with food scientists in California with access to some of the most advanced technology. Some of the same technology has been used to take the wildfire smoke smell out of wines at the molecular level. In a lab, scientists can separate wine into three parts: the body, the essence and aromas, and the alcohol. Only the alcohol is removed and the remaining parts are recombined. (All Jøyus wines are tested to have 0.5% or less of alcohol.)
Removing the alcohol has another effect — it considerably reduces the amount of carbohydrates and calories. If there’s around 600 calories in a bottle of rosé, Jøyus’ version has about 90.
Selander pointed out that most wine consumers have tasted a dealcoholized wine before. Industry standards require different alcohol percentages per bottle, and if a batch of wine has too much, it will go through a similar process of dealcoholization until it reaches the acceptable percentage.
Even though Selander’s vision of a nonalcoholic wine company has been in the works for about 10 years, she admits Jøyus launched at just the right time when the nonalcoholic beverage industry was booming. “If I had tried to do this six or seven years ago. I don’t think the momentum was there,” she said. “This feels like perfect timing.”
More millennials and Gen Z consumers consider themselves mindful drinkers or sober-curious than previous age groups, according to an American Addiction Centers survey. For those who chose to ditch alcohol for a night or a season, seltzer or soda-and-bitters aren’t cutting it anymore. In the U.S. and U.K., there are at least 71 nonalcoholic spirits brands and the number is growing. According to The New York Times, nonalcoholic beverage sales are predicted to be worth $1.6 trillion by 2026. Celebrities like Blake Lively and Katy Perry have developed their own lines of nonalcoholic beverages, pushing the zero- and low-proof industry even more mainstream.
“I still get people that tell me, ‘Oh, there’s not a market for [nonalcoholic wine],’” Selander said. “My follow up question is, ‘How are your nonalcoholic drink sales?’ And they’ll say, ‘Oh, they’re through the roof.’ I’ll tell them, ‘The same exact person exists for wine as for nonalcoholic beer.’ Those people are just waiting for a good option.”
Studies show that rates of heavy drinking increased during lockdown, but so did nonalcoholic beverage sales. The data doesn’t necessarily indicate a new population of teetotalers; the majority of those who buy nonalcoholic beverages also drink alcohol.
Selander’s theory is that occasional drinkers indulged a little too much at the beginning of the pandemic. “After doing that for an extended period of time, I think a lot of people were like, ‘Oh, that wasn’t good for me,’” she said.
Seattle sober influencer Marceil Van Camp has similar reasons for making a lifestyle change. While at this point she hasn’t committed to quitting alcohol for good, she started a blog and Instagram account called The Dry Year as a way to publicly hold herself accountable for a year of sobriety.
“I found that this past summer I was over indulging, and I was just starting to think about giving myself a break,” Van Camp said. “I was talking about it with a group of friends who are in the drag community in Capitol Hill. I learned most of them were dry. They really were my first advocates to show me that you can still be sober and social.”
Van Camp began creating an online presence with the intent to explore all things sober in Seattle during her dry year. “I had done dry stints in the past, but the sober-curious movement has taken such leaps since my last try,” she said.
Van Camp recently partnered with Seedlip, a U.K.-based company widely regarded as a pioneer in the world of nonalcoholic beverages, for a Dry January Capitol Hill Bar Crawl on Jan. 11. The event aimed to connect sober-curious Seattleites at participating bars Bait Shop, Rose Temple and Revolver, spots with robust mocktail options.
Seattle’s nonalcoholic and low-alcohol beverage scene is on the rise, with several companies courting the sober-curious crowd. In 2021, Portland companies Wilderton and For Bitter For Worse debuted with ingredients to elevate the mocktail, and Seattle followed with its own elixir. The Pathfinder launched in 2021 (at the time of this article, production was based in the U.K., but a brand ambassador confirmed it was a Seattle-based company) and Capitol Hill’s Life on Mars was the first bar to carry it. The Pathfinder is the first fermented, distilled, nonalcoholic hemp beverage on the market. With a complex bitter, sweet and herbaceous amarolike flavor, the drink can be enjoyed on its own, or as part of either a cocktail or mocktail.
If new zero- and low-proof beers and spirits are catching on, Selander believes it’s the right moment for wine to find its dry iteration, and Jøyus’ recent SFIWC awards are proof enough for her. Having the first award-winning nonalcoholic wine on the market is incredibly validating, but Selander predicted, “I’m sure it won’t be the last, which is also really cool.”