New Zealand winegrowers launched a $14 million research project Wednesday aimed at capitalising on growth in demand for so-called "lifestyle" wines, with low calories and less alcohol.
The Lifestyle Wines initiative, jointly funded by industry and government, is the country's largest ever wine research project, reflecting the belief that it can significantly lift exports currently worth NZ$1.2 billion ($1.0 billion) annually.
"The direct and indirect economic benefits are expected to be around NZ$285 million per year by the end of 2023," Primary Industries Minister Nathan Guy said.
New Zealand Winegrowers chief executive Philip Gregan said demand for lifestyle wines was being driven by women and the health-conscious, particularly in the United States and Britain.
He said New Zealand, with its reputation for high-end wines, was in a good position to establish itself as the major supplier of top-quality lifestyle brands.
"These are already well established markets for us, where people, particularly women are making choices not necessarily just based on price," he told AFP.
"We want to take the research and deliver that full New Zealand wine experience but with lower alcohol and lower calories. We believe it's something that the market wants."
Many of the low alcohol wines already on the market have been adulterated with fruit juice or had the alcohol reduced at the end of the fermentation process, impacting on its taste.
Gregan said New Zealand winemakers wanted to achieve the same effect naturally by tweaking variables such as grape variety, exposure to sunlight, yeast type and fermentation times.
"We don't want it to be an industrial process," he said. "It has to be naturally produced. It's all about the quality."
He said the sauvignon blancs and pinot noirs that New Zealand is best known for were a natural fit for the lifestyle market because they were both lighter styles of wine.
But he said that, in time, the goal was to make even full-bodied red varieties such as syrah (shiraz) available as lifestyle wines without making any compromise on taste.
"We want to have the full suite on the market, reds and whites," he said.
"Our point of difference will be producing premium wines that can be naturally produced using sustainable viticultural techniques and native yeasts -- providing an important point of difference to existing processing methods."