The label, Hand on Heart, includes a chardonnay, cabernet sauvignon and a rosé. All were released early this year.
Tommy Gaeta, director of marketing at Miller Family Wines, said the company has had the concept of a low- or no-alcohol wine in its sights for at least two years.
Around the same time, Cora and her wife, Nicole Ehrlich, were seeking a partner to launch a line of zero-alcohol wine, he said.
“Cat, as a chef, understands the importance of wine to pair with food,” Gaeta said. “Nicole does not drink, and the couple could not find a selection of nonalcoholic wines, so they reached out to the Miller family.”
As a world-renowned chef, tastemaker and health and wellness enthusiast, Cora said she’d been “on a mission to find a nonalcoholic wine for people like myself who are seekers of superb flavors, want to enjoy a delicious wine, even in the dry times, and aspire to embrace a balance of health, wellness and great food.”
Although Ehrlich has since filed for divorce, Cora said she was “thrilled to be involved with Hand on Heart. It’s vibrant, complex, food-friendly — absolute perfection.”
Gaeta noted that Cora “is opening doors as the spokesperson for Hand on Heart wines. She’s the celebrity who has introduced the label to the trade and lifestyle media via the best social media campaign I’ve ever seen.”
Nicholas Miller, vice president of sales and marketing for Miller Family Wines, was enthusiastic about the opportunity.
“We’re thrilled to meet the needs of both the wine lovers wanting to explore something new and those who are choosing to forgo alcohol all together, all without having to waver in our own standards of excellence,” he said.
Jonathan Nagy, lead winemaker for the company, calls Hand on Heart approachable and very “wine-like.” He confessed to earlier skepticism about the quality of de-alcoholized wines, given his love of premium wines such as the pinot noirs that hail from the Santa Maria Valley.
But there’s a need for this type of product, he said, one that is “balanced” and produced from quality grapes such as those from the Miller’s French Camp Vineyard in San Luis Obispo County — one of the vineyard sources for the grapes used in Hand on Heart Wines.
“Beer and spirits are already in the no-or-low alcohol business,” Gaeta noted, adding that the wine industry needs to step up its game to attract and retain consumers looking for no-alcohol choices in wine.
Hand on Heart’s annual case production is 15,000, he said, and the three current releases — all from the 2020 vintage — each represent a third of that total.
According to Hand on Heart’s website, each of the three wines retails for $15 per bottle and contains less than 0.5% ABV, the level to be labeled as nonalcoholic.
“We start with good fruit, and utilize good winemaking, followed by aging in oak barrels for at least 10 months,” Nagy noted.
After the aging process, the wine was shipped to BevZero, a Santa Rosa-based company that’s “very experienced” in the process of removing alcohol from wine utilizing the spinning cone process, he said. Centrifugal force and nitrogen are used to isolate phenolics and aromas before the alcohol is removed.
The company Blue Pacific provides organic and natural flavorings that are added back to the wine after the alcohol is removed.
“Every flavor under the rainbow” is available, Gaeta said. Case in point was the “butter” essence I found prevalent in the wine — a flavor so intense that it tasted like that used on movie theater popcorn.
“It’s amazing how little of each flavor goes a long way,” Nagy said.
Other wineries have a foothold in the no- and low-alcohol business, Gaeta said: The “behemoth” Sutter Home makes “Fre,” Paso Robles’ J Lohr produces “Ariel,” and in New Zealand, Giesen makes an alcohol-free sauvignon blanc, to name just a few.
Hand on Heart wines have been pitched to wine retail chains in Los Angeles, are available to purchase online and ship to all 50 states via handonheartwine.com, and California Fresh Market in Pismo Beach also carries the label, Gaeta said.
He confirmed that other varietals and styles are in the works, among them a sparkling wine, which by its lighter nature lends itself to being nonalcoholic.
The Miller Family Wine Company is a division of The Thornhill Companies. The Miller family has been farming the Central Coast for five generations, and includes Bien Nacido Estates and several branded wine labels, among them optik, J. Wilkes and Smashberry.