Weight Watchers is joining the wine business, hoping to promote diet-friendly drinking. The globally recognized weight-loss program, known for its SmartPoints system, has partnered with Sonoma-based wine company Truett-Hurst Inc. to launch Cense, a low-calorie Sauvignon Blanc sourced from Marlborough, New Zealand. It is the first wine to receive a Weight Watchers endorsement in the United States.
For weight-conscious wine lovers, Cense's selling point boils down to calories, or, if you're on the Weight Watchers diet, SmartPoints, which are based on calories, saturated fat, sugar and protein content. Whereas an average 5-ounce glass of white wine contains around 120 to 130 calories, or four SmartPoints, Cense clocks in at 85 calories, and only three SmartPoints.
According to Ryan Nathan, vice president of consumer products and ecommerce at Weight Watchers, Cense isn't the only wine in the Weight Watchers system to earn three points. But the team at Weight Watchers believed they could offer their own options for their members.
Nathan adds that wine is the second-most-tracked beverage in the Weight Watchers system (right behind coffee). In 2015, Weight Watchers tapped Truett-Hurst, the wine company known for innovations like the first paper wine bottle marketed in the U.S., to develop a low-calorie, high-quality wine.
Because most of the calories in wine come from alcohol, it would follow that low-calorie wines would need to have low alcohol by volume (ABV) percentages. The problem is, many techniques that are used to achieve lower-than-average alcohol levels can also lead to a less satisfying end product. For example, some low-calorie wines are the result of producers picking their grapes early, before the sugars have fully developed. "When you pick early, you lose a lot of the phenolics and flavonoids that develop on the vine," said Truett-Hurst winemaker Ross Reedy. "Picking that early, I found the wines to be a lot greener, a lot less complex, and just a little bit more boring, to be honest."
In the end, Reedy used a method for filtering out much of the alcohol from about 10 percent of the total wine, and then blending it back in with the rest of the batch to lower the total alcohol level. Using this process, he says, even the small amount of wine that is filtered is able to retain its flavor and aroma compounds; they're removed first, held aside while the alcohol is removed, and then returned back to the wine. He says the final product is a bright, citrusy wine at only 9.6 percent ABV.
"It took a lot more time than we thought it was going to take to end up where we're at, but we're really pleased with the product that we finished with," said Phil Hurst, Truett-Hurst president and CEO. The company is already working on plans to expand the Cense range. "Now we kind of know the secret sauce. We kind of know the profile of the wines that are going to fit this technology," Hurst said. "Rosé is at the top of our list."
But Cense has yet to determine its place in the low-calorie wine market, which is currently dominated by labels like Skinnygirl, which specifically targets female consumers and has leveraged its roots in pop-culture (it was created by Real Housewives of New York star-turned-entrepreneur Bethenny Frankel) to become one of the most successful brands of its kind.
In an effort to appeal to a wider range of consumers, the team behind Cense is taking a different route. "We're being very sensitive to the consumer groups, both the broader people that are living life fully while trying to lose weight, and then the people that are more anchored in the Weight Watchers customer base," Nathan said. "You're not going to see '30 percent less calories!' plastered on the front of the bottle."
The only Weight Watchers branding on the bottle comes in the form of a removable label on the back. "So if someone is a Weight Watchers member—or not a member but they are trying to live a healthier lifestyle and trying to lose weight—they can actually take the label off and take it to a party and not even broadcast the fact that it is endorsed by Weight Watchers," said Nathan.
Though wine is new territory for Weight Watchers, Nathan and Hurst say they're confident in Cense. And unlike some diet programs, Weight Watchers is not encouraging participants to abstain from alcohol. "The program is about living life fully and enjoying life," Nathan said. "Wine is a key part of that."