Monday, January 17, 2022

New local alcohol-free wine business is toast of town

Longtime Highland Village resident Dawn Maire is no different than any other wine lover. Well, sort of.

Sure, her ears perk up just like yours do when someone offers a glass of sparkling rosé at a social event. She feels naked if she doesn’t have her favorite sauvignon in her hand while watching a relaxing late-night movie with her husband, and she says there’s nothing quite like pairing a glass of wine with a great meal at the nearest restaurant.

“Putting a club soda or Shirley Temple in my hand isn’t going to do it. I’ll tell you that right now,” Maire said with a laugh. “It’s like that walk of shame when you show up to a party with a Diet Coke in your hand.

“People ask, ‘What’s wrong?’ They assume you’re either pregnant or an alcoholic.”

Maire is neither of those. But when she started to question how good this wine habit was for her and couldn’t top off her glass with a worthy alcohol-free version, she and friend Jamie Coulter set out to flip the script on an otherwise weak market by creating their own label from scratch.

Their answer is Starla Wines, a premium collection of three “alcohol-removed” varietals (Sauvignon Blanc, Red Blend, and Sparkling Rosé) that smell, taste, and mirror everything else you love about wine — whether alone after a long day or while out and about with friends and family — minus the alcohol.

Starla is for wine lovers who cannot or choose not to drink wine with alcohol. Each bottle is low carb, low sugar, and low calorie, with its Red Blend and Sparkling Rosé only five calories and zero carbs per 5-ounce serving.

While it sounds crazy to purposely remove the one ingredient that makes wine what it is, Maire and Coulter are convinced anyone who gives Starla Wines a try will be convinced otherwise.

“We want to show people there’s a different way of life where you can drink wine and feel good,” Coulter said in a previous interview with the Dallas Morning News. “You can keep the weight off, or breastfeed, or just be present and enjoy the party, then go to work without a hangover.”

Maire agreed.

“There aren’t a lot of options out there for non-alcoholic wine. So to create a product that’s delicious and enjoyable takes a lot of effort,” Maire said. “It is still wine. One trick is to add unnatural ingredients and sugars. But we didn’t want that. We relied on botanicals and herbs, and we kept working on it until we got our flavor profiles exactly where we wanted them.”

Maire and Coulter launched Starla in August. And in a few short months, they’ve been featured in numerous articles and video interviews. According to a company press release, Starla has partnered with premium, dealcoholizing technology group BevZero to create its full-bodied, alcohol-removed wine. As the release states, “The process begins with deliciously fermented wine from carefully harvested California grapes, then uses innovative vacuum distillation technology to vaporize and remove the alcohol from the wine — leaving behind the original flavors and aroma. After the alcohol is removed, less than one-half of one percent remains — the same amount of alcohol as Kombucha. Starla’s signature wines are finished with hints of premium botanicals such as sweet gardenia, French lavender, wild honeysuckle, and more.”

Maire insists she’s not anti-alcohol, but she jokes that she’s closer to 60 than she is 30 and had to make a change. She wants to be here for her family for years to come. She and her husband, Matt, a teacher at Briarhill Middle School, have one daughter (Emily Parker) and two beautiful grandchildren.

“I’ve been focusing on eating better and working out, but drinking less is also a big part of good health, too,” she said. “Alcohol was one of those things in my life that was a little too excessive. But I still love my wine. I love to entertain with wine, socialize with wine, have my food with wine — so I missed it and created my own. We wanted Starla to have a feminine aesthetic to it. We didn’t want to go with the standard wine country, Sonoma brand.

“Jamie is one of the most talented designers and thinkers that I know, and the combination we have together is amazing. She’s like a sister from another mother.”

As for the future, Maire and Coulter are convinced that the sky is the limit. Starla is available online right now at StarlaWines.com via a customizable collection of three 750-milliliter bottles for $84, including shipping.

“It’s surreal, and I don’t think it has hit us yet,” Maire said. “The thought of having something we created in someone’s home, and we don’t even know that person, is a crazy feeling. It’s a lot of fun, and it makes all the hard work worth it.”

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