Let’s talk about clean wine!
I think it’s pretty safe to say that we all know about the importance of eating fresh, organic food. The introduction of industrial agriculture has lead to a huge increase in the use of chemical fertilizers, which have clear negative impacts on our health. Eating local, organic food is simply the best way to go. So naturally, it makes sense that drinking clean, organic wine is preferable for the same reasons. Unfortunately, finding clean wine is really difficult. Here are some things to consider!
Let’s start from the beginning when the grapes are grown. It's important to drink wine that is made from organically grown grapes. Grapes are in the top 3 most-sprayed crops. And because their skin is so thin, pesticides easily make their way inside the fruit. Given the fact that we consume the skin and the flesh, we are consuming a higher amount of pesticides, regardless if you are eating grapes or drinking wine.
Next, the wine industry is barely regulated in the United States. Labeling requirements are slim, meaning winemakers are not required to tell you whats in the bottle. Here's why I am not ok with that:
During production, ingredients are often added to filter, clarify, and purify the wine to remove cloudiness and undesirable odors and flavors. Then, more ingredients may be added to color and flavor the wine. And lastly, even more ingredients may be added to preserve the wine and control any future growth of bacteria or mold. Its no wonder conventional wine can give you a terrible hangover!
Below are examples of common additives:
Sulfites to kill bacteria and preserve the wine
Yeast to speed up the fermentation process (something to consider is the fact that the yeast may be genetically modified)
Sugar / sweeteners for additional flavoring
Velcorin to control the growth of bacteria, mold and yeast (to prevent additional fermentation)
Animal by-products to filter the wine
Food dyes (the most common ones are Mega Purple and Ultra Red)
Dimethyl bicarbonate to sterilize the wine
Nitrogen gas to maintain pressure during bottling and prevent oxidation of wine
Defoaming agents - polyoxyethylene 40 monostearate, silicon dioxide, dimethylpoly-siloxane, sorbitan monostearate, glyceryl mono-oleate and glyceryl dioleate
If the USDA doesn't require these companies to disclose ingredients on a label, how are consumers supposed to make smart choices? Not only does it make it difficult for the people who are willing to do the research and read the labels to find a clean bottle of wine, it also makes it difficult for the wineries who authentically produce clean wine to label, market, and sell their wine for what it’s truly worth.
If you are one of those people reading the labels, here are some things to look for:
‘Made with organic grapes’ means at least 70% of the grapes were grown without the use of pesticides or herbacides, and the limit of added sulfites is one hundred parts per million. This label has nothing to do with any additional ingredients used later in production (meaning, there are likely still additives).
‘Certified Organic’ means the grapes were grown without the use of pesticides or herbacides and no sulfites were added. This label has nothing to do with any additional ingredients used in production (meaning, there are likely still additives).
‘Biodynamic’ refers to an organic farming and processing method that is more holistic and better for the environment and ecosystem. This label doesn’t necessarily mean the wine is clean and without additives.
‘Dry Farming’ refers to the growing method where irrigation is avoided and natural sources of water (mainly rainfall) are relied upon. This method better for the environment and produce more nutrient dense grapes. This label doesn’t necessarily mean the wine is clean and without additives.
I have looked high and low in stores around my area, and as far as I can tell, the only way to find wine that is truly clean is to find a brand you trust (I have yet to find a single bottle of wine in a wine shop or liquor store that I believe is 100% clean - aka organic and additive free). One option is to do the research and find a vineyard that you trust makes clean wine. Or, you can sign up for a subscription service through a 3rd party seller like Rock Juice (they offer the option to purchase single bottles too), Dry Farm Wines (they actually lab test their wines for proof they are additive free - love that), or Scout and Cellar, all of which claim they are additive free. These options are definitely more expensive (around $27 per bottle), but they have worked directly with the vineyards or wine producers so you can trust you are getting a clean wine.
Recently I discovered that Thrive Market now sells clean wines! (If you are new to thrive, they are a clean online market - if you are new, here is a code for 25% off your first order!). Their wine seems to be a step below with claims of ‘minimized additives’, and therefore a little cheaper (around $15 per bottle). But they do say they are biodynamic, pesticide free, and added sugar free.
Now I know what you are thinking. How is it possible that such an enormous industry is this unregulated?
As with anything, the first step is to spread the word so we can become knowledgable about the problem. From there, we can urge our lawmakers to establish better laws regulating the production and sale of wine. I don't know about you, but I would love to see a label with ingredients on my bottle of wine. Let's make it happen!
Biodynamic Association, What is biodynamics?, https://www.biodynamics.com/what-is-biodynamics
Demeter Association, Inc., Biodynamic Certification Marks, https://www.demeter-usa.org/about-demeter/biodynamic-certification-marks.asp
Electronic Code of Federal Regulations, Materials Authorized for the Treatment of Wine and Juice, https://www.ecfr.gov/cgi-bin/text-idx?c=ecfr&sid=e616cf652c2a16d768ed4c4873ad2cb0&rgn=div8&view=text&node=27:188.8.131.52.19.12.343.7&idno=27
Environmental Working Group, EWGs 2020 Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce, https://www.ewg.org/foodnews/summary.php
Grand View Research, US Wine Market Size, https://www.grandviewresearch.com/industry-analysis/us-wine-market#:~:text=The%20U.S.%20wine%20market%20size,expected%20to%20drive%20market%20growth
Rock Juice, What is natural wine?, https://rockjuiceinc.com/pages/what-is-natural-wine
Scott Laboratories, Velcorin, https://scottlab.com/fermentation-cellar/microbial-control/velcorin-velcorin
U.S. Department of the Treasury Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau, Wine and Juice Treating Materials and Processes for Domestic Wine Production, https://www.ttb.gov/wine/treating-materials
Wine Spectator, Dry farming, https://www.winespectator.com/articles/what-is-dry-farming-56158