And Most Is Doing More Harm than Good
What’s in Your Wine & The Wine-making Process
I have some bad news for all the Winos out there, you’re wine is not what you think it is. Very few have any idea what is really in most wine. Besides water, a bottle of wine often contains hundreds of substances, most of which fall into different categories such as sugar, wine yeasts, ethanol, phenols/polyphenols, methanol, and other alcohols, aldehydes, acids. Few also know all the different stages of wine making, but knowing these will help to understand how wine has evolved over millennia. The general steps of wine-making are: harvesting the grapes, stemming and crushing the grapes, maceration, fermentation, draining, thermovinification (wine is heated at 50-80 degrees Celsius to improve red wine color), clarification and stabilization, aging, and finally bottling. While few may know what’s in their wine or how it’s made everyone’s heard of wine’s supposed health benefits,1 but not all wine is created equal. This is because commercialization has changed wine and not for the better.
How Wine Was Traditionally Made
Traditionally, wine was made – and still is by some – by mashing grapes that where then left to ferment for an extended period of time. This process resulted in polyphenol-rich, relatively low-alcohol-containing beverage. Few additional ingredients, if any, were added and any type of intervention was minimal. Modern wine processes have changed wine and today’s image of winemaking may be better portrayed by chemists in lab coats than a casually dressed vineyard owner. One of these modern processes is growing grapes closer together to increase vine yields, but this overproduction delays fruit maturity, retains excessive acidity, and is associated with reduce wine quality.2
Modern Process Have Changed Wine & Not For the Better
Since wine went commercial and modern processing methods have evolved, wine has changed into something so different from what it used to be that our bodies no longer handle it well. More than 70 additives are approved in wine-making to increase production, ensure repeatable outcomes, and keep costs low. If you have ever experienced headaches, asthma symptoms, or even diarrhea after enjoying a glass or two of wine, it might actually be due to all that is added to wine rather than the wine itself. Here is something many don’t consider, unlike everything else we drink, nutrition labels and ingredients lists are not required for wine in the United States. Instead of being regulated by the FDA, wine falls under the jurisdiction of the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau.
Modern Wine Contains Many Harmful Chemicals & Substances
As commercial winemakers strive to increase production and lower costs, some questionable and harmful substances have found their way into wine. These additives and contaminates in wines include a broad range of substances:
Just as in produce, organic wine exposes you to fewer pesticides, herbicides, and fungicides. In a study of French wines,4 only 10 percent were free of pesticide and fungicide traces. Vineyards are only 20 percent of produce volume in France but use 80 percent of the nation’s fungicide. In the United States, Monsanto’s Roundup is the most commonly used herbicide in vineyards.
To remove unwanted substances in wine before bottling, a variety of agents can be used. Many animal-based ones, including egg white, fish bladder, and casein, might surprise many wine-consuming vegans. Bentonite clay is the most common non-animal-based fining agent.
Natural red wine isn’t really supposed to darkly stain your teeth, gums, and clothing. Mega purple, a super concentrated grape juice additive, is to blame. Ten thousand gallons of this sugary concoction are added to 25 million bottles of wine per year. Mega purple, along with another dye, ultra red, are used to produce wine of consistent color.
Sulfur dioxide (sulfites)7
Although low levels of sulfites occur naturally in wine as a byproduct of yeast metabolism, commercial winemakers often add sulfite in the form of sulfur dioxide as a preservative and stabilizer. Because a small portion of the population is allergic to sulfites, a wine label must disclose if the sulfite content is more than 10 parts per million (ppm).
Histamines are found naturally in many foods, including cheese, wine, seafood, processed meats, fermented foods, and eggs. Histamines are produced by immune cells and are responsible for the swelling and redness you see if you get a bee sting. However, some people produce too much histamine and/or are not able to break it down properly. Histamine overload results in sneezing, headache, diarrhea, skin itchiness, and shortness of breath.9 The commercialization of wine may have increased histamine content. Fertilizing grape vines increases the histamine content of wines,10 and organic wines have lower levels of histamine.11 Chris Kresser has a great article on Histamine intolerance12 if you’d like to find out more.
Before 1974, all wines were fermented with their naturally occurring yeasts, but most today in the United States are not. Winemakers instead opt for commercial yeasts to better control the fermentation process for a more reproducible product. Many of these added yeasts are genetically modified.
In winemaking, yeasts ferment the sugar found naturally in grapes. Wine is “dry” when the yeasts fully ferment all the sugar into alcohol. Winemakers sometimes will add additional sugar before fermentation to increase the alcohol content or flavor. Residual sugars in wine can be masked by tannins and acidity, so you can’t always tell by the taste of wine how much sugar is present.
This is not even an all-inclusive list as there are still more additives and chemicals added to or found in wines like mycotoxins, phthalates, and even arsenic! Next week we’ll discuss the alternative to commercial or even most organic wines, which are often referred to as natural or bio-dynamic wines.