winemaking, health, and the paleo/biohacking crowd
Starting in March 2016 there have been a number of podcasts and internet articles within the health and fitness space that seek to call attention to the aspects of wine additives and winemaking that have been deemed as "dirty secrets" and the like. As a winemaker and biohacker I appreciate the light that has been directed towards winemaking, as I am personally involved with health optimization, and wines have long benefited from the cultural myths of romantic scenes of grape stomping and clinking glasses. The recent media has attempted to help people understand wine and make healthier choices, but it has also been fraught with poor research and a multitude of inaccuracies. I'm writing this article to clear up some of the inaccurate claims that have made regarding winemaking and wine additives.
Straight-Up Erroneous Claims
- Claim - Some wineries make wine using GMO grapevines.
Fact - Nowhere in the world is wine made from GMO grapes.
- Claim - Wines can contain gluten because they are "filtered through wheat."
Fact - This one had me near speechless. Wheat is not used in any way to filter wine. The common ways to filter wine include diatomaceous earth technologies, crossflow (reverse osmosis), plate and frame pad filters, and cartridge size-exclusion membranes.
- Claim - Malo-lactic fermentation decreases the pH of wine.
Fact - ML fermentation is a bacteria-mediated conversion of Malic acid (diprotic) to Lactic acid (monoprotic) - a de-acidification that results in an increase in pH.
- Claim - Organically farmed grapes are not treated with any pesticides.
Fact - All winegrapes are treated with pesticides, as they are subject to the crop-ruining fungus, Powdery Mildew among other things. Organic grapes are treated with pesticides that are approved for organic production by one of several regulating authorities. Common organic pesticides used for grapes include elemental sulfur, Stylet Oil, and Serenade.
- Claim - American winemakers sometimes add formaldehyde to strengthen wines.
Fact - Adding formaldehyde to wine would be an act of bioterrorism. The Tobacco, Tax, and Trade Bureau (TTB) is the federal agency that regulates alcohol production in the US and they frown upon bioterrorism. Here is the TTB's list of approved wine additives. Formaldehyde is definitely not on the list.
- Claim - Longer macerations result in higher alcohol.
Fact - The alcohol content of a wine is exclusive to the starting sugar content of the grapes, and not subject to length of maceration. Maceration refers to the contact of grape skins and seeds with fermenting wine, which is standard for making red wines. The time and temperature of maceration influences that content of polyphenols (color and tannins) that will be extracted from the solid grape parts into the liquid wine. Yeast mediate the conversion of sugars to alcohol, irrespective of maceration strategies.
LINKS AND RESOURCES MENTIONED IN THIS EPISODE
- Ben Greenfield Podcast "Wine Myths, Dark & Dirty Secrets of the Wine Industry, Wine Biohacks & More
- Joe Rogan Experience podcast with Mark Sisson of Mark's Daily Apple. The wine discussion begins about 2 hours, 9 minutes in.
- Wikipedia's page on malo-lactic fermentation in wine.
- An accurate description of the US criteria for "Organic Wine" and "Wine Made with Organic Grapes." The Wikipedia page for Organic Wine is fraught with inaccuracies.
Questions? Comments? Let me know what you think: firstname.lastname@example.org