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CAUTION! WHAT’S IN YOUR WINE?

John Tilson • 8/19/14        Print This Post Print This PostComment Bookmark and Share

CAUTION SIGN

pouring red wine

I have been writing about additives and manipulated wines for some time. So first let me guide you to where the Underground has been (just click on the title to read the article).

Beginning in 2011 there was my article WHAT IS WINE?

This was followed by subsequent articles:

WHAT’S IN YOUR WINE BOTTLE?
YIKES! THE TIDE MAY BE GOING OUT SOON. WHO’S SWIMMING NAKED?

ATTENTION ALL WINE CONSUMERS WINE INGREDIENT LABELING IS HERE
POLYESTER WINES

Recently Ridge Vineyards posted a link on their website to an article entitled One Man’s Quest To Reveal What’s Actually In Your Favorite Wine which was based on an interview by Christopher Null with Paul Draper, CEO and Chief Winemaker at Ridge Vineyards, that was posted on the WIRED website. A couple of months earlier Christopher Null had also written an article on the ingredients that are going into wine which was also posted on the WIRED website. So it looks like our little parade is getting a few more people to fall in line.

But, make no mistake; this is a story that is in its infancy and one that is not going away anytime soon. It is a very big issue and still virtually unknown. Very few consumers can even begin to answer the simple question of what’s in wine. As I have been saying here at the Underground, as consumers learn the real answers they will be as shocked as I was when I first discovered what was happening. For sure, we have all talked for a long time about the change in the style of many wines to feature intensity and extraction. And, as we have now all learned, this is only a small part of the story. In the not too far distant future this will be one of the biggest stories to roll through the wine industry since the wine fraud issue involving old wines was first discovered back in the 1980s. The  Underground was the first to report on wine fraud and has been all over it from the beginning (to read articles on the Underground history with wine fraud click on the following articles):

THE SORDID STORY OF WINE MANIPULATION – WINE FRAUD COVERING OVER 40 YEARS OF TASTING OLD WINES
WINE FRAUD – CAVEAT EMPTOR!
WINE FRAUD – LIGHTENING STRIKES!

LIGNTENING STRIKES TWICE!
STOP THE WINE PRESS! THE FBI HAS MOVED TO STOP FRAUD!
ONE WINEDRINKER’S OBSERVATIONS OVERY NEARLY 30 YEARS: TWO FACES OF FRAUD? MORE TO COME?
WINE JUSTICE STRIKES! 
THE WINE FRAUD STORY – THE BEAT GOES ON!  

But, the issue of what is going into new wines is a much bigger story than the faking of old wines. In the case of the latter, there were relatively few wines that were being faked and the market consisted of only a relatively few buyers who had lots of money who wanted to drink the kool aid. Today, the number of manipulated wines and the number of people drinking them is far greater than those who were buying and drinking the fake wines. However, I must say that I also think that a lot of people who are buying and drinking the new manipulated wines are some of the same folks who were buying and drinking the old fake wines. Not the low priced “industrialized” wines, but many of the expensive “limited production” cult wines. Why? That’s simple. Many of these people are also following the supposed “experts” who gave credibility to the fake wines and give big numbers to many of the manipulated cult wines.

However, the issue of additives in wine is much bigger because it is relevant to virtually everyone who drinks wine. Many wine drinkers will never drink a wine that has been faked because it is only the old, very expensive wines that are faked. Yet, I dare say, the majority of people drinking wine today from the least expensive wines selling from a few dollars a bottle to wines selling for hundreds or even thousands of dollars per bottle have no idea how the wines are being made or what is in them. And, yes Virgina, once again, this includes many of the critics who are making a living “tasting” and reviewing the new wines as well as many of the old wines that were fake. And, even though I think it is waning, don’t forget for one second the power of “critical” recommendations and big scores.

But, do not lose focus and make no mistake. This is not to say that manipulated wines are the same as faked wines. They are not. Faked wines are illegal. They are manufactured and sold as something else of greater value. Manipulated wines are not illegal. There are a few rules that are supposed to be followed in making and marketing new wines, but no one knows exactly how new wines are made or what is going into them. Hence we have manipulated wines. The question here is a simple one: what’s in the new wines being sold?

Nonetheless, lest I digress further, let me give you a bit more information on the new manipulated wines. Below are excerpts from Christopher Null’s comments in his post with a few brief quotes from Paul Draper.

…Wine is increasingly an industrial product, cooked up millions of gallons at a time in behemoth factories in Australia or central California. The grapes going into it can come from just about anywhere. But making cheap wine isn’t easy. If something goes wrong in your massive, 350,000-gallon tank, you’ve got a big problem. Dumping the batch isn’t an option—cheap wine doesn’t stay cheap if you pour out the swill. The good news is if the wine doesn’t come out right, well, a quick fix can be applied. A litany of high tech machines and chemical additives—called adjuncts—can be (legally) used to correct mistakes, hide inconsistencies, improve the taste or color of wine.

These additives and processes aren’t something you’re likely to hear about when you’re touring Highway 29 in Napa, and the industry isn’t anxious to start with disclosures, for fear the romance of the wine business would be irrevocably spoiled. Unlike most food and drink, wine and other alcoholic beverages are governed not by the Food and Drug Administration (part of Health and Human Services) but by the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (part of the U.S. Treasury). As the name suggests, the TTB’s primary goal is to collect taxes on booze and cigarettes, a longstanding vestige of Prohibition. Consumers have largely been left in the dark about what’s really inside the bottle.

Not everyone is thrilled about this, and as with many secrecy-laden industries, transparency is a buzzword that has a few wine industry leaders twittering….

While Paul Draper dislikes adjuncts…, the enemy, he says, isn’t just cheap wine: It’s also winemakers’ increasing thirst for wines that are ready to drink without significant aging. This not only drives consumer sales, it also helps to drive higher scores from wine critics, as even professionals can struggle to rate a wine based on its future potential.

That in turn has led to a more nefarious way in which adjuncts are being deployed. While they are often used as an easy way to make cheap wine more palatable, adjuncts are increasingly being applied to high-end wines to eke another couple of points out of the critics.

You’d think the various adjuncts wouldn’t make it past the sommeliers, high-end buyers, and big-name critics of the wine world, that such chemical or mechanical shortcuts would be picked up by their well-trained palates. But the truth is that these things can’t be sniffed, tasted, or spotted unless they are  overused….“Usually you need lab equipment to detect additives,” Draper says….

The TTB says it formally considered ingredient labeling most recently in 2005, following a petition in which it was claimed that, when surveyed, 91 percent of consumers said they supported ingredient labeling on alcoholic beverages. However the TTB still declined to recommend labeling, citing negative response from the industry, namely small brewers and wineries which complained about the costs that ingredient labeling would involve. Since then, a “Serving Facts” label has been approved by the bureau, but it is not compulsory and few wineries have adopted its use….

“For thousands of years, wine has made itself with guidance by man, rather than being made by man,” says Draper. The greatness of a wine should be driven by the grapes and the earth they come from, not what a tinkerer can do with them in the lab.

History has his back. In Bordeaux, vigneron is the term for a grape cultivator, the man who works the fields and tends the vines. But, notes Draper, “In French, there is no word for winemaker.”

So there you have it. What is in wine and ingredient labeling are things that every wine consumer should demand before buying wine. Consider the quote in the above article that 91% of consumers said they supported ingredient labeling on alcoholic beverages. The government declined to get involved. But this is not a bad thing. If the government gets involved, they are likely to get it wrong. After all, what do the bureaucrats at the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) know or care about wine? They are focused on collecting taxes on Tobacco and Alcohol. I agree with Paul that ingredient labeling is something best left to the industry to deal with.

Now is the time for all wine producers who have nothing to hide to step forward and follow Ridge Vineyards and Bonny Doon Vineyard as the only 2 wineries that I know of that have adopted ingredient labeling. Those wineries with something to hide will continue to operate in a veil of secrecy. So be it. As consumers we can buy whatever we choose. But, we should all be asking questions and getting answers to what is in the wine we are buying. We should also all encourage our favorite wineries that are making wine in a traditional way to join together in an association to promote traditional winemaking. Big points and massive tastings have very little to do with drinking and enjoying wine (to read an article explaining this click here) And, wine is first and foremost meant to be consumed with food. Wines that are filled with artificial ingredients and are manipulated need to be disclosed. If you care about the food you eat, you should care about the wine you drink! It’s that simple!!

In Vino Veritas,Sig

John Tilson

 

 

 

 

 

 

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4 comments for “CAUTION! WHAT’S IN YOUR WINE?”

  1. Applause to Ridge and Bonny Doon.

    It would seem that others should get on the band wagon. The industry should encourage labeling and perhaps establish some standards that will allow consumers to know that their wine is “lead free” (I know, there isn’t lead in wine, but not knowing what shouldn’t be in wine, it was the easiest catch phrase to use).

    Posted by Lee Doble | August 20, 2014, 9:17 am
  2. Thank you John for the easy to follow and compelling piece on manipulated wines. I am interested in a future UW piece on “naked wine.” Can these low- to no- manipulated wines better inform a palate with a fresher POV than total points?

    Posted by Steven Stumpf | August 20, 2014, 12:03 pm
  3. Thanks Lee. I totally agree. But, ingredient labeling is not likely to happen unless consumers demand it. The Underground is working hard to get the people who are using traditional non-manipulated winemaking to band together and form an association to set standards and formatting for ingredient labeling.
    As consumers we should all ask how the wines are made that we are buying. I want to buy and drink wines that are not overly manipulated. I can choose amongst the wines that I know. These are the ones that I am writing about in the Underground. And, the Underground will continue to write about wine manipulation until consumers are afforded a greater opportunity to know what is in their wine. I would appreciate help from all of you in spreading the word!
    In Vino Veritas,
    John

    Posted by John Tilson | September 5, 2014, 11:14 am
  4. Thanks Steven. I don’t know about “naked wines”. I think the information that Ridge is putting on their labels fully expresses what I am looking for in terms of how the wine is being made. The makers of mass produced wines will never agree to list ingredients. Likewise, the producers of the overly extracted and manipulated big numbers wines will not divulge their “secrets”. That’s fine. But, what I would like to see, and will continue to advocate, is for all producers using tradition non-invasive winemaking to band together and form an association dedicated to full disclosure of how their wines are made. Then consumers will have a choice between wines where they know what is in the wine vs. those where there is no disclosure about what is in the wine. Then the market will decide the rest!
    Please join me in spreading the word!!
    In Vino Veritas,
    John

    Posted by John Tilson | September 5, 2014, 11:21 am

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