Knowing the Ingredients in My Wines: Why I Care, and Why We Disclose
The following is just one woman's take on why I care about the ingredients in my wines.
Wine is food. But it’s not (well, not legally under the laws in this country; we’re grouped in with firearms and tobacco). But really, it is. You do ingest and digest it. It’s a product that goes into your body, just like an organically grown apple or that box of McNuggets. It has calories and some nutritional properties, just like food.
Now, me, I’m not a health nut. I could probably stand to lose 10 pounds, easily. Once a year I devour an entire bag of nacho cheese Doritos all by myself. I drink coffee and too much red wine, and although I have bounced around the dietary spectrum in my adult years, I still eat red meat and the occasional refined sugar treat.
But, I also work in the wine business. And I live in Northern California – real, rural Northern California, where most of your neighbors farm something (and it's not all of the ganja variety).
I have a three-year-old son. And, like most mommies, I read ingredients on what I buy, and I try and buy only the best that I can afford for my child.
I also run a winery with my family. And I have worked for enough wineries in my former life that I understand that wine is not just grapes. Wine, like food products, requires some processing to get it into the delicious, “I want to stick a straw in the top and sip on it while watching Gray’s Anatomy” form that I love.
But this is where it gets sticky, pun intended. Grapes require yeast and sometimes bacteria to get them to that finished form. And that could theoretically be the end of the story. But to produce wine how we most people like it now – safe, transportable, ageable, and agreeable to the modern wine drinker – there are usually more ingredients and inputs than grapes-yeast-bacteria.
And here is where I start drawing distinctions.
I do believe that all the branches that derive from this point of grapes-yeast-bacteria are valid and have their place. To make super affordable wines, producers generally have to take more licenses with where they grow the grapes and hence how they process them. To make a product that will appeal to the “mass market,” so to speak, and be shipped all over the world requires a whole different perspective on how to make and get that wine into bottle (or can, or container nowadays).
After all, I do eat Doritos, and when my son doesn’t finish that Easter candy, well… But this is the thing: I KNOW those things have MSG, partially hydrogenated soybean oil, sugar substitutes, and a bunch of other stuff I can’t pronounce in them (polyglycerol polyricinoleate??). I can read it right on the back label, and I can make the decision to eat it anyway, because I feel like it.
With wine, I can’t do that. And, most of the time, I can’t just call the winery and ask. There’s a huge divide between production and tasting room and marketing staff. What’s done in the cellar is often only partly passed along to brand and marketing managers. Perhaps because they assume they won't be interested, or understand, or it won't fit the brand image they've cultivated. And the tasting room often only gets the few details that help tell the winery’s story, or that helps inform the consumer about why that wine tastes like X or Y.
Yes, most wine ingredients are natural. But some aren’t. Most are innocuous and serve the purpose of, for example, lemon juice and salt in the final product – adding balance, increasing aging time and stability. You do want wine, not vinegar. But some give me the heebie-geebies. But then again, so does the fact that the FDA regulates the amount of mouse feces and bug legs in our foods (hint, it’s not zero).
And here’s the sad thing: other producers in the wine business will say it’s disparaging just to mention there are ingredients in wine, and to put an opinion like this out there. And that’s fine. But, in the meantime, here’s what I’m doing, for my own knowledge, and for my customers that care. And I hope the idea of "full-disclosure winemaking" catches on.
*Foursight wines are ingredients labeled (since 2010), inspired by Bonny Doon’s bold move in 2007.
*Foursight wines are vegan and vegetarian friendly and we were the first in the U.S. to put this on our labels (no fish swim bladder/isinglass, no egg whites/albumin, no casein/milk products, no gelatin, etc.), inspired by our own dietary journeys and those of our customers (many headed to a well-known vegan resort and restaurant on the Mendocino Coast).
*Foursight wines are gluten free (lab tested spring 2018), inspired by a query from one of our customers, who has celiac disease. We tested our wines so we could answer with confidence.
*Foursight wines are glyphosate free (lab tested April 2018, results=none detected), inspired by the recent Moms Across America debate about Roundup and wine.
*Foursight wines tested undetectable for histamines and are low methane – both naturally occurring compounds in small amounts in wine. This was inspired by a Facebook winemaker debate about whether or not natural wines are higher in things like histames. So we tested it.
We’re a small, family run winery. If our customers ask us a question about our wines, or how they’re made, we’re here to answer. Or, it’s right on the bottle, for everyone to read. If you have any questions, just reach out: you can contact us through www.foursightwines.com.
This is not a new debate. Here are some articles from various sources, in just the past 5 years:
- Eric Asimov, The New York Times, 2013: https://www.nytimes.com/2013/06/05/dining/the-big-question-whats-in-wine.html
- Eric Asimov, The New York Times, 2017: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/03/06/dining/wine-is-food.html
- Ben Panko, Smithsonian, 2017: https://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/science-behind-your-cheap-wine-180962783/
- Imogen Brennan, ABC News Australia, 2018: http://www.abc.net.au/news/2018-02-01/the-growth-of-vegan-wine-has-exposed-a-problem-in-the-industry/9377544