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Thursday, August 1, 2013

Wine ingredients

It's just grapes and yeast right? Not even close.

Making wine can be pretty simple in theory. Grow some grapes. When they have enough natural sugars squeeze out the juice and add yeast to convert the sugar into alcohol. If that's what you think you may as well throw in the young maiden stomping the grapes that becomes your wine.

Wine is a food product. There are lots of chemicals that can be added at various stages. The most common and well-known is sulfur used as a preservative. It's naturally occurring in grapes actually, but more can be added. Sulfur is used in many food products. It's gotten a bad rap because a few people have allergic reactions to sulfur so wine bottles are labeled "contains sulfites."

There can be chemical sprays in vineyards as on any food product. Sugar can be added in some parts of the world, acids in others. There are chemicals to adjust aromas, color, clarity and tannins. It's apparently become semi-common to add water in California to bring down alcohol levels. In 2008 in Mendocino and northern Sonoma Counties, especially, there were smokey traits because of large forest fires early in the season. It seems some folks were able to remove this from their wines--not sure how. During the harvest for the rough 2009 growing season one highly-regarded winemaker, to remain nameless, declared it "the vintage of better winemaking through chemistry."

So some of this isn't necessarily bad for you, like adding sugar or water, but many consumers would probably like to know what they're ingesting. There's a (small) push on to get wines labeled with what exactly goes into a bottle of wine. Winery owners are fearful of some backlash. This has also led to a small number of "natural" wines on the market, but the term "natural" is unregulated (unlike "organic" which is).

Bonny Doon Winery (always a rebel) puts ingredients on their wine labels. Ridge Vineyards recently announced they will do the same. The truth shouldn't hurt.