Series: Crafting a Healthier Wine - Redefining Winemaking Standards
Part 3: Problems with Current Winemaking
Winemaking Introduction & Context - Historic Processes - Pride & Legacy
Welcome back to the third installment of our exploration into the world of winemaking. In this segment, we delve into the current issues plaguing the industry, from agricultural practices to winemaking techniques, as we strive to elevate our understanding of the craft and its impact on our health and the environment.
Historic Processes - Pride & Legacy
Winemaking boasts a rich history that spans approximately 7000 years, with its roots believed to be near the mountains of the Republic of Georgia. This ancient craft has undergone continuous refinement, evolving with advancements in storage vessels, yeast bacterias, refrigeration methods, sealing techniques, and various clarifying agents.
The evolution of winemaking has naturally led to the production of 'dry' wines, a result of improved storage methods, yeast resilience, and extended fermentation periods. However, the pride associated with the traditional winemaking process often poses a challenge to embracing modern technologies that could further enhance the quality of the final product.
Historically, winemakers, characterized by a blend of technical and creative inclinations, tend to favor traditional methods passed down through generations. This deep connection to the land and adherence to time-tested practices can sometimes hinder the integration of innovative technologies and processes. Striking a balance between tradition and modernity becomes a crucial aspect of achieving our mission.
Molds and Other Compounds in Viticulture and Agricultural Settings
The mention of "mold" usually invokes a negative response due to its potential health implications. While mold is a natural component of our environment, its presence in winemaking, especially in organic vineyards, poses challenges. Mold micro-organisms can adversely affect the gut biome, induce respiratory issues, and produce myco-toxins, such as afla-toxin and ochra-toxin.
Research indicates that 20%-30% of individuals may experience symptoms upon contact with molds or myco-toxins, which are linked to kidney and liver damage, geno-toxicity, and decreased immune function. Despite the potential risks, molds play a role in balancing local flora and fauna. Hence, addressing mold-related challenges in winemaking involves thoughtful consideration of their impact on both health and the environment.
Glyphosate, a herbicide commonly known as Round-up, has gained notoriety for its effectiveness in farming. Developed by pharmaceutical company Monsanto/Bayer, it targets a specific enzyme, disrupting plant growth and, inadvertently, harming various other organisms in the process.
Research suggests that glyphosate is toxic to plants, animals, earthworms, and soil microbes. Its impact on humans includes disrupting mitochondrial function, signaling pathways, and inducing oxidative stress and neuronal inflammation. Despite these concerns, glyphosate continues to be extensively used in vineyards, raising questions about its long-term effects on both the environment and the wine consumer.
PFAS & Heavy Metals
Poly/Per-Floural Alkyl Substances (PFAS) and heavy metals, such as arsenic and mercury, have found their way into vineyards through various agricultural practices. PFAS, present in pesticides and herbicides, poses a challenge due to the sheer volume of products containing these substances. Meanwhile, heavy metals, once used in insecticides, have prompted lawsuits in California over potential toxic levels in wines.
Addressing these concerns requires a closer look at farming practices and the adoption of organic, sustainable, and regenerative approaches. Striking a balance between reducing harmful substances and maintaining the quality of grapes is a challenge that conscientious winemakers must navigate.
Biogenic Amines - Histamine & Others
Biogenic amines, including histamine, are neurotransmitters essential for human function. However, an imbalance of these compounds can lead to various health issues. Histamine, produced by the body and certain microorganisms, can trigger inflammatory responses, causing problems ranging from gastrointestinal issues to skin reactions.
In the context of winemaking, biogenic amines can be created by bacteria, molds, and yeasts during improper storage, highlighting the need for meticulous fermentation and storage practices to minimize the presence of these compounds in the final product.
Sulfites - Tannin
The age-old debate about sulfites and tannins in wine often leaves consumers puzzled about potential sensitivities. Sulfur, a common element on Earth, has been used for centuries in winemaking to prevent oxidation and bacterial spoilage. Despite its necessity for preserving wine quality, sulfite sensitivity is relatively rare.
Tannins, polyphenolic compounds extracted from grape skins during fermentation, contribute to the astringency and mouthfeel of wine. While some individuals claim sensitivities to sulfites or tannins, scientific studies suggest that these sensitivities are statistically unlikely for the vast majority of the population.
Filtration plays a crucial role in preserving the stability and aesthetics of wine. Traditionally, red wines undergo minimal filtration due to the natural settling of solids during barrel aging. In contrast, white wines and rosés, bottled at a younger age, require filtration to remove yeast cells and prevent spoilage.
The subject of filtration in winemaking has been met with skepticism due to the industry's deep-rooted traditions and pride. New technologies and processes are often slow to be embraced. However, filtration, when done thoughtfully and with modern techniques, can contribute to a more stable and higher-quality final product without compromising flavor and aroma.
The rise of natural, organic, low/no sulfite, and unfiltered wines reflects a growing consumer awareness of health and environmental concerns. However, the inherent flaws in some natural wines, such as higher mold occurrences and unchecked bacterial growth, emphasize the need for a more nuanced approach. While the intent behind the natural wine trend aligns with a desire for healthier options, careful consideration of potential allergens and spoilage risks is crucial.
In our quest to create the best possible wine, it's essential to acknowledge the complexities and potential pitfalls of various winemaking practices. Stay tuned for the next part of our series, where we'll explore the challenges posed by current regulations and the steps we're taking to overcome them.