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Monday Manifestos
Natural or Unnatural: Most Wine Won't Give You A Bellyache

By Stephen Eliot

Among the several debates that have become fixtures in the wine conversation these days, the latest to land back in the cyclical spotlight is the one regarding ingredient labeling. No doubt spurred by the recently concluded RAW wine fair in London, the topic of just what is in wine and how much consumers should be told has again worked its way into headlines. The latest and, I suspect, the most influential is found in the New York Times, and its author, Eric Asimov does indeed ask a compelling question or two.

I, like Mr. Asimov, would like to know what goes into to each and every bottle that I drink, but then I happen to know what that information means, and I hold fast to the idea that winemaking is equal parts art and science. I have no issues with winemakers who have the knowledge and skills to make a good wine better or a bad one palatable. I am not in the least frightened by the idea that a wine is not wholly “natural”, nor do I believe that greatness is the exclusive provenance of those that are.

I understand the concerns of some winemakers who believe that the mere mention of “extras” from bentonite to potassiuim metabisulphite might well scare off the uniformed, and I grasp the fact that regulation and enforcement of ingredient disclosure might be a can of worms of its own. Nutrition labeling would be nice as well, but the analysis required for accurate listing of everything from calories and carbohydrates to sodium and miniscule protein is going to cost someone both time and money if the stated data is to be at all accurate. Still, I would prefer to know all that I could.

I do not, however, believe that such disclosure should be mandatory and subject to bureaucratic regulation, and I have grown increasingly annoyed with the implications that any winemaker who chooses not list ingredients necessarily has sinister motives and something to hide. The notion that any winemaker who practices the craft is to be equated with the industrial giants who pump out millions of cases of soulless, manufactured plonk is absurd. But, that is what the way the argument as framed often leads us to believe.

Perhaps I might feel differently when there is irrefutable evidence of one or another ingredient causing quantifiable harm as does excessive sodium, saturated fats, nitrites and nitrates and ubiquitous sugars in in foods have been proven to do, but, to date, the harm and offense I have received from a glass of wine has had far more to do with spoilage and extreme hands-off winemaking than anything else.

There may a time when enlightened consumer demand makes full disclosure a smart and profitable choice for small artisan winemakers, and I would be the first to celebrate the day, but, in the meantime, I cannot help but feel the weight of too much cultural, political and economic baggage and proselytizing at work.

Asimov’s headline reads “If Only the Grapes Were the Whole Story” and I agree they are not. Great wine is, in fact, about more than just grapes. It is about great ingredients and intelligent, artful winemaking.


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by TomHill
Posted on:6/3/2013 11:52:36 AM

Yup...Charlie.....couldn't agree more.

"annoyed with the implications that any winemaker who chooses not list ingredients necessarily has sinister motives and something to hide"

   I share your annoyance as well. It seems to be a polarizing issue and people can't seem to find a common/middle ground.



by Ron Washam, HMW
Posted on:6/3/2013 7:19:52 PM

Well, the truth is, no matter what they legally put into wine, it's the alcohol that will kill you. Nothing else.

Just what the world needs, the feds governing ingredient labels on wine. Because if it's left to be voluntary, why in the world would I believe it?

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