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Bring On The Additives

By Charles Olken

Sometimes winemakers add things to wine. Some of the things they add are more or less universally accepted, but somewhere there is a winemaker or two who objects to just about everything.

Wine made without any additives are often called “natural”, and everyone knows that natural wines are better than unnatural wines. It’s kind of like sex. Natural sex is OK, but unnatural sex? Well, we would not want that next door.

Now, I just got myself trapped into a discussion for which I am probably not qualified. First of all, at my age, any sex is unnatural, and secondly, who am I to question what is natural and what is unnatural between consenting adults. I guess I can say that there are practices in which I might not engage, but that is preference, not nature. We do have laws that outlaw some practices, and since I don’t want to take this conversation further down this path, let’s just say that natural and unnatural winemaking are pretty much in the eye of the beholder—and any further sexual analogies will be up to you.

There is a list of approved additives to wine. Some of them are chemical in nature and highly toxic. Some of them are natural and highly toxic. We can all agree that avoiding toxicity is probably a good idea, but sometimes a little of something not entirely good for us in large doses is quite good in the right doses. Sort of like some medicines—a topic about which I don’t know much either. I just do what the doctor orders, and I know if I take too much Advil, it will be bad for my kidneys. Just as I know if I take too much wine, natural or unnatural, it will be bad for my liver.

I have a simple standard for additives. Stop me if you have heard this before. If it is not bad for people and not bad for the planet, then there is no reason not to use any additive if it is good for the wine.

That is why I have little patience for the natural wine movement. It is unnatural not to use additives in wine. Otherwise, you often do not have wine, because wine is the half-life of vinegar and left to its own devices, wine is unstable. So, even folks who profess to be making natural wine often use sulfur dioxide to keep the wine from continuing on its merry journey to salad dressing.

And, by extension, if it is acceptable to add sulfur dioxide to wine, why is it not acceptable to add grape concentrate or acidity or oak chips if they do not harm us or the planet and they make the wine taste better.

So, bring on the additives. Better than sex or medicine for analogies, let me try food. Salt is not good for us; cholesterol is not good for us; sugar is not good for us; fats are not good for us. But, all if used to excess. Try using none of the above. Your body would rebel in most unkind ways.

So bring on the additives. I have no objection to the right additives used in the right amounts in order to make better wines. It is not any more complicated than that.


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No Subject
by William Goetz
Posted on:8/1/2014 5:49:30 PM

If wine were truly natural, I wouldn't have to pay for it,  I'd just have to find the streams and lakes where it was produced...naturally

Occurs in Nature?
by Sherman
Posted on:8/3/2014 11:48:52 AM

That being the definition of "natural," does it occur in nature? While clusters of grapes may be overripe, drop to the ground and undergo spontaneous fermentation, the resulting product is not something that most folks would call wine. It's certainly not something that I'd want to have with a nice dinner!

Wine is something that arrives solely through the intervention of humans; thus, the discussion becomes one of what level of intervention does the consumer want in their wine?

I'd agree with the definition that if it's not bad for the consumer and not bad for the planet (and it helps the winemaker make a better product), then go for it!

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