EDITOR’S SUMMARY: It’s a human tendency to label, categorize, and make judgments. Living in a paradigm of good vs. bad, right vs. wrong, and positive vs. negative, etc., keeps you operating in a realm of duality. The missed opportunity with this perspective lies in the multitude of gray areas that also exist. If you’re willing to move toward non-duality, far beyond the acceptance of only two opposite “truths,” you begin to see everything interconnected with each other, and understand there are reasons for all that exists. What does this have to do with drinking wine? Simply everything.
Written by Blake Ashley Frino-Gerl
Edited by Nicki Steinberger, Ph.D.
Do you enjoy a glass of wine with your meal, laughing and kicking back with a few friends, or as a way to wind down at the end of the day? Well, for at least 10,000 years, wine lovers like you have been partaking in this pastime for a variety of reasons. Drinking wine has been a noticeable ritual among diverse populations for a long, long time. The history of wine, through trade between cultures, opened up channels for religious and philosophical ideas to spread across Europe. It has been said that Jesus drank wine during Passover in the Last Supper.
“Wine is also frequently mentioned in the bible from Noah and his grape vines, to Jesus, perhaps the finest winemaker to date,” according to the History of Wine. In the Jewish tradition, prayers are said over wine during Friday night Shabbat services, and “in Asian cultures, wine is often associated with spiritual events, such as in Japanese Shinto shrines or in ceremonials honoring the Chinese god of prosperity.”
One line of thought suggests that wine is “the healthy alcohol.” After all, it comes from grapes, right? Raise your glass high: Across land and sea, wine drinkers agree: There is an undeniable fondness for the deliciousness of its bold taste and intoxicating spell … lowering inhibitions, and inducing relaxation.
Wine contains antioxidants, and while there are other ways of acquiring them, say through eating blueberries, they are well known to be an upside to good health. From Nutrition Journal, “Red wine consumption increases antioxidant status and decreases oxidative stress in the circulation of both young and old humans”:
“Oxidative stress is the consequence of an imbalance of oxidants and antioxidants. Studies show that a high consumption of antioxidants can decrease levels of oxidative stress and decrease the incidence of CVD [cardiovascular disease]. In the current study TAS [serum total antioxidant status] increased after red wine consumption; these results strongly suggest that in the presence of red wine consumption, total antioxidant status has the ability to increase significantly.”
A 2018 study showed that red wine consumption, in comparison to white, generally contained more polyphenols, which help reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes, oxidative stress, and cardiovascular disease. The most important polyphenols in red wine are resveratrol, anthocyanins, catechins, and tannins. From Molecules, “Contribution of Red Wine Consumption to Human Health Protection”:
“Resveratrol is active in the prevention of cardiovascular diseases by neutralizing free oxygen radicals and reactive nitrogenous radicals; it penetrates the blood-brain barrier and, thus, protects the brain and nerve cells. It also reduces platelet aggregation and so counteracts the formation of blood clots or thrombi.”
However, if resveratrol is what you’re seeking for health benefits, you’d need to consume a lot of red wine, which could potentially do more harm than good due to the increased alcohol intake. In this case, organic whole grapes and berries would be a better choice.
“What goes up must come down”: While red wine typically contains fewer sulfites than white, these preservatives are added to help prevent spoilage by inhibiting the growth of harmful bacteria and fungi. “Sulfites can occur naturally in foods during fermentation or processing, [but] manufacturers often add additional amounts to ensure product freshness.” Though you might not experience noticeable symptoms after consuming wine with sulfites, many people do.
“While some people can tolerate sulfites, others may experience serious side effects, such as hives, swelling, and stomach pain.” In addition, if you suffer from asthma or allergies, you may react differently than others when exposed to sulfites in large doses, or consistently over time.
“... there are a few ways to reduce your intake of sulfites in wine, including looking for wines that are certified organic or sulfite-free and those labeled as “low sulfites” or “contains no added sulfites.” Ultimately, the decision is up to you—but make sure to do your research before you decide whether or not sulfites are worth avoiding!”
Herbicides and Pesticides in Wine Vineyards
Unless the grapes are deemed organic or biodynamic (a sustainable farming practice that views the vineyard as one solid organism), they are typically sprayed with herbicides or other pesticides. This effectively enables farmers to prevent parasite, bacteria, and insect attacks on the grapevine. The limited upside to treating grapes with chemicals is the value for farmers and wine makers to cut costs due to the elimination of manual weeding, while also maintaining and protecting their grape crops from pests.
“Biodynamic and organic farming have a lot in common, but according to Osburn, ‘"biodynamic takes it many steps further, and it really focuses on the actual farm itself, like the microcosm. You want to enrich, nourish, and allow your microcosm to thrive, so you're using a lot of local preparations, you're bringing in livestock, you're installing beehives probably, you're planting cover crops to include more diversity, and you really want the soils to speak, you want them to be alive. And that's where it all starts, in the soil. So it's about really making your microcosm thrive with a biodiverse system."’
The majority of fungal diseases affecting grapes are powdery mildew (Plasmopara viticola and Uncinula necator), and gray mold (Botrytis cinerea), while the most dangerous insects are the grape moth (Lobesia botrana), vine mealybug (Planococcus ficus), and the citrus mealybug (Planococcus citri).
The use of herbicides is most commonly associated with conventional farming, that is to say, it is used by growers who are not following organic or biodynamic regimens. European grapes, like Riesling, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, and Pinot Noir varieties, are among the most delicate of the many grape varieties, showing susceptibility to cold, and needing increased amounts of pesticides to ward off disease.
Even though clarification is often a process winemakers use to remove insoluble matter—particles, pesticides, and metals—it’s not 100% effective in eliminating everything. It turns to sediment, which is often found in wine bottles, lingering at the bottom. While some pesticides are broken down through fermentation, there may still be residue, but likely not as much as in fruit juice due to the clarification process.
According to “Pesticide Residues in Grapes, Wine, and Their Processing Products,” common substances used in clarifying wine include bentonite, charcoal, gelatin, polyvinylpolypyrrolidone, potassium caseinate, and colloidal silicon dioxide. Of those listed, charcoal eliminates the most pesticides, or brings the levels down most effectively, whereas the other clarifying substances are less successful.
Pesticides are a persisting evil in agriculture, as their widespread use has negative consequences for both the environment and human health. The United States is one of the countries with the greatest use of pesticides. Currently, the U.S. has no restrictions on pesticide use in wine production, while the European Union has strict limits on the types and amounts of pesticides that can be applied.
Pesticides can be found at harvest time on grapes. With the use of these chemicals, including glyphosate, there is an increased risk of cancer, autoimmune disease, neurotoxins, groundwater contaminants, and therefore disruption of the ecosystem. With glyphosate's significant amount of controversy, concerns range from the impact on vineyard workers, to multiple environmental issues.
In February 2020, after receiving public comments on glyphosate, which is the main ingredient in Monsanto’s “Roundup,” the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) published the interim decision registration review decision for glyphosate. As part of this review, the EPA found that there were no risks or concerns to human health when glyphosate is used in accordance with its current label. They also found that glyphosate is unlikely to be a human carcinogen. However, “some wine regions have taken matters into their own hands”: The Prosecco DOC and DOCG councils banned glyphosate in recent years.
According to the acceptable daily intake (ADI), a 154-pound person can take in 35mg of glyphosate per day without the chemical causing any problems. In a study testing wines, the maximum amount detected was only in one sample, containing 0.018mg per liter. While 0.018mg is significantly less than 35mg, do you want any amount of glyphosate in your body?
If the intention for healthier wine-making is there, and the effort is made, options are readily available:
“It is worth noting, however, that many organic farmers do treat their vines against pests and disease, but with other approved sprays, such as those that are based on copper or sulphur. The pros and cons of these particular sprays is an entirely different discussion.”
“Alternatives to herbicides can also include mechanical weeding or even bringing in farm animals to help keep weeds under control. At some wineries, you might see sheep roaming between vineyard rows for this reason.”
As a result of the wine industry's successful lobbying efforts, wine is the only major food product without a label listing its ingredients. Therefore, wines may contain dozens of toxic additives and you wouldn’t know. U.S. wine producers can legally use 76 FDA-approved additives without disclosing any of them on the bottle. These include substances such as mega-purple dye, fish bladders, sulfur dioxide, and dimethyl dicarbonate, which is so toxic that it must be applied by specialists in hazmat suits.
The persistence of several common herbicides, from the grapevine to your glass have been studied. Shiraz, Tarrango and Doradillo grapes were separately sprayed with either norflurazon, oxyfluorfen, oxadiazon or trifluralin—tenacious herbicides commonly used for weed control in vineyards. The dissipation of the herbicides from the grapes was followed for 28 days following treatment. While results showed that norflurazon was the most persistent herbicide, all the notable herbicides penetrated into the grapes, which were found to be significantly greater for white grapes.
Aside from norflurazon, the other herbicides degraded after the first fermentation, and largely disappeared after 28 days. The use of charcoal and filter pads, or with diatomaceous earth, was shown to be effective in removing herbicide residues from the wine. A 5% charcoal filter removed more than 96% of the norflurazon. Even so, to restate this point, utilizing filtration and clarification processes isn’t 100% effective in eliminating all pesticides from wine. This is extremely apparent when it gets into the water system.
In 2014, Semitropic Water Storage District, one of California’s eight water storage districts, hired companies to clear vegetation from 5,900-acre Bouldin Island in the Sacramento River Delta. The hired companies reportedly sprayed two chemical herbicides—Polaris SP (imazapyr) and Roundup Custom (glyphosate) by air over the island.
The variable wind conditions apparently sent the chemical mixture adrift, as far as 35 miles east into the Lodi’s wine country. Growers and other people within the wine industry estimated that as many as 25,000 acres of vines were affected. While Roundup is commonly used, it is only to be sprayed at ground level. Polaris is not approved for use on edible crops or grapes, but can be sprayed overhead by way of helicopters, which could potentially then drift to vineyard grapes.
Pesticides also affect the ecosystem. Toxins from where grapes are sprayed can inflict harm on the environment, as well as humans and animals, when absorbed, inhaled, or consumed. Looking at the decline of bees, who are relied on for pollination, it is evident that when flying around and consuming the pesticides from treated crops, the bee population is heavily affected. Therefore, their decline could potentially, and very likely, impact the food system.
In addition, a study was done on the “amount of contamination with fungicidal agricultural poisons in wild birds living in vineyards, wheat fields, cities and forested environments,” according to lead researcher Frédéric Angelier of the French National Center for Scientific Research to Scientias. Dozens of captured birds were subjected to laboratory tests to calculate the contamination by these triazoles in the animals.
Triazoles are widely used worldwide as an agricultural poison to destroy fungi, and the contamination did prove harmful for bird health. Those at risk from heavy pesticide use in vineyards are not only the people working on the land, but potentially their neighbors, and surrounding environment as well.
GMO awareness group, and health activists, “Moms Across America,” had a concerned supporter who presented them with test results from Microbe Inotech Lab in St. Louis, Missouri. It showed ten different wines containing glyphosate, including wine made with organic grapes. The highest level of glyphosate detected was found in a 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon from a conventional, chemically-farmed vineyard.
The lowest was detected in a 2013 Syrah from a biodynamic and organic vineyard that had never been touched by pesticides. Since conventional grapevines and soil are sprayed, the toxins can drift through the air or move through irrigation, possibly imposing upon organically-grown grapes, although limited in comparison.
Source the Highest Quality Possible
California has put forth a pest management plan toward an environmentally-sustainable culture. The plan focuses on the elimination of pesticides by the year 2050, and with the help of sheep, it could be possible. At Shannon Family of Wines, in Lake County, sheep graze vineyard rows to control weeds that fight for the grape vines’ water and nutrients. By employing sheep, the vineyard can promote carbon sequestration and naturally-regulate disease and pests.
An alternative to conventional pesticides and herbicides is biochemical pesticides. A biochemical pesticide is a naturally-occurring substance that controls pests and/or pathogens by nontoxic means, and regarding grape disease control, the most common biochemical pesticides are plant extracts and microbial extracts.
From Cornell University: College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, “Grapes 101: Biopesticides”:
“When considering using biopesticides, it is important to remember that they act like a lock on a door. A good lock will stop opportunistic, weak thieves, but determined, strong thieves, or thieves in sufficient numbers, can still break through with enough force. And most importantly, biopesticides can’t stop a thief that is already inside the house when the door is locked. For most effective use, a biopesticide must be in place before pathogen infection begins as their action is majorly protective.”
Organic farming is another way to limit the presence of artificial pesticides and fertilizers, thus reducing negative impact on your health and the environment. Organic wines contain far less chemicals and sulfites, although “zero” is not guaranteed. Because U.S. organic certification standards in the wineries industry are strict, winemakers can have a hard time making it through the certification process. Many U.S. winemakers producing organically-grown grapes are unable to meet the necessary requirements, therefore are not able to market, sell, or label their wines as organic. According to Your Sustainable Guide, these include:
- Frey Vineyards
- Organic Wine
- Girasole Vineyards
- Dry Farm Wines
- Mysa Natural Wine
- Paxton Wines
- Bonterra Organic Vineyards
- Scout & Cellar
All things considered, it’s up to you to weigh the pros and cons of drinking wine. On one side of the scale you have health risks to contend with from the mega-pesticides and added sulfites. Other aspects of caution, beyond the scope of this article, include high sugar-intake, and risk of alcohol addiction.
Certainly, if you lean into drinking organic and biodynamic wines, along with limiting your intake, you’ll decrease your risk of chemical exposure considerably. Moving in this direction would also be a worthy step in cleaning up the environment. You are the best judge of what goes into your body, and if you take action with heightened awareness, it will be more plausible to enjoy that glass of wine at the end of your day.
Published on October 26, 2023.
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