What’s In Wine? (Or On It?)

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At Winelandia, we try incredibly hard to bring you wines with as little added – and as little subtracted – as possible. We’re fans of unadulterated wines, which these days are often labeled as “natural wines,” but honestly we just want to drink fermented grape juice. We want as little done to the wines as possible, and we care deeply about responsible stewardship in the vineyard. Does minimal intervention make wines taste better? We think so, but we also simply think it’s the right thing to do. Wine should be an expression of where it’s grown, and it certainly tells you something about who made it too. If there’s variation from vintage to vintage, we think that’s great – it adds character and complexity, and it tells us something about the differences that climate, ripeness, weather, and other factors can make in the taste of a wine overall. But there are a lot of things that are allowed to be added to wine without your knowledge. The only additive that must be identified on the label is sulfur, actually. Here are some of the things that we try to avoid, but that may be in that wine you picked up from another retailer.

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Acidifiers/Deacidifiers – Maybe the winemaker picked the grapes a little too early. Maybe a little too late. What effect will this have on that vintage’s wine? WHO KNOWS! If your grapes need a pick-me-up, it’s completely permitted to add acid to wine, and if they’re a bit too acidic, you can take care of that problem too. The most common acids used to increase the acid in a wine are citric, tartaric, and malic acids. If the wine is tart, chalk can be added to reduce the acid content. These additives are safe, but Tala can often tell if a wine has been acidulated, and it’s yet another way that you can make up for mother earth’s unpredictability or a misstep in the vinification process. This detracts from the story they’re meant to tell and the experience we feel the consumer is meant to have.

Sugar – I know, it’s a bit unfair. The practice of adding sugar to wine, which is called chaptalization, is not allowed everywhere – it’s prohibited in California, for example, but permitted in Oregon. What is universally allowed, however, is the addition of grape concentrate. If a wine is a little low in alcohol, winemakers will sometimes add grape concentrate to the wine to give the yeast more sugar to convert to alcohol, and increase the ABV of the particular wine. While this isn’t inherently bad, it does detract from the varietal and terroir characteristics of the wine, since the juice being added definitely doesn’t come from the block/vineyard/vintage/pick of that particular wine being made. Part of the joy of wine is the temporal nature of it. It’s always changing, and is a representation of the time/place it was picked and fermented.

Water – Pure, crystal, clean water. Just as sugar products are added to wine to increase the alcohol level, water is sometimes added to bring that percentage down. Wine below 14% alcohol is subject to a lower tax rate, but more importantly lowering the alcohol helps wine to taste less “hot” if you picked too late, or your grapes lost their acid, or your wine is generally lacking in complexity. But we’re looking for wines that represent what they are, where they’re from, and who made them – adding water won’t harm you, sure, but it does take away from the wine that those grapes were going to produce that year, in that vineyard.

Roundup – Okay, winemakers are not topping up their barrels with Roundup, but this nasty pesticide, and many others, are completely permitted in vineyards the world over. This is a hot topic, just as it is in the organic food debate. Do pesticides necessarily make your wine (or your food) taste less good? Probably not. Is it irresponsible for the consumer and the planet to use such harsh and toxic chemicals on vineyards and farms? We think so. There are many organic pesticides that can be used, and we generally prefer an approach of pest management rather than blanket pest elimination.

 

Copper Sulfate  – This additive helps to remedy sulfurous and other unpleasant odors in a wine. It’s completely allowed in very small amounts, and we’re not saying drinking wine with copper sulfate added to it will kill you – it won’t. But copper sulfate is toxic and is used frequently as an anti-fungal and pesticide, with well-documented warnings and required protections. It’s yet another additive that offers a minor benefit at a major risk to the user, the planet, and the consumer, and detracts from the true character of the wine being made.

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We pride ourselves on our rigorous vetting of products that we offer to you, because we drink all of these wines too! Ever in search of wines that tell stories and winemakers that work responsibly and reasonably to produce those wines, we ask a lot of questions and aren’t afraid to get a little annoying and a lot detailed. If you’ve got questions, we’ve got answers. Don’t be afraid to ask, even if it’s not on the label.