As I took the last sip of my $20 glass of wine, I could tell it was going to be one of those 2am wake-ups, with a skull-splitting headache.
For me, wine drinking had become a crap shoot. I never knew when my Friday night glass of wine might turn into a Saturday morning wine-over — leaving me feeling poisoned and spent. My relationship with wine had changed; and, as much as I loved the ritual of sipping vino, it didn’t always love me back. I decided to find out why.
I had always assumed the wine I was drinking was made from grapes and yeast and was finished in stainless steel tanks or oak casks. Every wine tour I ever took followed that wine-making script as they led us through their charming wine caves; showing the picture perfect vineyards and curating a memorable wine-tasting experience.
My romantic assumptions about growing grapes and winemaking were a part of my enjoyment of wine but my five-pound wine waist and random headaches were not! This is what I learned:
1) Grapes are dirty! Unless a wine is certified organic, biodynamic or natural, it is made from commercial grapes. Commercial grapes are on the Environmental Working Groups (ewg.org) Dirty Dozen List. This means they are grown with more pesticides, fungicides, fertilizers, and chemicals than most other produce. It is in your best interest to buy organic. All this leads to most commercial wine starting with dirty juice.
2) Commercial grape harvesting is done by machines. Machines can’t tell if grapes are ripe, rotten, or if they have bugs on them. They all get thrown in together, pressed, and strained into juice that will be turned into wine. Enter the extensive chemical tool kit of additives that are used by a number of winemakers to make dirty juice into delicious wine.
3) Grapes vary from vine to vine and harvest to harvest, so to achieve sameness winemakers use chemicals and additives. Additives such as sugar, mega-purple to enhance flavor and color, and mist of oak chips to simulate the flavor of barrel aging. The additives list is long and scary, there are over 250 chemicals, additives, and pesticides allowed to be included in wine!
4)Buying wine is tricky business. I have often found myself staring at a rack of wine trying to decide what to buy. I might like a particular varietal, have had the wine before, or recall someone telling me about it. The real problem is there is nothing on a wine label that tells you what is actually in it. That’s right; while the new label on most food products has to show added sugar and every single ingredient, nothing on a bottle of wine tells you if it was made using dried swim bladders of fish or contains as much added sugar as a jelly donut.
5)Organic wine can still contain gross stuff you don’t want in your wine glass. Organic wine is made with organically grown grapes, but it can still contain animal products, added sugar, gluten and other things you don’t want to be sipping. Organic wine only certifies that the grapes are grown organically, winemakers can still do “wine magic” and the consumer is kept in the dark.
That’s not to say all winemakers are trying to pull a fast one; but because wine is under ATF oversight (alcohol, tobacco and firearms) it has a different labeling system than food. Wine is not required to have an ingredient list. So, if you don’t want added-sugar, ferrocyanide and chemical fertilizers in your wine, you are going to have to do some sleuthing. The good news is there are several types of wine that are better for you and better for the planet.
Organic Wines: The definition of organic wine varies from country to country. The primary difference is that the grapes in organic wine must be grown organically. The term does not mean the entire winemaking process is organic. Organic wines may contain additives to manipulate the wine, so you’ll need to do a little more research on the winery and its winemaking process.
Biodynamic Wines: Organic methods are used to both grow the grapes and make the wine. Biodynamic wine production sees the vineyard as an ecological microcosm and incorporates various esoteric practices and mythical beliefs into the process.
Natural Wines: Natural winemakers use organic or biodynamic grapes to make their wines. The natural winemaking aesthetic emphasizes using the least amount of manipulation and additives in crafting the wine. Natural Wines are made without adding or subtracting anything in the winemaking process.
I didn’t want to break up with wine, and now I don’t have to. Natural wine means I can enjoy my wine and not worry about added sugar, chemicals, sulfur, cultured yeasts, weird filtering agents, and other things that might make me feel lousy and fat.
Make your next bottle of wine clean and green, your body will thank you.
Kristen Coffield is an author, educator and culinary disruptor. Visit her at for information to help you live younger longer, and better.