Toasting with wine or champagne is one of our favorite ways to celebrate special occasions, and at Trash Panda, we approach alcohol the way we approach food — quality matters! The commercial wine industry is not unlike the processed food industry: most of the wines on shelves are mass-produced, and many vineyards use pesticides and additives like sugar in their winemaking.
Without an ingredients label, what is added to wine is a mystery, and legally, companies can add up to 76 different FDA-approved additives to wines including metals, toxic chemicals, added sugars, fish bladders, and more. Conventional wines also have significantly lower levels of resveratrol, the powerful antioxidant in wine.
To break things down and make it simple, we’ll walk you through 4 labels or certifications that are important to consider when choosing a quality wine. These are not mutually exclusive, and there is often overlap between the practices that vineyards use to make their wine. But by seeking out wine from one or more of these categories, you can know you’re consuming a wine that is more thoughtfully produced and better for your health.
Conventionally grown wine grapes are one of the most pesticide-treated crops, and Monsanto’s Roundup (aka glyphosate) is the most widely used herbicide in U.S. vineyards. There is evidence to suggest that glyphosate is carcinogenic and that overexposure can be harmful to human health.
“Made with organically grown grapes” means the wine is made from certified organic grapes. Though additional ingredients used in the winemaking process need not be organic, organic wines are produced without the use of pesticides or synthetic fertilizers, and sulfites must be limited. Although these wines can state on their labels to have been made with organic grapes, they cannot use the USDA’s organic seal.
“Certified USDA Organic” wines are grown with even more highly regulated organic farming principles, no artificial or chemical fertilizers, and contain no added sulfites.
Biodynamic farming, similar to organic farming, takes place without synthetic chemicals, and biodynamic wines cannot include any common manipulations such as yeast additions or acidity adjustments. These farming practices view the vineyard as an entire ecosystem, taking into account things such as astrological influences and lunar cycles and wine produced from these vineyards often contains more nutrients, making it one of the healthier wine varieties.
3. Dry Farmed
When a wine is “dry farmed,” it means the vines are grown without irrigation or added water, which encourages root systems to grow deep enough to find their own water and micro-nutrients, and to grab hold of the taste of the soil or terroir.
This is in contrast to commercial vineyards which use irrigation systems that drip water from tubes tied to the plant, encouraging faster growth. In these systems, the root systems stay near the surface, rendering them vulnerable to climatic events and resulting in the roots absorbing fewer nutrients from the soil, lessening the nutritional quality of the grapes.
Natural wine has gone through the bare minimum in terms of chemical and winemaker intervention. Starting with organic and/or biodynamically farmed grapes, winemakers pick the grapes by hand instead of with machines, rely on native yeast to set off fermentation (vs. added yeast) and add zero or the bare minimum of sulfites to aid in preservation. Natural wines are neither filtered nor fined, so they may contain particulates or appear cloudy. These are the gold standard in terms of quality!
Sustainability refers to a range of practices that are ecologically sound, economically viable and socially responsible. Many Sustainable farmers farm organically or biodynamically but have flexibility to choose what works best for their individual property. They may also focus on energy and water conservation, use of renewable resources, etc.
Two places you can find these types of wines are at Thrivemarket.com and Dryfarmwines.com. You can also ask your local wine shop which wines they carry from these categories, and at places like Trader Joe’s you can find them marked with a green label.
These higher quality wines provide the maximum amount of antioxidants while also supporting sustainable agriculture that’s better for our planet. Many people also find that they taste better due to the lack of chemical additives and the ability for the true character of the wine to shine through. Cheers to that!
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