By Sylvaine Novel
First of all, let’s set things clear, I am neither a doctor nor a nutritionist. For health reasons I have spent a lot of time researching in the domain of nutrition in the past year. Real food has always been close to my heart. My mum and both grannies always had a vege garden and some fruit trees, so I grew up eating a lot of home grown food. All of what you are about to read is based on my own research and understanding. My intention here is not to persuade you to change the way you eat or live but to open up a discussion on what place do natural wines have in our lifestyle choices.
Organic, wholefoods are nothing new. If anything, it’s simply what food used to be. But today it seems to be a fast growing movement, getting so big in fact that supermarkets are getting on board and big companies are cleverly using it in their marketing strategies, often at our (the consumers) expense.
Whether what you are looking for is simply organically grown food, gluten free or dairy free products, a vegetarian or Paleo diet, superfoods, supplements… It is clear that we are getting more aware that what we eat directly affects how we feel and how healthy we are as human beings. Consequently, more people are trying to make the right choice on what to put on their plate.
So, what about wine? Do organic/natural wines have a place in a healthy lifestyle?
Are those same people shopping at the health store and ordering their box of organic veges buying organic/natural wines? Or does wine answer to different rules? After all, wine is not vital. Wine is recreational. And isn’t alcohol toxic to our systems anyway? Why bother? Let’s save our bucks and buy any wine that suits our budget regardless of how it has been produced.
Well, I think yes, organically grown and naturally made wines should be considered too if you care about what goes into your body.
Let’s take a step back. What are organic and whole foods? Or can we call it 'natural' food/ real food? Humm...
Organic food is grown without the use of harmful fertilisers and synthetic pesticides, GMO plants, growth hormones (meat), and usually not processed using irradiation, industrial solvents or synthetic food additives. Regulations vary from country to country but the idea is to reduce, if not eliminate, potentially dangerous products in the growing and the processing of these foods. Whole foods are foods which are unprocessed and unrefined, or processed and refined as little as possible, before being consumed. Think of whole fruit and vegetables, natural nuts, unpolished grains and beans, meats, non-homogenised dairy products, muscovado sugar...the list goes on.
Looking at these 2 definitions, it is clear that not all organic food is also a ‘whole’ food, nor all whole foods are organic. We can say that organically farmed products oppose conventionally farmed ones. And whole foods oppose manufactured/processed foods. Your healthiest option would be organic, whole foods in my opinion.
Now I hear you say: Why? What’s wrong with processed food?Not all processed food is bad, but the most processed and refined, the less nutrients and vitamins, the less 'life' is left in them. Do you expect our body to function well eating ‘dead’ food?
Off course, some processing is ok, think sausages, flour, cheese, yoghurt, dried fruits... The idea is to stay as close as possible to the starting product and avoid the excessive amounts of sugar, salt and bad fats often associated with heavily processed food. That applies to organic food too indeed. You can make crisps from organically grown potatoes, using organic sunflower oil and organic salt. It doesn’t make it a healthy snack!
Now, let’s get back to WINE..
As with our food, we have some wines made from conventionally grown grapes, machine harvested, fermented with commercial selected yeast, and to which a lot of ‘modern’ winemaking techniques are applied to, before they are bottled and shipped to your supermarket or liquor store. Every time you’ll buy a bottle of a one particular wine you are pretty much guaranteed it will taste the same or similar enough to the previous or next bottle of the same wine. Some of these wines can be open for a good while and not spoil. I’ve had a bottle of such wines which I never finished. After a month in my fridge I expected to find some vinegar. Nope! It has lost most of its fruit flavours but was barely oxidised and not spoiled! If you are the type to enjoy a small glass of wine every now and then but can’t afford to waste the rest of the bottle after 4 days, well that sort of wine comes in pretty handy. But it kind of says something about the wine itself too. There are a lot of techniques and products available to winemakers to play with nowadays. If wine labels had to display a list of ingredients, some of them would show a list as long as this paragraph (and that wouldn’t even include the different processing techniques applied to the wine). For a snapshot of what is allowed in wine production in NZ, check out the poster from Budburst 2016 below. These are your 'manufactured’ wines!
At the other extreme of winemaking you’ll find the ‘natural’ wines. Those wines are usually made from organically or biodynamically grown grapes. If not, it’s probably because the winemaker doesn’t own his own vineyard, depends on grape growers and hasn’t manage to find organically grown vineyards or convinced his growers to switch viticulture methods yet. Here the grapes will be carefully selected and sorted, the fermentation will start naturally with the wild yeasts and the ferments pretty much left to do their job, under a watchful eye but with minimum manipulation or intervention. The wines might go through a coarse filtration and small addition of sulfur dioxide at bottling and that’s it! You have some fermented grape juice which may be a bit cloudy, show some sediments after a while in bottle and may taste quite different from a bottle to another. Because: it’s alive! And living things change! Those wines are not standardised and can be a bit more fragile (spoil easily) but they also offer a unique experience every time you open a new bottle!
The 2 examples above are at the extremes. There are a lot of variants in between. Some wines may be organic with a lot of manipulation, some may be grown in a sustainable way with careful handling in the winery. Every combination is possible. Just as with our food.
But I’m asking: does it matter, for your health’s sake, which type of wine you drink? Do natural wines have a place in a healthy lifestyle? Or is it just a fad? Hippie, wacky stuff?
I think you know my point of view on the subject. What’s yours?