What’s in your bottle of wine?

Have you ever noticed that there is no list of ingredients on a bottle of wine? Almost every other food or drink product has that list, but industrial wine companies have successfully kept the ingredients in every bottle of wine secret. The only ingredient ever listed is sulfites–more on that later.

Why? Because they know that consumers of conventional wine would be shocked to know what they are drinking.

There are over 50 additives and industrial processes permitted in making conventional wine, not to mention the chemical herbicides, insecticides, fungicides, fertilizers and other treatments permitted in the vineyard. In one study done of vineyards in Piedmont, the only living thing found was a single spider that has the ability to survive in desert conditions.

Here’s what a conventional vineyard looks like…

Compared to a vineyard where none of those products is used…

When friends or clients say, “I can’t drink red wine.” Or “If I drink even a glass of wine, I get a headache.”, I ask them, “What wine are you drinking?” Then, I explain how grape growing and wine making has become an industrialized, global, marketing-driven business.

Around 5,000 BC in what is now Georgia between Russia and Turkey, winemaking began. Someone figured out that wild grapes could be domesticated and when harvested and left in a container they would become a seemingly “divine” beverage.

Both the process of fermentation and the effects of the alcoholic beverage seemed to be “of the gods”. The English word “divine” comes from the Latin “di vino” (of wine). For millennia, there was nothing in wine other than grapes, which had fermented with the yeasts naturally occurring on their skins.

The discovery of nitrogen fertilizers in the early 20th century began to change that. Next, came post-World War II industrialization in every area of food and beverage production. Now, using chemicals and processes, it is possible to make just about any grapes into wine with characteristics that match a certain marketing segment….in order to get a top point score/rating.

Luckily, a small (less than 5%) of wine is still made with “low intervention” methods. The grapes ferment with the natural yeasts on the skins and in the cellar. Nothing is added or subtracted except for maybe a small amount of sulfites at bottling (as contrasted with using larger amounts of sulfites before fermentation meaning that commercial yeasts have to be added because native yeasts are killed off).


Instead of producing a standardized, industrial product to sell to a given market segment, these are “identity”, “terroir”, “artisan” wines. They have personality and character. Listen to Elena Pantaleoni of La Stoppa talk about this kind of wine.

Each is a “story in a bottle”… a story of the native grape varieties, a given vintage year, the rain that fell, the sun that warmed the vineyard, the hands that pruned and picked the grapes, the generations of tradition that went before, the silent voyage in the cellar from fermentation to resting and waiting for Time to work its magic.

There are various methods to get to this kind of wine (organic, biodynamic, natural, etc.), but the key, uniting factor in true, “story in a bottle wine” is that the winegrower seeks to allow the grape variety, the place, the vintage year, and the history of that place to express themselves. Sometimes the wines are certified organic or biodynamic, but sometimes the truly interesting and “natural” wines are not certified at all.

Having traveled around Italy for ten years tasting wines and visiting vineyards, I have found that the most important thing in choosing great wines is knowing what is in the bottle: who grew the grapes and how they made the wine. My blog is filled with stories of these wines and winegrowers.

May, 2018

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Tags: biodynamic wine, Italian wine, natural Italian wine, natural wine, organic wine, Red wine, Sulfites, white wine
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