One thing that I have always been very interested in was Egyptian, Greek and Roman mythology. Learning about the interactions and stories of the gods and their creations on earth has always been fascinating to me. A more recent definition of mythology often reveals these myths as “manifestations of psychological, cultural or societal truths, rather than as inaccurate historical accounts.” The wine business, like almost every industry, is full of stories and myths. Let me share a few with you.
Two years ago, a nuclear scientist conducted a fascinating experiment that led to the discovery of radioactive isotopes in California wines, caused by the 2011 Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster. In their experiment, researchers tested 18 bottles of California wines. They found increased levels of cesium-137 in wines produced after the Fukushima disaster. The levels of this isotope in Cabernet was more than double the levels found in Rosé, probably due to the increased skin contact. Low levels of radiation similar to those of the California wines have also been found in French wines from the vintages following Chernobyl.
Did I forget to say that the amount of radiation present in all the wine tested by their lab was too small to harm a person’s health? You are not going to turn into some sort of a Hulk after drinking few glasses.
Let’s address another, more recent wine myth. More than two years ago, a lawsuit was filed claiming that many wines contained arsenic in high dosages that could constitute a health hazard.
The wine industry quickly sprang into action to debunk this claim and after more than one hundred California wines were analyzed by independent researchers, the conclusion was that arsenic concentrations in the wine consumed did not pose a biologically significant hazard.
It turns out that the initial claim was using the EPA standard for drinking water. In short, you would have to drink twenty bottles of wine per day to reach the level at which the arsenic would be hazardous to your health. (I know our wines are good and it is tempting to drink that much, but no one is obviously capable of doing that!)
Even more recently, some wine companies are making claims about their wines that cannot be truly proven and justified. For example, have you heard about “clean” wines? The health and quality claims behind the “clean wine” moniker are truly myths. What I can tell you is that the technical definition of a clean wine in winemaking is a wine in which the turbidity – the cloudiness of a liquid – has been reduced to below 0.1 NTU, or Nephelometric Turbidity Unit (pardon my French) which basically means that the wine will be visually appealing. If you tell a producer of unfiltered Chardonnay that their wine is unclean, they are going to look at you in a very strange way! “Clean” is a buzz word used to attract consumers and it is an impossible claim to make.
I also often hear people talking about sulfur, wine and headaches. Those are indeed related, however the myth of a “no-headache wine” should never be used as a medical claim. Our wines do have less added sulfur on average when compared to U.S. standards, but there is a long list of contributors to health issues such as headaches. What you eat, how you sleep and your reaction to histamine are all factors that will affect your tolerance to wine and your susceptibility to possible headaches after drinking a few glasses.
In regards to the amount of chemicals used in the wine industry, I am not saying that there is never a risk that a vineyard worker or a winery will go heavy-handed on a treatment or an addition. I would never be able to make that claim. Growers, vineyard managers and those involved in winemaking are generally considered to be great stewards of the land; they want their vines to continue to be healthy, produce a great harvest and prosper.
A lot of wine articles you may find out there are often mythological in nature and they are to be taken with a grain of salt.