Are you a regular wine drinker? Do you know what actually goes into commercially produced wine?
So, here to enlighten us on this subject is Todd White.
Todd White is deeply passionate about bringing people together to share love, laughter, and natural wine. He’s been an entrepreneur since he was 17 years old and has been in the wine business for 15 years.
He’s dedicated his life to educating and helping people make better choices around food, nutrition, and consuming alcohol. As the founder and CEO of Dry Farm Wines, and his work as a writer, speaker, and leader in the organic natural wine and health movements, Todd has widely educated communities on conscious consumption (I love this term!).
In this episode, Todd elevates our understanding of the wine-making industry and exposes some harmful chemicals used and farming practices that is unique here in the United States. These facts are alarming, and I want us to be informed.
You are listening to the Drink Less Lifestyle podcast with Dr. Sherry Price, episode number 127.
Welcome to Drink Less Lifestyle, a podcast for successful women who want to change their relationship with alcohol. If you want to drink less, feel healthier and start loving life again you’re in the right place. Please remember that the information in this podcast does not constitute medical advice. Now, here’s your host, Dr. Sherry Price.
Well, hello my beautiful friends. Today I have a special guest on the podcast and his name is Todd White. Now, before I go and introduce you to him I just have to tell you that I had heard him speak on a different podcast and I was blown away by what he has learned through starting his own company and what he has exposed about the winemaking industry. So, Todd White is deeply passionate about bringing people together to share love, laughter and natural wine. And we do talk a lot about natural wine and his company on this podcast.
He’s been an entrepreneur since he was 17 years old with 15 years in the wine business. Todd has dedicated his life to educating and helping people make better choices around food, nutrition and consuming alcohol. As the founder of Dry Farm Wines, a writer, a speaker and a leader in the organic natural wine and health movements, Todd has widely educated communities on conscious consumption. So we are going to be talking about natural wines in this episode.
But what I really want you to listen to is just the breadth of knowledge that he brings to, of how commercial wines are made in this country. And all of the things that I didn’t know that went into wine that are actually not good for us and potentially worse than the alcohol itself. You’ll hear him talk about one compound that could be an additive in our wines that’s called dimethyl dicarbonate.
As you listen to this podcast I really want you to tune in and listen to what exactly are we consuming with a bottle of wine. And we don’t even know because there’s no label and no full disclosure and no full transparency by big alcohol and the wine industry. So if nothing more, please listen to this and you’ll see in the interview I just let Todd talk. He is a wealth of knowledge and he beautifully describes how wines are made, what goes into it, what we don’t know about it, what he’s found in his research, how he’s investigated these practices.
And I truly believe everybody should know about this who consumes wine. I think this podcast will blow your mind. So grab a pen and paper my friends, you are going to want to take notes. He exposes the wine industry in a beautiful way and allow this information to give you pause and change your drinking habits for good. So without further ado let’s get into the podcast with Todd White.
Sherry: Hi, Todd, welcome to the podcast. I am super excited to have our discussion today around wine and consciously choosing to drink and all of the knowledge that you have about the wine industry. So I thought to get us started, I would love to know how you got into this and why you’re so passionate about educating people about the wine industry.
Todd: We have a quite successful business helping people drink healthier wines and think about what they’re drinking, be more conscious about their consumption. But it didn’t start off as a business. It really started off as my personal journey to drink in a healthier way. And so I haven’t drank spirits for 25 years. And I’ve been drinking wine for a really long time. I started drinking wine, I first tasted wine when I was nine years old. So I’ve been a lifelong wine aficionado.
And through my 20s and 30s and up to about 40 or so I also drank spirits. But I started to question, in my 40s I started to question the rationale of my relationship with alcohol. I didn’t want to stop drinking although I did at one point about seven or eight years ago. And so as a part of that journey I was, you know, I’m a biohacker so I think carefully about everything I consume. And when I say consume I’m talking about from media to the thoughts of consumption to the type of food that I consume to the type of beverages that I drink.
I don’t eat anything out of a package or anything that’s processed generally speaking. There might be the glorious exception when I’m in a hotel room when I might get into something but it’s very unusual. I think of myself as a wellness and longevity lifestyle architect. So I’m constantly optimizing for wellness and longevity. I have a number of modalities that I practice including daily intermittent fasting of 22 hours. I only eat once per day. I’ve eaten once per day for seven years.
I’ve been on a ketogenic diet for eight years. I have practiced calorie restriction. I live largely a sugar free life, don’t eat inorganic foods generally speaking. Occasionally I eat things off program but it’s quite unusual. So all of this sort of obsession with, you know, in my 40s I started preparing for 60. I’m now 62 and I’m thinking about preparing for 90. And so when I think about these kinds of chunks of time they used to be longer windows, now I take it into kind of 10 year windows.
So I look at my current situation, I say, “Well, eight years until I’m 70.” And that’s pretty shocking because I look a lot younger than that. And I certainly behave a lot younger than that. But this is the reality when I tell people I’m eight years away from being 70. I have to really think about that and what the implications of that mean. So I think about optimizing life for wellness and longevity in a number of ways. But how I got started down this path, I was trying to find a healthier way to drink.
And a healthier way for me to experience alcohol and I generally call this conscious consumption. So I’m concerned about what I’m drinking, what’s in it and how it’s going to affect me and my biological and more importantly, neurological aging. So as I think about my brain health I think a lot about drinking. And one of the things that surprised a lot of people, we’re going to talk about the wine industry because I only sell, drink and promote low alcohol sugar free natural wines and I’m going to tell you why and what’s wrong with conventional wines.
But before we go there I want to again touch base on this alcohol issue because I think there were times that I had a tenuous relationship with alcohol throughout my life during my 20s and 30s. And probably drank in an unhealthy way. And speaking of health and drinking, the thing that surprises most people the most of anything that comes out of my mouth because I’m going to tell you some pretty shocking things about wine and about the wine industry.
But I think what surprises most people is when they hear me say that I believe that alcohol is a very dangerous neurotoxin. Some people shouldn’t drink at all. If you don’t drink now I’m not suggesting that you start. And ethyl alcohol is probably not healthy for humans in any amount. And my life might even be more enhanced from a health and wellness point of view if I just stopped drinking altogether. But you see the thing is that’s not going to happen because I love drinking wine. I love getting high from wine.
I love the community around wine. I love food and wine together. Me having an evening meal without wine feels naked. It’s just not for me. I love drinking wine. And if you love drinking wine and you’re a regular wine drinker I can help you the most because regular wine drinkers are the ones who need my help the most because they consume the most. And so while I think it’s dangerous and probably not healthy at all, one thing it does do that is healthy is it creates a lot of joy in my life.
And so I really love the experience and the spirituality that is pure natural wine. The wine that’s still alive, that I just love to drink and share with my friends. And I love the euphoria, getting high with my friends. It’s just something I really like. And so even though I believe inherently it probably does nothing to enhance my biological health. It certainly enhances my happiness factor. And I think a key component of a life well lived, living well by design is having a lot of joy in your life. And wine is one of these things that brings me joy.
So in spite of the fact that I think it’s probably not great for me overall, I drink it anyway and I’m going to continue to drink it. But what I’m drinking is something that I’ve consciously considered. So that’s how I think about alcohol but let’s talk about the wine industry because people generally think that wine is the healthiest choice. And we’ll get to spirits in a second because there are two there and one in particular that gets a lot of credit for being a bio hacked kind of approach or a conscious approach to drinking an additive free alcohol which is the spirit, tequila.
So tequila and vodka but mainly tequila is thought to be the healthier spirit. And I don’t disagree with that. The problem I have with tequila is it’s 45% alcohol. And so I don’t want to drink it because the dose of alcohol is too high and intense for me both from a health point of view and a pleasure point of view. I want something with a little bit more gentle of a ride. And so for me and historically wines, in particularly red wine, are thought to be the healthier choice of drinks where alcohol is concerned.
Sherry: Right, polyphenols, resveratrol.
Todd: Sure. And so I think and I just happen to love wine and enjoy wine but I didn’t enjoy the way wine was making me feel. And so as I became more optimized in my diet and consumable behavior, I just felt that wine was making me feel worse and worse. And what I didn’t know and what most people don’t know unless they’ve heard me speak about this, what most people don’t know is what’s really in wine.
So before we identify the problem of how it got there and how we got here with wines that you see in the store, let’s talk about what’s really in wine. Because you see these big wine companies would want you to think that it’s fermented grape juice but that’s simply not true. So let’s start with farming. 90% of wines in the United States are made in California. In California only just over 4% of vineyards are organic.
So 96% of all grape farming is industrial with toxic chemicals, pesticides and herbicides. Why is that important? Because according to Time Magazine, and I’m going to cite a lot of different authorities and press outlets and government documents in our talk today because what I want you to understand, you can see all this on our website. And we can send it to you for your show notes. What I want you to understand is that I’m not making any of this up. And it’s all very verifiable by a simple Google search.
Everything I’m going to tell you today is not Todd’s opinion, it is a small, hard cold fact that you can easily independently verify. It’s easy to go to our website and verify it because all of the links are already there, you don’t have to do any work. But if you just want to go to Google you can do that. So back to Time Magazine, why this industrial farming, this chemical, pesticide and herbicide farming is so dangerous is that Time Magazine has what they call the dirty dozen of fruits and vegetables.
And that dirty dozen of fruits and vegetables are the amount of residual and retained toxins of herbicides and pesticides that are actually, are retained within the fruit or vegetable. Well, grapes are number six in the retention of these toxins of their dirty dozen. And so when you’re drinking this chemically farmed fruit, which is 96% of all the fruit grown, in the world it’s actually 95%. It’s 96% of the fruit grown in California. You are ingesting the residual amount of these chemicals.
Now, the wine industry has had the same response to this repeatedly about glyphosate in wine and also in a lawsuit that was brought in 2014 against 85 wine companies in California where arsenic was found to exist in wine at five times, 500% more than the EPA laws in drinking water. Now, the wine industry’s response has been very consistent to these chemical issues in wine. And that has been that we’re following all state and federal regulations of disclosure which there are none.
And so their response is, “We’re following the law as it is put out to us.” And the problem here is that there’s 76 legal additives approved for the use in wine. Now, why don’t you know about these 76 additives? And I’m going to tell you about them in a moment but why don’t you know about them? Because the wine industry has successfully lobbied in Washington DC where money is exchanged for special favors to keep contents labeling off of wine bottles. So wine is the only major food product without a contents label.
The industry continues even today to fight to keep contents labeling and nutritional information off of wine. I don’t drink anything, any consumable that I can’t see how much sugar’s in it because I want to live a sugar free lifestyle largely. I think sugar is the most widely addictive and abused drug on the planet and a very dangerous one. And again something we have to be very conscious about our consumption of.
Sherry: Yeah. And one that’s making us very sick.
Todd: I think elevated blood glucose and the hyper production of insulin is the leading contributor to most chronic illnesses.
Todd: So I’m not trying to raise my blood glucose by having a glass of wine. But back to these 76 additives that are approved by the TTB. And this is another interesting part of the conspiracy. The TTB is the Trade and Tax Bureau, not the FDA. So for all other food consumable products the FDA regulates what goes in and is approved for the use in consumables, not true for wine. Wine is regulated by a taxing authority, not a health authority. And the taxing authority’s primary goal is not to help keep you healthy, it is to generate more tax through the sale of alcohol.
So that’s one of the problems. So we don’t have proper oversight and the people lobbying for this want to actually sell more alcohol. So these 76 additives which you don’t know about because there’s no contents label and no discussion and no requirement to disclose them, nor the nutritional information. And as I mentioned, the wine industry and their lobbyist, and on their lobbyist website today clearly state that they are opposed to any additional disclosure requirements. And the primary reason they give for that disclosure is not enough real estate on the wine label to tell you.
Now, the 76 additives that are legally approved just to tell you a little bit about them. Some of them are natural by the way but many of them are not. So what we did is we said, “Well, what are these additives?” Because most of them you can’t even pronounce, you’ve never heard of, same thing you find in processed food labels.
Well, if you take these 76 additives and you do an analysis of them here’s what you come up with from both the National Institutes of Health which is a government agency. And more specifically their division called Pub Cam which gives you classifications of all chemicals in the United States and the World Health Organization here is what you learn about these additives that are pretty shocking. And again everything I’m telling you is not my opinion, it’s not marketing spin, this is just fact.
Well, first of all two of them are acute toxins and the most dangerous of the acute toxins is called dimethyl dicarbonate. And I’ll come back to that in a moment. So two are acute toxin. Now, acute toxin has a very specific clinical definition. And the clinical definition of an acute toxin is that a single dose or multiple dioses within a 24 hour period may cause severe health consequences or even death. That is the clinical definition of an acute toxin.
12 of these additives are classified by the National Institute of Health as health hazards. Four of these additives are derived from six animal organs. And the reason that might be important to you is if you’re vegan or you care about animal rights then you don’t want to ingest or encourage the use of these four additives that are derived from six different animal organs including pig liver and cow stomach, fish bladders, pig pancreas.
Now, eight of these additives are derived from black mold substances that are known to be mycotoxins. And one of them is derived from ochratoxin A which is a known carcinogenic. We can talk further about mold while we’re here on the mold topic and that ochratoxin A is known to be found in wines, it gets in there a number of different ways. In Europe and in all of our wines our wines are tested for ochratoxin A. We also do lab testing on a number of other compounds and substances, chemicals.
But all of our wines are tested for ochratoxin A. And in the EU, ochratoxin A, mycotoxin testing is mandatory on all wines. And they have a limit of two parts per billion of mycotoxin that is allowed in wine. And to give you an example of how restrictive that is, in the EU it’s 10 parts for billion for coffee. So it’s much more restrictive for wine. In the United States mycotoxin testing or limits on mycotoxins, ochratoxin A do not exist at all. So US wines are never tested unless they’re exported to Europe where the testing is required.
So this is what’s happening in wine, also alcohol levels in wine have been steadily increasing over the last few decades. 30 years ago most wines in the United States were around 12 or 12½%. Today they’re almost at 15% on average. So we think alcohol is poisonous and while I like to get high off of alcohol I want to do it in a small, gentler way. I want to stay on the right side of that cognitive order. And that’s not to say that occasionally I’m not over served to some glorious exception.
But generally speaking I try to approach in this very conscious way not to get on the other side of this cognitive divide between being high and too high. But in just the right amount it’s just the perfect environment for me. If I’m over served or allow myself to drink too much, which happens on occasion but it’s an occupational hazard of being in the wine business then these glorious moments can happen.
So how did we get here? How did this happen? Well, in the financial industry, in private equity, they call it a rollup, a consolidation of the industry. So here’s the problem. The same thing that happened in the food industry has happened in the wine industry, or it’s happened very quietly. So in the food industry you basically have nine or 10 companies who manufacture most all the food in this country. In the wine industry you’ve got exactly the same situation although it’s not talked about and known in the wine industry.
So let me give you some shocking facts about these huge multibillion dollar conglomerates who make most of the wine in this country in factories located in central California in the wide use of these chemicals and additives. And I’ll get back to the most dangerous one in a moment called dimethyl dicarbonate. The top three wine companies in the United States make nearly 60% of all US wines. And the top 25 companies make 90% of all wine.
So when you go in the grocery store and you see hundreds of thousands of bottles lined up, most of those wines are made by just a handful of companies and they’re made in giant factories, I mean multiple football fields big and what we call tank farms. And these are huge, massive tanks that hold wine during the fermentation period. So these companies are not trying to farm wine healthier or better. They’re trying to farm wine cheaper and faster.
They’re not trying to make wine healthier or better. They’re trying to make it cheaper and faster and at scale. So this is about money and greed. Now, the wines that I drink and sell are grown on small family farms. You can’t produce natural wine in large scale and I’ll tell you why. Let me define for you what a natural wine is. Now, Dry Farm Wines has a certification that’s over and beyond just being natural. We have a number of other health related criteria that we require natural wines to meet. So not all natural wines meet our criteria.
And also the wine’s got to be delicious. If it’s not delicious I don’t care what it’s made out of. I only want to drink things that are delicious. So a natural wine while it has no international certification at the moment there is an international understanding of what the term natural wine means. Now, the term natural wine is very confusing to consumers. People say, “What do you do?” “Well, I’m an expert on natural wine, I drink and sell natural wine.” And they’re like, “Well, aren’t all wines natural?” And for the reasons I’ve already described to you they’re not.
But the natural wine term has an international understanding of exactly what that means inside the wine world. It has three legs to the stool. So a natural wine is always organically or biodynamically grown, chemical free farming, always organic or biodynamic. Biodynamic is an advanced prescriptive form of organic farming. Number two, and this is why you can’t make it in large volumes is two and three. You can organically farm in all of the volume you want. It’s harder and it’s more expensive but that’s not what keeps natural wine growers from making wine in larger scale.
It’s the next two reasons, number two, natural wines are always fermented with wild native yeast that are found present on the skin of the grape at the time of harvest. So all wine grapes in the world at the time of harvest have a white waxy film on the skin of the grape. That is actually yeast that has been collected naturally through the air native to the vineyard where the grape was grown. The problem with this yeast, it is very temperamental and it needs to be coddled.
And it’s not friendly to making wine in large volume so conventional and commercial winemakers use a GMO lab cultured yeast which has been modified to be sturdy, easy to work with and you can make wine in any volume you want. In addition to these yeast are also modified to have different flavor profiles. So if you want to have your chardonnay grown in California taste like it has some citrus pineapple notes for it, they have a yeast for that.
You may know from the sourdough baking craze during the pandemic that yeast impart different flavors and characters. So you can engineer yeast to have any kind of flavor you want to impart different notes, banana, pineapple, whatever you want they have a yeast for it. Those are genetically modified lab cultured yeast, that’s what’s used to make all that wine you see in the grocery store, in these factories.
Now, these big wine companies, these huge conglomerates. They don’t tell you who they are. They have to add thousands of brands and labels to confuse you to think you’re drinking from a farmhouse or chateau when in fact you are very likely drinking from or more often than not drinking from these massive factories. There is even a fitness wine out there that I just sent a photograph of the factory near Fresno where it’s made. I just sent a photograph out to my team today. I was like, “This is where this fitness wine is made in this giant factory.”
But they want to package it up in a way that kind of confuse you. So these wine companies have to add thousands of brands and labels or SKUs as it would be known in the wine industry. And they don’t have their name on it. They’ve got some cute farm name something or other. And they don’t tell you who they are. Again there’s no disclosure, no requirements, no transparency around any of this.
And number three, in addition, so first you’ve got organic farming, native yeast fermentation and number three, they’re additive free. So these toxins like dimethyl dicarbonate that I told you I’d come back to are not contained in natural wines. Dimethyl dicarbonate is the most toxic of all the toxins that are allowed in wine making, forget about the pig pancreas. This is a very serious and toxic chemical that will kill you. It has to be applied by very specifically trained and licensed applicators, they’re in hazmat suits.
If you were to drink the wine within 24 hours of application, very likely kill you. This dimethyl dicarbonate is used to treat tens of millions of gallons of wine. The problem is you don’t know if your wine has it or not because again there’s no disclosure requirement and labeling. Dimethyl dicarbonate is used to sterilize wine most specifically to a bacteria known as Brettanomyces.
Brettanomyces is what’s known as a classic wine fault. It’s created by a bacteria that lives in many wine cellars. Once your cellar has Brettanomyces in it it’s very difficult to get out of it. So this chemical is used to treat this bacterial fault by sterilizing the wine and killing the bacteria. The bacteria creates an off-putting aromatic taste to the wine. And so when you’re making wine in large volumes and you have this fault it’s very expensive if you can’t get rid of it.
So this dimethyl dicarbonate is used to kill and sterilize this bacteria. It’s the number one toxin that is approved for winemaking. So natural wines don’t have any of these additives or chemical adjustments which is another reason why you can’t make it in large volumes. The smaller the volume of wine you make the more control you have over these faults. The more control you have over the fermentation process, the bigger the exposure the less control you have without the use of these chemicals in addition to treatments.
So that’s kind of how we got here. What’s wrong with wine. Why natural wine solves that. Why I only drink and sell natural wine. I don’t drink conventional wines. If given the choice of not being able to drink a natural wine, I just don’t drink at all or I drink tequila with soda and a squeeze of lime if I most absolutely had to drink for some reason, if I’m with a bunch of people who are boring. I’ll often say, “I drink to make other people interesting.”
And so I’m not the guy who likes to go to cocktail parties and have chatter. I don’t like small talk. I’d rather be at a dinner table with people who want to talk about interesting ideas and about global events and about doing things that make the world a better place. So cocktail chatter is not really my thing. So sometimes I have to drink just to make other people tolerable in these social environments.
So anyway that’s a little bit sort of, of what’s wrong with wine and how we got here and what the option is if you want to drink. The problem is natural wines are not accessible to most people. So if you live in New York you will have access to natural wine stores or San Francisco or Los Angeles. But I live in Miami Beach part-time in the wintertime and access to natural wine even here in Miami is very, very limited. Just a tiny, tiny amount. And no wine list has natural wine on it here.
So it’s very difficult to find natural wines. We’re the largest purveyor of natural wines in the world. Our audience is people who are conscious about what they consume. Our audience are people who care about what they eat and once they get educated and they have the experience of drinking our wines they care about what they drink and they know that they feel better by drinking our wines. And they feel better by lowering the alcohol amount in their wines.
If you drink enough alcohol, I don’t care what substance it comes from, you’re going to feel bad. But what you don’t experience with natural wines are all the other negative remnants of these additives and toxins that are in wine. So alcohol to alcohol, if you drink enough alcohol you’re going to get dehydrated and you’re likely to suffer from some ill feelings.
But wake up in the middle of the night, generally spurred on by either dehydration or the need to go to the bathroom from consuming too many liquids, which that waking up in the middle of the night is that many people suffer from, the monkey mind then they can’t go back to sleep. Because they’re thinking about some regret of the past or some anxiety of the future. And so waking up in the middle of the night has other negative remnants unassociated with the alcohol itself for many people.
And so when I think about drinking I think about conscious consumption and being conscious about all of the things that I’ve mentioned.
Sherry: Yeah, I love that term, conscious consumption. I’m all about mindful drinking. I have called it just being intentional with what I put in my body similar to you. I’m so excited to have you here because talking about this industry I’ve learned so much from your website. I’ve also tried your wines which I’d love to talk about that as well. And just really pulling back the curtain on how much we don’t know what’s in that bottle.
I mean I’m often wanting to do less sugar in my diet as well and you just don’t know how much sugar you’re getting from these wines which is different than the wines that come from Dry Farm Wines. And that leads me to my next question. I learned so much about dry farming and I’d love for you to explain the irrigation, the water that’s retained and the grapes. As I was preparing for this interview with you, I’d really love for you to talk to my listeners about dry farming versus irrigation and the difference and the harms.
Todd: Well, we could go down a 20 or 30 minute worm hole on irrigation. But let’s just cover a couple of basic points about it. First of all it saves a lot of water. So we’re in a global drought. It’s never been necessary to irrigate a grape farm. Grapes have been grown and wine has been made for over 10,000 years. And irrigation didn’t come to grape farming until the 1970s. irrigation is primarily practiced in the United States. And it’s worth noting, we don’t sell any domestic wine. So our wines primarily come from Europe where Europeans have been making wine for over 3,000 years.
And Europeans know what we know is that to irrigate a grapevine significantly impacts the quality of the fruit. And the quality of the fruit is going to determine the quality of the wine. So less than 1% of US vineyards are dry farmed. The name of my company Dry Farm Wines. That means that all wines are farmed without irrigation. Now, just on the farms that we work with around the world, not using irrigation in the 45,000 hectares, or about 90,000 acres that some 1,000 farms that we work with farm. It saves 1.4 billion gallons of water a year not to irrigate these vineyards.
Now, for us that fact in and of itself is reason enough to not irrigate. In addition to that polyphenols, like resveratrol that you mentioned, polyphenols are also lower in irrigated vines. And they are lower in non-organic vines. So because of hormesis as a vine struggles it creates more of these polyphenols to protect itself. Which is why grapevines are also planted close to each other, it’s again to encourage this hormesis for this struggle that the vine goes through.
Which is why the same thing that hillside fruit is revered over valley floor fruit because the vine is more stressed on a hillside than it is on a flat surface. But irrigation, when you irrigate a grapevine the root of the vine at maturity is about three feet in diameter and it’s about three feet deep because it gets all of its nutrients and water from a little tube just above the trunk. It’s also where it gets its nutrient in the way of fertilizer or nitrogen.
And where an irrigated grapevine may have root spans that can span 20 to 40 feet because this vine is in constant struggle to find both nutrient and moisture, water. And it does so with these tiny capillary hairlike roots that break apart little, tiny pieces of soil and stone minerals which is why you find that there’s a much more, which we think is a desirable trait, you find that the minerality of our wines is just more present than in irrigated wine because the vine has ingested more of these minerals as it went about its search for nutrient. That’s how it feeds itself.
The vine doesn’t care anything about making wine. The vine wants to make the very best fruit it can make hoping that the bird will pick its fruit to propagate its seed. So the vine is very intelligent in this way. And so irrigation interrupts that process. Irrigation just simply makes for cheaper, easier and faster farming. It also creates this – we’ll wrap it up on why do you irrigate? Well, it’s faster, it’s easier and it’s cheaper. But not only that, importantly, irrigation and nitrogen create a bigger cluster so the yield is higher.
And it might not surprise you common sense will tell you that when you irrigate a grapevine and you fill the berry full of water then guess what, the fruit weighs more. Well, fruit’s sold by the ton in the wine world. So the more it weighs the more it’s worth. Now, another problem with irrigation is that when the grape berry is filled with water, again this is common sense, when you have a grape berry that’s filled with water you have to pick that berry at higher sugar in order to develop proper phenolic flavor.
Now, why is that important? Because when you ferment wine, which is when yeast is inoculated with sugar and the yeast activates and the yeast starts eating the sugar the byproduct of that is carbon dioxide and ethanol alcohol. That’s how you make wine. Well, the higher you pick the sugar level which is known as brix in the wine industry or in the fruit business. You can measure brix in the field. They have a small device for that.
Now, the more water that’s in the berry the higher the sugar content which seems to make sense, it’s common sense. If it’s filled with a bunch of water it’s going to have a diluted flavor until it gets riper. And then the phenolic flavor will be more developed. So the higher the sugar or brix at the time of harvest is going to correlate with the amount of alcohol that the wine contains at the end of the fermentation. Why? Because there’s more sugar for the yeast to eat. The more sugar there is to eat the higher the corresponding alcohol becomes.
Now, the wine industry doesn’t mind this because the wine industry likes alcohol. The conventional wine industry loves alcohol and loves higher alcohol and there’s a number of reasons for that. One, alcohol is addictive and alcohol is also what I call a domino drug. So the more you drink it, the faster you drink it, the more likely you are to drink more of it. You’ve probably had this experience. So it’s a slippery slope. I, on the other hand, want a smaller, lower dose of alcohol. And I don’t like to have one glass of wine or two glasses, I want to maybe have four or five.
So I drink, usually the wines I drink are around 9 or 10% alcohol. That’s just my choice. I like the taste of it better. It’s friendlier with food and I can drink more of it without having negative impact. Also alcohol adds density to wine. It makes wine bigger and bolder. Now, Americans because of their dead palate from eating too much processed food and sugar, their palate has been suppressed and so they actually like something that’s sweeter, denser, bigger and bolder. And so alcohol adds density to wine.
So there is a lot of reasons why the conventional wine industry likes alcohol for all the reasons I don’t like it, because my palate isn’t suppressed like that. Now, you can bring your palate back alive. When you stop eating processed foods and you stop eating sugar and you start eating real wholefoods and you stop drinking sugar. You actually become much more attuned to the taste of things and you actually want to eat lighter tasting things. You don’t want that same heaviness.
And our customers, that’s what they like about the taste of our wine is that it’s lighter and fresher because it’s still living, it’s still a living organism. And I’m going to wrap up on this because I know we’re coming up on time. But natural wines have not been sterilized. So sulfur dioxide is used to sterilize conventional wine. Now, they sterilize it to kill everything available in the wine that’s still alive, all bacteria, that’s good or bad bacteria.
And Dr. David Perlmutter who’s author of a number of books on the health of the gut microbiome has written a number of times about there’s several healthy bacteria that exist in natural wines because they haven’t been sterilized with sulfur dioxide. But the reason you sterilize a wine is you want to make it shelf ready independent for many years to come. You want to get rid of any of these bacteria that can lead to bottle to bottle variation. You want every single vintage to taste exactly the same.
So you’re just going to sterilize it and McDonaldize it into this kind of thing that just sits on shelves and every time you buy a bottle it tastes exactly the same. Natural wines are not like that because they are always evolving and they have these living bacteria that are still in them. They also don’t age in the same way that a sterilized wine will age. So typically you want to drink a natural wine in the first five years of its existence. It’s not meant to sit on the shelf because it’s not been sterilized.
And over time these bacteria will have their way with the wine and they’ll become not as good as it once was in terms of the taste. It’s not any less healthy for you, it’s just it doesn’t have the same taste of regularity and freshness that it had in the first five years.
Sherry: Wow, Todd, I can go on talking to you for hours. I find this fascinating. The research that I’ve been doing on this is just something I haven’t been exposed to so thank you for educating us, thank you for pulling back the curtain on what we don’t know about the farming and the practices of the big alcohol industry and wines in particular. And I also wanted to mention that I wanted to experience natural wines. And so I had bought some white wines from Dry Farm Wines and my husband and I split a bottle last night and I didn’t know what to expect.
I didn’t know if the flavor would be on par to a commercialized wine or not but we found it delightful. Like you said, it was crisp, it was refreshing. Neither one of us had any side-effects this morning, which was also a delightful part of the process. And it was really nice to see on the back of the bottle it says the sugar content. It was .3 grams per the liter. So I applaud you for doing this work, being such a passionate educator on this topic and coming up with the solution for those of us who still want to drink consciously and what we put in our body is important to us.
So thank you for empowering my listeners to see wine and all the farming practices that go into it and chemicals and additives and so we can make the best health decisions when it comes to drinking. So as we wrap up, please let my community know how they could connect with you and I will make sure to put all the links in the show notes.
Todd: Nice. So easy to reach us all over social media, Dry Farm Wines. And my social is actually on Instagram, it’s dryfarmtodd – T-O-D-D. So they can connect with me and follow my journey @dryfarmtodd or our journey anywhere on social at Dry Farm Wines.
Sherry: Yeah. I’ve been following you as well. It’s fun. Alright, thank you so much, Todd, thanks for coming on.
Todd: Thanks for having me.
Wasn’t that fascinating? Todd knows so much about the wine industry and what we’ve been consuming that we don’t even know, all the sugar, all the alcohol, all the additives, the irrigation practices. It has really opened my mind to look at wine so differently and to make better decisions in the future. Alright my friends, I hope you found that podcast enlightening and I will see you next week.
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