“‘Very high levels of arsenic’ in top-selling wines” was the headline of the CBS News article released Thursday. In it, Beverage Grades representative Kevin Hicks shares his results on domestic wines tested for arsenic and other chemicals, with very concerning results. Big brand wines, such as Franzia and Two Buck Chuck, were found to have up to 3 times the amount of arsenic that is allowed in drinking water.
This report, while probably shocking to most wine consumers, did not surprise me one bit. I work as a Wine Buyer and Sommelier for DEPs Fine Wine and Spirits, and in my 9 years of experience I have tasted thousands of ‘big brand,’ ‘big business’ wines. These products are so manipulated, so modified from their origins as grapes that I can’t believe they are labeled as ‘wine.’
As the article states, “There are almost no federal labeling requirements to tell you what’s really in wine,” which means there is no telling how that wine has been produced and what has been added or subtracted. Typical practices on these types of wines include adding false color, removing acid, adding sugar, adding unnecessary amounts of sulfur, freezing the wine, heating it up again, adding wood flavor, and who knows what else. The end result is a wine that gives you a false impression of a full-bodied, ripe California oak bomb that you call fruity but is actually as sweet as a can of Coke.
People in the United States have started educating themselves about where their food comes from and how it is produced, and the “farm to table” slogan has become ubiquitous with the best restaurants in town. It’s time to make the same conscious choices about selecting our wines that we make about food. I am advocating for a “vineyard-to-glass” movement in which we care about the beverage we are drinking and putting into our bodies just as much as we do about our food.
As consumers we have so much power, even if we don’t realize it. The buying choices we make shape the industry and further the types and styles of wine that are available to us. We can make smarter, healthier wine buying decisions by caring about place over productivity and quality over quantity. If we change the wine we buy, we change the way wine is made for us.
Does this mean paying a lot more for you your wine? Not necessarily. We are so lucky here in the states to have such an enormous amount of selection—the best from France, Italy, and Spain are all available to us and often at amazing price points. These countries and others care about creating the best wine to showcase their unique growing regions. There are many small, family-owned wineries and cutting-edge winemakers who care about promoting that same sense of place in Washington State, California, and Oregon. You will not see large billboards for these wineries. They do not think of themselves as a ‘brand.’ They don’t buy Superbowl commercials. And they certainly aren’t available at major grocery store chains. You can find them at independent retailers by the hundreds. Family-run businesses promote these family-made wines. All you have to do is ask a wine professional. So, it may take a bit more work and curiosity on your part, but the end result is so worth it. For yourself, for the Earth, and for the livelihoods of real people who make real wine.
In most old world countries, wine is food. Its time we adopt that mentality.