Listing Ingredients on the Wine Bottle

Here at Organic Wine Journal we\’ve had a number of winemakers argue for listing the full ingredients on the back label of a wine bottle (you didn\’t think it was just grapes, did you?). A recent piece in the New York Times addresses the issue:

What if the label actually listed the ingredients? There might not be room for them all. Well, maybe on a magnum.

No, wine isn’t just fermented grape juice. The European Union permits 59 things to be added to it, some of them seemingly innocuous (water), others icky (“lactic bacteria,” “edible gelatine”), still others downright scary-sounding (“ferrous sulfate,” “polyvinylpolypyrrolidone”). The United States permits many of these things, plus a few dozen more.

Yet unlike makers of, say, yogurt or soft drinks, winemakers are required to disclose only one additive, sulfur dioxide, via that nearly ubiquitous footnote that reads, “contains sulfites.”

At a time when consumers are demanding more transparency about the things they eat and drink, there is still a distinct lack of veritas in vino. Unless you have an unusually sophisticated palate — “I’m getting hints of betaglucanese here, with a note of potassium ferrocyanide, followed by a nice touch of urease on the finish” — it can be difficult to tell what’s actually in the wine.

Over at our friend Talia Baiocchi interviewed people from all sides of the wine business to ask what affect this would have:

Greg Harrington MS | Founder & Winemaker, Gramercy Cellars, Walla Walla

Are you for or against listing the ingredients added in the production of wine on a bottle\’s back label?

I don\’t have a problem listing ingredients, but I am positive there will be misconceptions about the ingredients. At Gramercy we use cultured yeasts, malolactic bacteria, nutrients (such as nitrogen) and vitamins for fermentation. Sulfur is used for stabilization. The regiment is designed to ensure clean and strong first and secondary fermentations and to protect the wine as it ages. I do think many wineries are afraid of the perception of the long list of additives they would have to list on the label. Is it wrong to use these additives? I could absolutely debate it both ways. But what is the goal: A more natural wine or a better tasting wine?

Read both the Times story and Talia\’s interviews for some great info about this issue.


One response to “Listing Ingredients on the Wine Bottle”

  1. The first excerpt illustrates well the problem mentioned in the second excerpt (“there will be misconceptions”). Too many writers and commentators tend to take cheap shots at things like this.

    For instance “other icky [things] (“lactic bacteria,” “edible gelatine”)”. Lactic bacteria is essential in much winemaking and they may be natural or added (adding them at the right time can lead to substantial energy savings and less CO2 emissions) and edible gelatine, well, we eat it all the time without knowing or thinking about it.

    What would be useful in this discussion about “disclosure” and labeling is to add one more aspect:

    Why not make it compulsory to specify on the label if a wine has been “enriched”(*)? That would be good consumer information!

    (*) “chaptalised” – added sugar in the form of beet sugar, concentrated must or other.

    As we argue here:

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