Ep. 223 Why Natural/Biodynamic Matters When it Comes to Alcohol

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I was happy to connect with Todd White today! Todd is the founder of Dry Farm Wines, a company I have frequently sent gifts from to friends and family over the last few years. 

Todd has always taken his health and fitness seriously. He is a wine lover, but it used to make him feel bad. Looking for low-alcohol wine led him to accidentally discover natural wines via the natural wine revolution, which was starting to happen in France at the time.

Todd and I dive deep into the differences between conventional and biodynamic wines. We speak about government regulations, the lack of transparency in the wine industry, the components of organic, biodynamic, and natural wines, the alcohol content of natural wines versus that of conventional wines, and how age and gender differences relate to alcohol consumption. We discuss the toxins, herbicides, and pesticides found in conventional wine products, the impact of irrigation on grapes, and what comprises sugar-free wine. We also get into why wine consumers need to educate themselves on the significant differences between conventionally produced wines in the United States and biodynamic wines. 

I hope you enjoy listening to my conversation with Todd White of Dry Farm Wines! Stay tuned to learn all you need to know about the difference between conventional wines and biodynamic wines.

“Most chronic illness today is caused by hyper-production of insulin and elevated blood glucose.”

– Todd White


  • Todd discusses his background and lifestyle choices. 
  • What brought about the invention of Dry Farm Wines?
  • Todd dives into the lack of transparency in the wine-making business.
  • How are conventional wines made, and how does that differ from biodynamic wine-making?
  • Why are natural wines rare, and why are they better for you?
  • Todd is passionate about educating people on how to drink better and more consciously.
  • Natural wines are lower in alcohol than commercially produced wines. 
  • The benefits of drinking natural wines from a health standpoint. 
  • Why do Dry Farm Wines independently lab-test every wine they sell?
  • Todd talks about the problems with irrigation and explains what dry farming means.
  • Todd talks about polyphenols in wine. 
  • How does wine get sugar in it and how does it become sugar-free?
  • What do sulfates and other additives do to wine?
  • The difference between organic wine and natural wine.

Connect with Cynthia Thurlow

Connect with Todd White

Recommended documentary: 

The Biggest Little Farm directed by John Chester


Cynthia Thurlow: Welcome to Everyday Wellness Podcast. I’m your host, Nurse Practitioner Cynthia Thurlow. This podcast is designed to educate, empower, and inspire you to achieve your health and wellness goals. My goal and intent are to provide you with the best content and conversations from leaders in the health and wellness industry each week and impact over a million lives.
I had the opportunity to connect with Todd White, who is the founder of Dry Farm Wines. This is a company that I have been working with over the last several years. It is generally a company I will send gifts from to family and friends. What I found really particularly interesting about Todd and his background is that it’s very nicely aligned with many of my colleagues and peers. We dove deep into the differences in conventional versus biodynamic wines. We talked about government regulations, and the lack of transparency, the components of organic, biodynamic, and natural wines, differences in the alcohol content with conventional versus natural wines, and age related and gender differences in relationship to alcohol consumption. We spoke at great length about toxins and herbicides, and pesticides that are found in conventional wine products, the impact of irrigation on grapes, what comprises sugar-free wine, and why it’s important, if you are alcohol or wine consumer, to get educated about the significant and substantial differences between the conventional wine industry here in the United States, versus supporting biodynamic wines. I hope you will enjoy this conversation as much as I did recording it.
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Welcome, Todd, I’ve been really looking forward to connecting with you. I know we would have met in real life last weekend, but life happens. But it’s serendipitous that we were able to connect this week, and really dive down this rabbit hole about your background and what brought about the invention of Dry Farm Wines in your company.
Todd White: Great. Thanks for having me. I’m excited to be here and tell you a few dirty dark secrets in the wine business. [Cynthia laughs]
Cynthia Thurlow: Well, let’s start from the beginning. Tell me about your background. I know that we share a lot of lifestyle choices in common and by that, I mean intermittent fasting, lower carb, ketogenic lifestyles, but what about your trajectory led you to where you are now? What got you so passionate about educating people about the wine industry, and about wine, and how these practices are impacting our health in profoundly sometimes negative ways.
Todd White: So, it begins back a story of sanity and vanity. I’ve been working out my entire life, been a fitness enthusiast in my 40s, now 61. In my 40s, I started experimenting with the Atkins diet and from there, started to adapt a lower carb lifestyle. Just I have the body type, as does 85% or 90% of the rest of the country, that is not friendly to my maintaining lean body mass that I want to keep, and eating refined carbs or anything that causes my blood glucose to spike. Like you, I occasionally wear a continuous glucose monitor and I experiment with maintaining a lower blood glucose. I happen to be from the school belief that most chronic illness today is caused by hyperproduction of insulin, and elevated blood glucose, which is why I only eat once a day. As I began to age, I found that it wasn’t possible for me any longer just to be low carb. If I didn’t incorporate a pretty firm fasting schedule, I was still gaining weight.
Back to the sanity and vanity as I was aging, which was as I got into my 40s, I had started to experiment with, at that time low carb not really keto because at that time keto wasn’t a thing. I started experimenting with therapeutic ketogenic diet about seven years ago, and that’s where Dry Farm Wines starts to come along, and I’ll tell you about that in a moment. But I had been a biohacker for the last 10 or so years, and I define ‘biohacking’ for those who don’t know what it means, as how we employ our behavior to positively influence our neurological or biological outcome. The most common biohack is a diet, and I then practiced many other cold thermogenesis, heat treatments, intermittent fasting, sugar free lifestyle, largely. And so, this is, what I call today, a wellness longevity and lifestyle designer. I like to live well by design and living well by design is much like architecture. There’s a foundation and then we make choices of how we’re going to build the house. And so, by living a life of intention through meditation and other mindful practices, by living a life of intention, employ these practices to design a lifestyle of what I hope will be positive longevity and wellness, because my goal here is to extend my health span. If I live a long time in the process, that’s great too but what I really want to do is delay the onset of any chronic illness. Most of us are going to die from the same diseases. The question is when is their onset, and so this is sort of how I think about this whole package.
Then, Dry Farm Wines came along because I was a lifelong aficionado of wine. I’ve been drinking wine since I was 9 years old. Not regularly at 9, but tasting wines when I was younger, and then I started drinking as an adult on a fairly regular basis and at times, in tenuous ways with alcohol when I would drink spirits and was younger and party like a rockstar. And so, this lifestyle in which have drunk spirits for like 25 years, but I have continued to drink wine and except when I’m doing extended water fasts, I drink wine every day. I don’t drink it during the daytime, I only drink wine at night. I don’t recommend anybody else drink alcohol in the daytime, because it’s going to stop fat burning. Anytime we take in an exogenous energy substance like alcohol, or exogenous ketones, or anything that the body has to then process, we’re going to stop fat burning. So, I found that my relationship with wine in particular, and alcohol was just not positive, and I didn’t understand why that wine was making me feel bad, and leading to brain fog, and hangovers. So, I thought it was just the alcohol. I thought, maybe with age I was becoming more sensitive to alcohol. And I noticed that red wines– and women oftentimes find this too, red wines were exponentially worse than white wine. And this is also usually the case for women and I can tell you why.
So, I meet thousands of women at health events, and they tell me, “I love red wine but I can’t drink it. And so, I’ll have some of your white.” And I’m like, “Well, you can drink these reds, trust me, they won’t make you feel the way that commercial wines make you feel.” That led me accidentally to discover at that time, which was just starting to happen, which was the natural wine revolution in central France, and I discovered it quite by accident, as I was looking for lower alcohol wines. And so, it turned out that a lot of natural wines, because of the way that they’re made naturally, have lower alcohol levels in them.
I was trying to find just lower alcohol wine, because again, I thought the problem was alcohol. I didn’t know it was really everything else is going in wine that we’re going to talk about. So, I discovered this importer in Paris called the Paris Wine Company that had these lower alcohol wines that I really liked, and they were delicious. One of the problems when you remove alcohol from wine, alcohol does a lot to hide faults in wine. Because it’s hot, so it adds things and when you take alcohol out, a lot of times the wine doesn’t taste as good. Now, if you get a really well-made low-alcohol wine, it actually tastes better. But oftentimes, if it’s just lower alcohol, the wine, it doesn’t taste, right. So anyway, I called this guy who was an American from San Francisco who was living in Paris, and he said, “Oh, well, these are natural wines.” And I was like, “Well, what’s a natural wine?” And he began to explain to me what I’m going to explain to you why natural wines are rare, and why they are better for you. And he explained to me– because I tell people, they say, “What do you do”?”, I say, “I sell natural wine.” They’re like, “What’s a natural wine? Isn’t all wine natural?” And for the reasons we’re going to discuss, they’re not.
That was sort of the beginning, I wasn’t really looking at Dry Farm Wines as a business, I was just trying to find a healthier way to drink for myself. And then when I discovered that, I started sharing with friends and turns out other people were interested in it too.
Cynthia Thurlow: It’s really fascinating because until I learned about you and your work, I had no idea, although it should not surprise me given what we know about the food industry here in the United States, the more I learned, the more interesting it became. I have always given your wines as gifts, like gift to team members, gift to family members, and not fully appreciating what distinguishes the traditional conventional winemaking in the United States and sometimes abroad versus biodynamic winemaking. And so maybe we start the conversation there because there are probably people listening saying “Hey, I’ve got this fantastic wine that I enjoy. That’s from California.” And so, as I was kind of researching for our conversation, I was like, “Oh, this is just like the processed food industry.” We just don’t realize that we’ve gotten so far away from the way that wine is designed to ideally be made, to making it a commercialized super profitable, contaminant-laden product, is what most of us when we go to a store or we’re purchasing wine for our homes, we unknowingly are bringing all these additives and genetically modified ingredients into our homes, and not even realizing we’re doing it, with good intent, I would say.
So, let’s kind of start with how is conventional wine made? And how is that different from biodynamic winemaking? I think this is what for me was really, really interesting in terms of educating us about the lack of transparency in the winemaking business.
Todd White: Well, let’s talk about how this happened because that’s sort of the same thing that happened in the food industry. Basically, they’re 10 plus or minus food companies that control most everything that comes in and out of your grocery store. And so, the same thing happened in the wine industry. This is really about money and greed. This is a consolidation of the wine industry, fueled by Wall Street money, cheap public money that allowed the wine industry to consolidate or what’s known in the business world is rolled up. So, you’ve got basically the top three wine companies make 52% of all wines in the United States, and the top 30 wine companies make over 70% of US wines. Everything I’m going to share with you about the wine industry, and everything I’m about to tell you, while somewhat shocking, is easily verifiable through a Google search. It won’t take you but just a few moments to find the top wine companies, the top-selling wines, who makes them.
Most of these wines are made by just a handful of companies. When you go into the grocery store, and even in a bottle shop, it’s certainly in the grocery store and you see shelves and shelves of wine, most of those wines are made by just a handful of large marketing conglomerates. Now, they make these wines in factories, but they don’t want you to know that. So, they hide behind thousands of brands and labels to confusion you and they put animals on the label, or they put a farmhouse, or maybe a chateau to have you believe that this wine is made by some farmer. When in fact these wines are made in huge wine factories located in Central California. These wine factories are multiple football fields large. They’re huge. As far as you can see are tanks, they’re called tank farms where wine is fermented in, and stored in.
Why you don’t know about what’s in your wine is an intentional act by these companies, using millions of dollars of lobbying money in Washington DC in collaboration with the government to hide facts from you. Like the following, there are 76 additives approved by the FDA for the use in winemaking. In fairness, some of those are natural, some of them are not, and a few of them are highly toxic. Most toxic offenders called dimethyl decarbonate. Dimethyl dicarbonate, if you look up FDA-approved additives you should see all these. Again, some are natural, some are also animal products so if you’re vegan, you might care about that. There are three animal products allowed for the use in winemaking, they’re quite commonly used. One is fish bladders as an example. Another is egg whites. It depends on what you’re sensitive to, but dimethyl dicarbonate if you look it up on Wikipedia, and you look at the table on the right, it’s going to say hazards toxic. Dimethyl dicarbonate is used to treat the single most common bacterial fault in wine called Brettanomyces. When you make wine as the winemaker, you have to manage a bacterial environment and if the wrong bacteria get in the wine, then you have to use additives and chemicals to alter or change those bacteria. Because if not, there’ll be offputting aromas or taste in the wine. That’s how these additives get in there.
Now, natural wine on the other hand doesn’t have these additives. Natural wine has three components. One, natural wine is always organic or biodynamically grown. Biodynamic farming is a prescriptive, advanced form of organic farming. Number two, this is the most confusing part, and the reason natural wines are rare, is that natural wines are always fermented with indigenous wild native yeast. Commercial wines are fermented with a GMO lab culture yeast. Now, why is that important? Or why did they do that? Why not just use the natural yeast? On the skin of every grape berry on the planet at the time of harvest is a white waxy film that is actually yeast. You can scrape it off with your fingernail. That yeast is present on grapes everywhere. But the reason that commercial winemakers don’t use this yeast for fermentation, and we’ll talk about fermentation and how wine is made in a moment because that’s important to understand why wine can be sugar free or not. So, the wild indigenous native yeast, which is collected naturally through the air in the vineyard, this yeast is very fragile. It’s difficult to work with and it requires a lot of coddling and importantly, you can’t make wine in large volumes utilizing native yeast. It’s too unstable. You can make wine in fairly small volumes, but that doesn’t suit the purposes of people who are trying to make a lot of money. o, you use these GMO, commercial modified yeast for a number of reasons. They are culture to be very strong and sturdy, they’re altered, that they will withstand a high alcohol environment. A native yeast will die if the alcohol level gets too high.
And third, you can buy yeast and different flavor profiles. So, if you want to make a wine that tastes like it’s from Italy, you can buy yeast for that. If you want to make a wine that tastes like it has butter in it, you can buy yeast for that. Just like as you know, during the pandemic and the sourdough baking craze, people will be passing around mother yeast, because yeast have different flavors. So, these yeasts are modified to be flavored. But most importantly, you can make wine in very large volumes. That’s the reason they don’t use native use.
Number three cornerstone is that natural wines don’t contain any of these additives. This causes natural wine to taste very differently. It tastes fresher, it tastes better, assuming that it’s well made. Now, natural wines can be off-putting as well. This is a complaint of the traditional wine industry, natural wines are funky. Well, they can be. We don’t sell wines like that, because we’re interested in more classic wine taste profiles. Now, our wines do taste very different than commercial wines. They’re alive and in fact, they contain active bacteria, bacteria that Dr. David Perlmutter has written about several times as being friendly to the gut microbiome. See, a commercial wine has been sterilized before it’s bottled, and they sterilize it with a high dose of sulfur dioxide. They sterilize it as a preservative, and also to not only kill the wine and all the active bacteria in it, but they want a shelf stable wine that every bottle tastes exactly the same to MacDonald wine if you will. And so, this sterilization process does that because in a natural wine not every bottle even from the same vintage tastes the same, because the bacteria can react differently in different bottles, because it’s still a living wine coming from living soil and so the soil is healthy and alive, as is the wine.
So, these natural wines, you can’t make it in the large volumes, which is A, why it’s rare, B, we’re the largest purveyor of natural wines in the world and the largest importer. We don’t sell domestic wine, it’s fair to note. There are no wines grown in the United States that meet all of our criteria for health and purity. It’s also fair to note that natural wine at the moment doesn’t have a certification. Although France is going to be the first country to certify natural wines in the next vintage and so we don’t believe that will happen here. Dry Farm Wines, my company, does have a certification process that’s over and beyond just being natural, because we’re really a health food company. We care about things other than it just being natural wine. We care about sugar. We care about alcohol.
Here’s one thing that I think people are always very surprised to hear me say, because they think I’m here selling wine. What I’m really here is to educate people about how to think about drinking. Not only think about drinking wine, to think about drinking alcohol in general. Because alcohol is a dangerous neurotoxin. It ruins millions of lives a year. Some people shouldn’t drink at all and if you don’t drink, I’m not recommending that you begin now. And further surprises people to hear me say, “As a health leader, my life might be better off if I didn’t drink at all,” but that’s not going to happen because I like drinking wine. Therefore, even though my overall plan of living well by design could be enhanced, I don’t know, if I didn’t drink at all. But the fact of the matter is I love wine, and I’m going to drink and if you drink, and if you’re going to drink, I want to help you think about how to drink better, and more consciously.
Cynthia Thurlow: Well, I think it’s all really fascinating, because so many of us, I’ve been a clinician forever and there’s been this kind of methodology that wine is healthy, we can drink in moderation. And for full transparency, my husband drinks. I have chosen not to drink over the last couple of years, because it’s the only thing that gave me hot flashes and disrupted my sleep. But I think it’s all about meeting people where they are and helping to educate them about themselves, their bodies, and making healthier choices for them. So, I appreciate your transparency and it’s very helpful to understand the components of natural wine to understand that your current practices when you’re bringing products into what you’re selling through Dry Farm Wines, does not incorporate wines here from the United States, which I think speaks hugely.
What I do find interesting is, as I was doing research, the alcohol levels, fun fact that the alcohol levels of your wines are lower, which is consistent with as you referred to it, this natural wild native yeast, is happier existing in a state of lower alcohol levels versus the conventional options, which I think I was reading up to 15%, which is pretty high. Big difference between 6% to 12.5%, versus 15%, which also kind of supports the notion that these types of wines really require different types of genetically engineered ingredients that allow for that wine to be able to exist at a higher state of alcohol, where there is consistency with every single bottle. As you mentioned, there’s additives that you can add or yeast that are going to provide a butter profile, or a profile that’s more consistent with a certain type of wine found in in areas of Europe. So, I found it really fascinating.
Let’s talk a little bit about the alcohol level piece because this was interesting for me, but also makes a lot of sense when people talk about, “I can handle one glass of conventional wine, but I can have two or three glasses of natural wine and not feel the same effect, not feel like I’m dehydrated and hung over.” And I think for a lot of people, especially middle-aged individuals all of a sudden relationship with alcohol may change. We may find we don’t do as well with as much of it. We may find that we really are looking for higher quality options, like “I’m going to choose to consume a higher quality product and have less of it so that I don’t get the same effect. I can enjoy the taste of it, but I know I’m not going to then wake up tomorrow morning with a terrible hangover.” As you mentioned and alluded to, you were starting to make those connections in your 40s. I think for many of us we do as well.
Todd White: Well, there’s no question that two things are true. A, as you age, you just don’t metabolize and process alcohol as well, and the more you drink over a longer period of time, it doesn’t actually build tolerance. Just the opposite happens. As you get older and you’ve been drinking for a long time, actually your tolerance decreases, not increases. Both of those are problem issues for people who want to drink and who want to age successfully and are also interested in brain health and also cardiovascular fitness. But mainly brain health because alcohol, as I mentioned, is a neurological toxin. I care a lot about alcohol. And again, I might be better served if I didn’t drink at all, but I love wine and so I wanted to find a better way to drink it. And part of that equation for me, and remains part of the equation even as I notice that continue to age, is drinking lower alcohol products. I don’t want to drink a glass, I might want to drink a bottle over the course of an evening.
And so, to do that, and to do that successfully, from a health point of view that means lowering the alcohol level down in the inherent products significantly, which is part of the Dry Farm Wines certification, is that we don’t sell any wines over 12.5% percent alcohol and as low as 6%. So, most of the wines I drink are between 9% and 11% because that’s the sort of my taste profile. Maybe 11% doesn’t sound much different than the average 15% in US wines, but it’s a huge difference. And so, the very significant difference in how you feel while you’re drinking from glass one until how you feel in the middle of the night, to how you feel the next morning. Drinking less alcohol, let’s be perfectly clear, in my view is healthier. And perhaps, say it again, the healthiest method maybe don’t drink it at all. Okay, but that’s not who I am. I’m the guy for the people who want to think about health and continue to drink.
Here’s the thing. Most people because they haven’t really thought about this, because they just think about wine as being a good thing, the church pours it, it was at the Last Supper. It’s been a part of religious and cultural institutions, art, fashion. It’s everywhere about everything that seems to be fun and good. And so, wine in particular has gotten to sort of a– until I came along and started talking about it, then people just weren’t thinking about it. And one of the things that they don’t think about is almost no one looks at a wine bottle to determine the amount of alcohol that’s in the wine. They just buy the bottle, they don’t look at the amount of alcohol.
It’s worth noting though, another part of the corruption between the wine industry and the government. See, the government just like in nutrition, when you look at the food pyramid or the food plate, they’re not giving you honest information of how you should be eating. Because the food plate or the pyramid, that information you may know is managed by the Department of Agriculture, and the Department of Agriculture’s job is to sell grains. It’s not to give you health advice. So, this same kind of thing exists between the wine industry and the US government in alcohol. So, when you look at alcohol stated on the wine bottle, it’s not required by law to be correct. So, if it says 14% on the label, by law it could be as high as 15.5% and still be legal. Which is why Dry Farm Wines independently lab tests every wine we sell for a number of contaminants, including sugar and alcohol, because alcohol stated or told to us might not be correct. And because we care so deeply about the management of drinking alcohol, and how to have a more conscious consumption that better protects our brain health to be just quite clear about it, that’s what concerns me most. is brain health, as I’m aging, as it relates to my alcohol use.
And so most people don’t even look to see how much alcohol is in a wine bottle, but I can assure you that drinking lower alcohol natural wines has a substantial impact on how you feel both while drinking it, while having less interruption in your sleep, and less negative remnants the next day. Now, if you drink enough natural wine, enough, you will get a hangover. I can’t prevent alcohol from giving you a hangover. However, if you drink reasonably, you’re not likely to have any negative impacts from drinking natural wines, lower alcohol natural wines. It’s fair to note and the reason we lab test for alcohol is that there are natural wines that are over 12.5%, they’re natural wines at 16% or 15%. Those are not wines that we’re interested in selling from a health point of view. The demarcation in alcohol is 12.5%. So, you’d be very hard pressed to go into a grocery store and find a wine at 12.5%, very hard pressed. They’re almost nonexistent. You’ll find them at 13, 13.5% on the grocery store, but not at 12.5% and lower. You certainly won’t see anything below 12.5%.
So, when you experience these wines, and I can tell you about them, but as a regular drinker when you experience them– and Dry Farm Wines, we’re a wine membership, we’re wine club, and you can sign up for any frequency you want. Twice a year, once a month, twice a month, once a quarter, doesn’t matter. We’re a wine club. Because generally our job and goal is to help regular wine drinkers experience a better life. If you drink wine once a month, you know, what you probably don’t experience negative remnants more than once a month. But if you drink wine every day or several times a week, then you have a more substantial problem to deal with, both in the amount of alcohol that you’re drinking, as well as these contaminants in the way of additives. Not to mention glyphosate and other contaminants found in farming practices.
Most of the wines in the world, no matter where they’re grown, are contaminated with industrial farming practices and irrigation which is another problem. The name of our wine company is Dry Farm Wines . What does dry farming mean? Dry farming means farming without irrigation. Grapevines have been living all over the planet for about 10,000 years without irrigation. Irrigation is largely an American idea, not exclusively, but largely. Over 99% of US vineyards are irrigated. Irrigation didn’t come to grape farming in United States until the 1970s. So, it’s a fairly new idea, but is universally practiced almost today.
The reason for that is because wine companies are not trying to make wine better or healthier. They’re trying to make it cheaper and faster. And farming with irrigation is simply easier and cheaper, and it results in more money. Why would you irrigate a grape wine? Well, it’s cheaper, requires less labor and less activity. Number two, it results in a larger cluster, that’s the size of the berries. And then it might not surprise you, common sense will tell you, that when you fill a great berry with water by overirrigating, and it weighs more, and fruit is sold by the ton. And so, this is why irrigation exists because it makes more money.
Now, there’s another problem with irrigation as it relates to alcohol, and this will take us into the fermentation discussion. When you irrigate a grape berry, and you fill it with water, it dilutes everything in the berry, including its flavor. None of this will be confusing to anybody because common sense will tell you, if you pop a berry full water, then you’ve diluted the flavor. You’ve also diluted the polyphenols flavonoids that make the berry that what are thought to be the healthy compounds that are found within grapes and the most famous one is called resveratrol, which is Dr. David Sinclair, who drinks our wines and has written about us, and is one of the preeminent– I’m sure you know who he is one of the preeminent anti-aging researchers in the United States, and has published a lot on resveratrol. So, resveratrol is the most famous of these polyphenols but when you pump a berry full water, you dilute everything including its phenolic flavor.
Now, why is that important? Because when you irrigate a grapevine, you have to pick it at higher sugar, because you need higher sugar in order to develop proper flavoring because you’ve diluted the character of the fruit with water. I hope none of this is confusing, but it’s all pretty common sense. What’s the problem with picking berries at higher sugar? Well, because in the fermentation process, the higher the sugar is in the juice, the higher the alcohol becomes in the fermentation. Why is that? Well, here’s how you make wine. You press the juice– and this is also the most common question I get, is how is your wine sugar free? Isn’t there sugar free in grape juice? This will cover in the fermentation discussion which will last about four or five minutes. We’re going to talk about how wine gets sugar in and how wine becomes sugar free. How polyphenols get in wine, like resveratrol. And why polyphenols are higher in red wine than white wine.
When you make wine– and we’re going to skip over the yeast part a bit because we don’t need to go down that rabbit hole, I’m just going to use the phrase “inoculated with yeast.” Remember, in commercial wine, it’s going to be inoculated with a lab-cultured GMO yeast. In natural wine, it’s the wild native yeast that’s already present in the juice, so you don’t actually add anything. You get what’s called a spontaneous fermentation. It just starts fermenting itself. You don’t add anything in the process of making natural wine. Don’t take anything out, you don’t add anything. Conventional wine, you add things. So, you press the juice from the berry, the juice runs into a tank. Now, if it’s a white wine, it runs into a tank and the juice is sitting there and you discard the skins, the seeds, and the stems. White wine is fermented just with clear, free-run juice.
Red wine, when you press the juice from the skins, it also goes into a tank but then you take the seeds, the stems and the skins and you add that to the tank with the juice. That’s how red wine gets its color. It’s higher polyphenols and also, it’s [unintelligible] [00:34:21] structures and its body. That’s the reason red wines have this kind of complexity of flavors and textures, that white wine doesn’t have because of skin seed and stem contact. That’s also where it gets its color. If you go to a vineyard and you pick a white wine grape and you pick a red wine grape and you squeeze the juice from either of them, it’s clear. The red wine gets its color from maceration with the skin, soaking with the skin. So, that’s the difference between those two. It’s also why red wine has about 800 of these polyphenols, compounds, and white wines have just over 200. Because they get the additional polyphenols from the skin contact, which is generally speaking, why most people, experts believe that red wine is healthier although many people including a lot of women can’t drink it. We can talk about why in a moment. Or why we think so. There’s not enough research on any of this to say with certainty why natural wine makes you feel better, is largely anecdotal. We know when you drink it, you feel better. There’re about 100 reasons why that’s possible including additives or extended macerations, or biogenetic amines like tyramine and histamine, which are exaggerated in red wines from commercial producers because of how they make it. We’ll get to that in a moment.
In the fermentation process, wine goes into this tank. It’s inoculated with yeast, whether it’s present or whether it’s added, it doesn’t matter. The yeast like a little Pac-Man, the yeast eats the sugar. Yeast is a living organism and is used in a lot of research particularly for longevity because yeast has a very short lifespan. So, yeast is inoculated, eats the sugar and is the food source for the yeast. Now, if the wine is allowed to fully ferment, meaning that the yeast lives throughout the entire fermentation process and eats all the available sugar, the wine will be sugar free. Now, let me stop there for a moment because I get some criticism from the wine industry on this topic, saying that our wines are sugar free. Well, they are because we lab test them, and we certify that they’re sugar free. There are conventional wines– particularly red wines, there are conventional wines that are also sugar free in the wine industry will stand up on their head and scream this at me. “There are wines that are sugar free. You’re not the only sugar free wine.” That’s true.
The problem is for most wines, you don’t know whether they’re sugar free without lab testing them, because the acid level in wine hides sugar, but it does provide mouthfeel. So, here’s how sugar gets in wine, if the fermentation process by the winemaker’s choice, the winemaker makes this choice as a style. If the fermentation process is allowed to complete, and the yeast eats all available sugar, the yeast will die and become what’s known as lees, that’s dead yeast, and will fall to the bottom of the tank where it’s removed. So, this yeast, if it’s not allowed to fully ferment, and the winemaker makes that choice, so there’s little device that hangs in the tank and that device tells the winemaker at any time exactly how much sugar is left in the juice. When the desired level of sugar is reached, for the winemaker and his style, his or her style, when that level sugar is reached, they pour sulfur dioxide in the wine and they kill the yeast intentionally, leaving behind what’s known as residual sugar or RS in the industry.
Now, we reject a lot of natural wines, because they also can contain sugars. But it’s not the same intentional act that you get from the conventional companies who are taste-engineering products to be more tantalizing, and sugar creates a long finish that people talk about in wine. Sugar creates mouthfeel. Sugar creates things that Americans like. Our wines don’t taste like that. They’re also friendlier with foods because they don’t taste like that, and they’re also lower in alcohol. Alcohol is not friendly with food. You don’t sit down and have vodka and lettuce, and a salad.
So, this in the winemaking process, if fermentation is allowed to complete, then you’ll have a sugar-free wine, if it’s not, then you’re going to have sugar in the wine. Now, how much sugar is in conventional wine when you go in the grocery store? Hard to say. Here’s what I can tell you. We lab tested last year, the top 20 best selling wines in America. Some of those wines, by the way are imported wine, in particular from Australia, has a little animal on it. So, we lab tested the top 20 best-selling wines in the United States. That list is readily available online. And of the top 20 we tested, only two met our criteria for sugar free and that criteria for us are a measurement and this is also a legal measurement by the government that they consider to be sugar free, and we consider to be sugar free too. We do not allow more than 1g/L now statistically at a glass of wine that sugar free. A wine bottle is 750 mL, so this is less than 1g in a wine bottle. So, it’s nascent by the time it gets to the glass, and technically and legally sugar free.
Of the top 20 best-selling wines, only two of them met our criteria for sugar. So, are they like super sweet? Can you taste it? No, because if it’s an intentionally sweet wine, like a dessert wine or a port or an ice wine, late harvest, obviously, you’re going to take sugar in that and that can be as high as 300g/L, super, super high. But if a wine contains 5 to 10g/L, you won’t taste it necessarily, because of the acid level in wine. It’s just like in a soda, you’ll have, say, 32g of sugar, but you’ve got a ton of a ascorbic acid in there, or you wouldn’t be able to drink it, it’d be so sweet. So, this acid, like when you make lemonade, you start putting sugar in it, it doesn’t taste sweet in the beginning. You have to put a lot of sugar in it for to taste sweet, because the acid will balance out. Same thing in wine, wine has a high acid in it and so sugar will not be detectable even to taste professionals like us, which is why we do lab testing because I don’t want to drink sugar any more than I want to eat it. And anytime I pick up anything that I put in my body, I don’t eat many packaged foods but anything I pick up that’s in a bottle, say, a kombucha is an example, I don’t drink kombucha because it usually contains too much sugar, and I just don’t want to drink sugar. I just believe elevated blood glucose is unhealthy.
So, that’s sort of the fermentation and how sugar gets in or out of wine because people say, well, “Well, there’s lots of–” Even people, I got a comment on Facebook, just a few days ago, I saw where a wine professional, somebody who owns a wine store with their husband said, “It’s impossible to have sugar free wine,” because I had to go through a technical explanation to a wine purveyor about how this works. And so, it’s entirely possible to have sugar-free wine, and that’s all I sell but it’s a specific process to get there.
Cynthia Thurlow: I think it’s really fascinating. As someone who has a pretty solid science background, it’s bringing me back to a lot of chemistry experimentation many years ago. I do appreciate how nuanced this all is. And I think for anyone that’s listening, there’s no question that the degree of preparation that you and your company put into winemaking and ensuring that what you are sharing with your subscribers is the best options that are out there. Now, you’ve alluded to some of these additives, and I did a little bit of homework. And some of these things, glyphosate which is something that Jeffrey Smith talked about at great length, if anyone wants to learn more about that and how destructive that is, understanding that conventionally made wines expose us to a lot of unnecessary toxins, glyphosate was one that stood out. The coloring agent mega purple, which for any of us that drink really cheap wine in college or after college–
Todd White: You were drinking Mega Purple, I guarantee you.
Cynthia Thurlow: Well, we would like stain our teeth and so–
Todd White: It does stain your teeth. It’s also 68% sugar, Mega Purple is. That comes straight from the manufacturer. Mega Purple is the number one selling color agent. In fairness, it’s a natural product. It is made from grapes, but it’s super high in sugar and it will stain your teeth for most people, depending upon how porous their teeth are and that’s a very individual thing, but it can also stain your lips. Natural wines will not stain your teeth. There’s two things that lead to teeth staining in red wine. One is the coloration; number two is extended macerations. This is also what leads to higher biogenetic amines like histamine and thiamine, which is what makes most women feel bad. They get hot flashes, they get tension in their frontal lobe. They get hot flashes, they can get splotchy. Usually, these are from amines, usually a lot of people think they’re sulfites. That’s not usually true. Sulfites are naturally occurring in anything that’s fermented, and sulfites are present in many foods. If you have an actual allergy to sulfites, you’d probably be walking around with an EpiPen in your pocket. Sulfites are found in all kinds of foods and they’re present and anything that’s fermented, naturally occurring sulfites.
The question is, is sulfur dioxide added to the wine to sterilize it and preserve it? That becomes an additive. We lab test for sulfites. The average sulfur in our wines, which is naturally occurring, is 39 parts per million. The US legal limit for sulfide, 350 parts per million, but we don’t think sulfites are a terrible thing. I don’t want to make sulfites out to be all that and a bag of chips because sulfites have been used in wine since the Roman times. For about 2000 years, sulfur has been used in wine in various capacities. And so, because in the early 1960s, a teetotaling senator from South Carolina had this added to wine bottle, “contains sulfites” is a way to scare you when in fact sulfites are not generally thought to be dangerous. But what they do is, excess sulfur kills the living bacteria in the wine, sterilizes the wine and causes it to taste dead or flat. It doesn’t taste alive like a natural wine does. So, it does have a very distinct effect on flavor and on the health quality of the wine. But in terms of are sulfites themselves dangerous, we don’t think so but they get blamed for a lot because this is printed on the bottle and required by law to be on the bottle. But what’s more likely to be leading women to have the symptoms that they describe to me are really amines and the primary one is histamine.
Cynthia Thurlow: Well. It’s interesting because middle-aged women as they’re navigating fluctuations in estrogen, they can have these fluctuating levels which can exacerbate histamine. Because I see a lot of women that have mast cell degranulation, they have hives, and they’re not sure where it’s originating from and so really being diligent about documenting their histamine exposures, whether it’s an aged meat or cheese or any number of things, is really important. How many people drink wine and have aged meat and cheese? They’re having charcuterie and they’re having wine. And so, they point to one thing, not realizing it’s a combination of all the above that can exacerbate that histamine reaction.
One other thing that came up when I was looking at additives that I thought was interesting, and I want to make sure I’m pronouncing this properly, Velcorin is a particular that I was reading. Actually, when it’s applied to conventionally grown grapes, it’s actually applied with hazmat suits, it’s so toxic.
Todd White: It’s true. I spoke about this earlier, that’s Velcorin is the brand name for dimethyl dicarbonate.
Cynthia Thurlow: Oh, got you.
Todd White: So yes, it is supplied with hazmat suits and if you drink the wine within 24 hours of it being traded, it could kill you. It’s a highly toxic chemical. I don’t speak of the brand name, because generally speaking, when you look at the additive list from the FDA, it’s actually the chemical, dimethyl decarbonate. What you’re pointing to is actually the brand of the company that sells it, or the most popular version of it. And so, if you go to their website, it says that it’s used to treat tens of millions of gallons of wine. So apparently, the use of it is quite large. Glyphosate, which you probably know, has been found in both organic and nonorganic vineyards in the United States by two different groups. Now, neither of those studies were peer reviewed. In my view of science and testing, neither study was solid enough for me to hang much my hat on it and they were small samplings. But we’ve lab tested wine and found glyphosate in it.
The interesting thing is about glyphosate, as it applies to vineyard farming, is different than wheat farming as an example. So, you sometimes find glyphosate in organic wheat, because in wheat, glyphosate is applied with a drone or an airplane. Now, it’s usually drones. And so, you have a lot of overspray opportunity for neighboring organic farms. That’s not exactly the same case in grape farming because it’s applied very close to the ground. It has an applicator that is 12 inches from the ground, and it goes between the rows. You have these vineyard tractors that are designed to go between grape rows. This device sits down close to the ground. This is how glyphosate is applied in vineyards. It’s not done with a drone. So, the opportunity for mass overspray into a large organic vineyard next door is not the same, so it’s speculated that it may be coming– and this is bad news all the way around, but it’s speculated it may be coming from irrigation. So, runoff into reservoirs or through the water table even. But most irrigation for vineyard farming comes from reservoirs. So, it’s speculated that it’s getting in the reservoir and that the glyphosate in an organic farm makes its way into the wine through irrigation. Only about 10% of US vineyards are organic, but 99% are irrigated, so it’s rare. There are three examples I can think of in California that are both dry farmed and organic, but they’re super rare.
Let’s talk about that for just one second, the difference between organic wine and natural wine. See, the problem with all this is it’s all very confusing and it’s hard to kind of put it all together because the word ‘natural’ in foods is a no-no. Natural food, it’s washing, it’s greenwashing. But natural wine is a real thing that has a real meaning that is positive. Natural and food is greenwashing. So, that becomes confusing. Then, you’ve got, “Well, my wine is organic, I’m getting organic wine. Is that okay?” Well, it’s better than conventionally grown wine, that’s for sure. But let me just put this out there again, confusing. All natural wines are always organic or biodynamic. Not all organic wines are natural. That means that many organic wines and biodynamic wines that are not natural, many of them are fermented with conventional yeast, and they contain additives. So, just because it’s organic doesn’t mean it’s additive free. Just because it’s biodynamic doesn’t mean that it’s added to free. It just means it was farmed, biodynamically or organically.
So again, you’re not going to go into the store, and there’s not going to be a natural wine section. Not unless you live in a major market like New York or San Francisco or Los Angeles. You can find natural wine retailers in those cities. But again, just because it’s natural doesn’t mean it’s also low in alcohol or sugar free. You’re not going to get our certification level. But if you’re going to drink wine, A, you should drink organic or biodynamic wine, whether it’s natural or not, because that’s going to be a step up from conventional farming. Number two, you should drink natural wine if you can get your hands on it, because that’s going to be a step up from organic and biodynamic. Then number three, if you want to go to the most extreme level of analysis, then you’re going to drink wine from Dry Farm Wines, because it’s going to be certified by us to meet all of these other criteria that not all natural wines drink but that’s the level of hierarchy that you should think about drinking.
If you’re going to buy wines in the grocery store, then I would suggest, A, looking for the lowest alcohol wine that you can find. Because for whatever reason, the lower the alcohol, 12.5% or below and you might find a 12.5% French wine in the grocery store, maybe, it’s just that in our experience, the lower alcohol wines are more naturally made. Doesn’t mean they’re 100% natural, but they’re less intervention. They’re more likely for whatever reason, I suspect it’s because the winemaking style of people who make lower alcohol wines care more about the process.
Let’s talk about biodynamic and organic for one second, because I know we had some question about that in the beginning. Biodynamic farming was a prescriptive form of farming that was developed in the early 1920s by an Austrian scientist called Rudolf Steiner. And I won’t get into all the intricacies of biodynamic farming, but basically, it’s a prescriptive form and that prescription is that they use some natural sprays like quartz and water that they sprayed that they believed brings natural protection to the wines. And then also in biodynamic farming, they farm by lunar cycle. They believe in performing certain task at certain positions of the moon and tide. So, they harvest under certain moon conditions. They prune under certain lunar cycles. This is what biodynamic– there’s a lot more to it than, that that’s kind of a high level. But biodynamic, the easiest way to explain it, is it is a prescriptive form of organic farming. This was developed in the 1920s. It’s not exclusive to grape farming by the way. Other farms also employ biodynamic practices.
It was developed in the early 1920s because that was the advent of chemical farming. That’s when we first started to see chemical farming, was in the 1920s and the adoption of monocultural farming. So, single-crop farming as an example. When you go to a natural wine farm, you’ll find olives and bees and orchards and animals, and livestock and creating a biodiverse environment, which nature spent a couple billion years figuring out how to make this all work together. It’s when we came along as humans and started dismantling the forces of nature that allowed everything to remain in balance. I don’t know if you’ve seen this documentary, it’s super good, called The Biggest Little Farm.
Cynthia Thurlow: I have. I’ve been like down this rabbit hole after interviewing Robb Wolf last year, making an effort to watch select documentaries throughout the year, just to kind of give me a better perspective about– well, there was no other way to put it, the way things used to be compared to how we are doing things conventionally now.
Todd White: Yeah. It’s a fascinating– for those who haven’t seen it, I highly recommend it. It’s a fascinating documentary about a young couple who took over a chemically killed California farm, and then brought it back to a biodiverse organic environment and all the challenges that they faced in dealing with the interruptions of nature that the conventional farming practices had created. Then, all of the natural remedies that they had to bring in to balance this organic farm. It’s a really fascinating film.
Cynthia Thurlow: Absolutely. Well, Todd, I’ve so enjoyed our conversation. There’s so much to absorb and think about. And much like the processed food industry has really redefined the way that we look at nutrition, certainly, this conversation today for me is having me reflect a great deal on an industry that I didn’t know as much about. And certainly, I’m hopeful that listeners will check out your products. Like I mentioned, I use them a lot for gifts to my team and family members, and they always really enjoyed and my husband’s a huge red wine drinker, we usually get your red wines from Dry Farm Wines. Please let my community know how to connect with you. Obviously, we’ll put links to your website but let us know the easiest way to connect with you on social media.
Todd White: We are Dry Farm Wines on all social and you’ll find us everywhere promoting healthier drinking habits with wine. Also, I would note as well, if you’d like to try our product, I think we have a link with you that gets a penny bottle. We can’t give wine away, but we include an extra bottle in your order. And also, as you’ll see, if you go to one of those landing pages, we have 100% Happiness Promise and what that means is, if you don’t like the wine, we give you your money back. And if you ever encounter a bottle you don’t like, we’ll replace it for free, or refund it. But if you get a box of wine from us and you’re like, “I hate natural wine,” awesome. No questions asked, we’ll give you 100% of your money back and you can keep the wine. That’s just how strongly we know and feel about the quality and the taste and the enjoyment of the wines. We stand behind a 100% promise, no questions asked. You don’t like it; we’ll give your money back.
Cynthia Thurlow: Wow. Wonderful. It’s been so nice to connect with you, Todd, and I know that the next event I’m going to business wise, there’ll be a lot of Dry Farm Wines there, so we’ll get to sample more of your products.
Todd White: Thanks for having me today.
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