If you buy healthy, we bet you automatically check ingredients or the processing and provenance of any meat, fish, eggs, dairy and veg you add to the shopping trolley.
But what about your wine?
You might be surprised to know what you're drinking.
Do vegans or vegetarians know that many wines contain animal-based fining agents (e.g. fish bladders, egg white and milk proteins)?
At UMAMU Estate, we use sustainable practices and take great care to produce wines the old-fashioned, Old World, traditional way. We try to use as little funny stuff as possible.
To do this it means we take greater care in the vineyard and also how we produce our wines eg the size of our tank so that the rate of settling is faster and thus we need less sulphur dioxide to keep the wine fresh longer. The result is a wine that comes with a natural balance and with minimal tinkering.
Below, we’ll look at 8 reasons why wines produced in this way could indeed be healthier for you.
1. Hands-on vines make for healthier wines
You’ll have heard about the health benefits of red wine.
This is thanks to the polyphenols.
If you’re not familiar with the term, you’ll be familiar with the term ‘tannin’ – tannins are a sub-category of polyphenols, and are responsible for the herbaceous and fruit flavours as well as the astringency in wines.
Polyphenols are what protect grapes from decay as they reach ripeness.
Polyphenols are subsequently wine’s main preservative, acting as potent antioxidants and contributing to the majority of wine’s health benefits in the body.
These health benefits include:
- Antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects
- Reduction of cardiovascular disease
- Reduction of artherosclerosis
- Lower mortality from coronary heart disease
- Better brain function (lower risks of dementia, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s
- Healthier gut microbiome in the intestines
- Cancer inhibition (specifically esophageal and gastric cancers)
- Lower stroke risk
- Lower risk of type 2 diabetes
- Lower incidence of bone fracture in the elderly
- Lower risk of depression (heavy drinking reverses this and increases the risk)
- Lower overall mortality rate
Hands-on winemakers will actively boost the polyphenol content in their wines for health benefits, flavour benefits and longevity benefits. Here are two ways they achieve this:
- Shading. The more shade on the grape berries, the fewer tannins accumulate in wine. This is why on the UMAMU Estate website you’ll read in the description of wines like our 2015 Cabernet Franc that we kept an ‘open canopy all the growing season’ to allow the berries to receive ‘dappled light’ in order to create ‘supple tannins’ and ‘fragrant berry perfumes’ in the final product. Obviously this requires constant attention and pruning all growing season.
- Irrigation. Tannins accumulate before grape berries swell, so careful winemakers will need to control midseason and final-stage irrigation.
In comparison, many wines produced at scale will come from grapes grown close together to increase vine yields, they can be over-irrigated, and hence have far fewer polyphenols than wines grown with hands-on care and attention.
This can create a need for preservatives, artificial colourants and flavours.
2. Maceration and fermentation = polyphenol extraction
This is brief overview of what our winemaking process looks like:
- Stemming and crushing grapes
- Primary fermentation
- Draining or pressing
- Ageing (in French oak barrels)
During the maceration stage, the grape ‘must’ sits with crushed grape skins, seeds and stems.
A longer maceration period allows for many more polyphenols – which are overwhelmingly found in the skins, seeds and stems – to leech into the grape must.
A primary fermentation further helps to extract polyphenols and tannins as alcohol concentration rapidly increases the rate of extraction. In the case of some of our wines like the 2017 Cabernet Merlot, we allowed for up to 18 days of fermentation and skin contact.
Post-fermentation maceration is a time and space-consuming process – furthermore, the more polyphenols and tannins in a wine mean more time is needed ageing in oak barrels and in the bottle before they’re ready to drink.
This can make sustainable, traditional methods of producing wine a more costly process.
But your body and taste buds may thank you for the higher polyphenols and natural antioxidants in each sip.
3. Do those ‘oak notes’ really come from oak?
Those oak notes you might about read on wine bottles sometimes don't mean what you think.
For us at UMAMU Estate, the spiced tasting notes, silky-smooth tannins and wine vintages released year after harvest are thanks to our passion for ageing wines in French oak barrels.
Our 2015 Cabernet Sauvignon vintage, for example, spent 18 months in French oak.
But sometimes a wine has simply had oak chips and sawdust added to the wines. It's a method for getting an oaky flavour but can often require animal-based fining agents (egg white, fish bladder, casein) as well as non-animal based fining agent (e.g. bentonite clay).
All these chemicals are of course considered safe for consumption.
Nevertheless, many of us take pains to buy products that are flavoured the way nature intended, and would appreciate knowing from a winemaker that their wine is also made this way.
4. Did that wine make your teeth purple?
Red wine is not supposed to stain your teeth or clothing.
And yet many still do.
This is largely thanks to the 10,000 gallons of sugary ‘mega purple’ dye added to more than 25 million bottles of wine per year.
Often this is combined with another dye – ultra red – to produce wines of a consistent colour.
Most commonly, these additives are required because time was not taken to leech natural colours during an extended maceration and primary fermentation period.
Of course, these additives are considered fit for human consumption. However, they can lead to more residual sugars in the wine and are not commonly known about.
5. Sulphur dioxide and sulphates
Sulphites occur naturally in wine as a byproduct of yeast metabolism.
But it's common for wines to have added sulphites such as sulphur dioxide as a preservative and stabiliser.
Because a small population is allergic to sulphites, it’s one of the few additives winemakers must disclose on their labels if the content is above a threshold (usually 10 parts per million).
Organic winemakers often need to use sulphites – but they will aim to limit these levels.
It goes without saying that wine with more maceration and fermentation time will naturally have higher levels of polyphenols – potent and natural preservatives – and hence require fewer sulphite additives.
Just as with fruit and vegetable produce, the pesticides used for growing grapes can end up in the wine bottle.
In a study on French wines, only 10% were free of pesticide and fungicide traces. Many of these chemicals have been linked to disruptions in hormone functioning, though they are extremely helpful in the vineyard.
At UMAMU Estate, we are part of the Australian national sustainability programme which sets limits and guidance on chemicals which harm the vineyard’s natural ecosystem.
Wherever we can, we encourage natural insect predators like dragonflies on our Margaret River vineyard to minimise chemicals getting into our wines.
Arsenic is not unheard of in wine.
A class action lawsuit in California was filed in 2015 against 31 of the largest American wine producers. The lawsuit alleged these mass wine producers were producing wines with arsenic in amounts ‘far in excess of what is allowed in drinking water’.
In 2018 a technical review on Australian wine found traces of arsenic in over 1,000 samples of Australian wine – thankfully, the maximum amount found was below international limits.
Arsenic should not be a worry for the vast majority of wine drinkers. But it's still worth knowing what can end up in the wine bottle.
8. Residual sugars
When grapes are cultivated intensively for maximum wine yield, it can lead to a grape with lower concentrations in natural sugars.
Because these natural sugars are essential during the fermentation process for conversion into ethanol by wine yeasts, sometimes it can be necessary to add extra sugars for optimum fermentation.
This can lead to residual sugars in wine.
While, of course, many of us consume sugar in drinks and foods everyday, we might not think know wine can be contributing to our sugar intake.
This is particularly important for those aiming to reduce their sugar intake or those with diabetes.
At UMAMU Estate, we aim to harvest physiologically ripe fruit which have already reached their sugar maturity and the canopy is optimal in ripening the fruit.
It means we do not rely on added sugars and can stay true to our mission of producing handcrafted wines which let nature do all the talking. See our full online Margaret River wine range here.