By Annie Arnold
While educating people at wine events, I am often surprised how many don’t know what the “Dirty Dozen” or “Clean Fifteen” are. These terms have helped people shop pesticide-free, even if the products are not labeled organic. Another shocker is that many people are unfamiliar with GMOs (Genetically Modified Organisms). How is it possible that less than two years ago, we had Proposition 37 on the ballot, yet consumers are still unaware?
What’s even scarier is that I have been involved with the wine industry for years, dedicating my life to the organic wine movement, but it was only a year ago I learned that there could be GMOs in wine.
Despite the Wine Institute’s statement that no genetically modified organisms (GMOs) should be used in winemaking, the first wines made with genetically modified wine yeast, ML01, were released in 2006.
California Certified Organic Farmers (CCOF) and the Non-GMO project say that a large and growing body of research shows that GMOs can be toxic, allergenic, and less nutritious than their natural counterparts. Studies indicate that they can disrupt the ecosystem, damage vulnerable wild plant and animal populations, and harm biodiversity where they are used and in surrounding areas. They also stated that no GMOs should be used in the production of grapes. But what about the yeast used in wine production?
This is where the topic of GMOs and wine shake hands.
Why use GMO yeast? The thoughts are that the ML01 variety of GM yeast would save winemakers some processing time because it can simultaneously perform two kinds of fermentation (alcoholic and malolactic fermentation) used in winemaking. Wine produced faster would be potentially less prone to spoilage.
This may sound good at first on paper, but what is all the hurry about? Did our ancestors feel the need to cram a vintage down our throats to prevent spoilage? Unfortunately, we have been conditioned to always have products on the shelves of our grocery stores, whenever we want them, no matter what the cost is on our bodies.
Fortunately there are currently no genetically engineered (GE) grapes in commercial production, but field tests are commencing. The trials reveal genetically modifying grapes to be resistant to fungus, bacteria and viruses, powdery mildew and Pierce’s Disease to start. It’s only a matter of time.
Today, over 150 additives are allowed in conventional wine, not to mention all the pesticides, herbicides and fungicides. Since there are no regulatory requirements in the U.S. regarding the use of GE yeasts, or labeling wines made with them, or other additives, consumers are left in the dark.
This may all seem a bit overwhelming. After all, who knew wine could be on the GMO list?
The good news, is you have choices.
First, you can buy one of the 31 imported or domestic wines that have been certified by the Non-GMO Verified Project.
Second, look for wines labeled with “Made with Organic Grapes”, “Organic Wine” or know your producer very well. Not all wines that are not labeled organic are full of pesticides and GMOs. There are a lot of reputable wineries that have great intentions and follow through, but choose not to become certified.
Third, purchase from a company that grows their grapes in a country that has banned GMOs. For instance, Australia, New Zealand and most Europe, Asia and South America, all have banned GMO ingredients in manufacturing food.
The most important thing to remember is to not stress out over buying a bottle of wine! When in doubt, reach for a bottle of wine that has been certified organic.
Annie Rabin Arnold was raised in a brick and mortar wine store that her grandfather opened in 1938. After college, traveling around the world and 10 years of working in the film business, Annie had acquired enough skills and knowledge to bring a new outlook into an old business. Her goals were unleashed in 2010 when she took a leap of faith and turned her local family business, with 74 years of knowledge and experience, into a nationwide phenomenon called Organic Wine Exchange. O.W.E. is a unique website that combines wine education with the sales of organic and biodynamic wines from around the world. Annie can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org