Is ‘natural’ wine healthier?

Toasting with red wine (Photo: Thinkstock Images via IndianExpress.com)

Are so-called ‘natural’ wines healthier, and less likely to give you a headache?

Monique Millton was interviewed in a recent radio program about ‘natural’ wine and the Adelaide Hills district Basket Range, where she and her husband produce Manon wines. Speaking on ABC Radio National’s Blueprint For Living program on January 6, she said a motive for her producing ‘natural’ wines was the avoidance of bad reactions that afflict some wine drinkers. She spoke as though it was a given fact that chemical additives to wine were the cause of these ill-effects. But there is a lack of scientific proof that supposed bad reactions to wine are caused by any additives, or even if some of these reactions occur at all, as opposed to being imaginary.

She said Australian winemaking had been ‘quite abusive’, and that after drinking wine, people;

“wake up in the morning and they get a red neck, or it doesn’t make them feel good. Tim and I want to make a product that does make people feel good and doesn’t make them have a sore head, and this is why we choose not to use additives in our wine.”

One thing I do know is that alcohol is a toxin and if you have too much it will give you ill effects. Sulfur dioxide is often painted by ‘natural’ winemakers as a bogeyman, while others (such as fellow Basket Range winemaker Taras Ochota) believe sulfur is not an enemy, and they don’t eschew it.

It is likely that some chronic asthmatics are triggered by excessive SO2 in wine, but by no means all. Indeed, none of the three chronic asthmatics in my immediate circle of friends and relatives have any problems drinking wine.

People vary widely in their health reactions. I know from experience that too much alcohol gives a lot of people a headache, but I also know one man who has worked in the wine business and drunk wine all his life, who has never experienced a single headache.

Another thing that experience has taught me is that many people have a tendency to believe what they want to believe, irrespective of whether it has any basis in fact. Just as cute, furry, wide-eyed animals are better loved than ugly ones, wine that comes with an appealing story will find an eager audience. It is very fashionable to be fussy about what we eat these days, and that includes a (healthy) curiosity about how our food and drink is produced. Inevitably, some people take these concerns to extremes.

When a group of people peddles a message that their product is better for our health, won’t cause allergic or other undesired reactions, is more natural and poses no threat to the environment, this is a very potent message. It will find an eager audience, part of which will be highly impressionable, even naïve. There is plenty of scope for exploitation.

Just for the record, I am a sceptic about most things, which means that I don’t believe everything I’m told. But I am not a cynic. And with regard to organic and biodynamic agriculture, I believe any system of agriculture that is good for the environment and whose aim is sustainability must be a good thing. Ignore the buried cow horns and stag’s bladders if you choose – they’re a separate discussion – but the sustainability factor is sufficient for biodynamics to have my support. However, I remain sceptical when it comes to blanket claims that so-called ‘natural’ wine is better for us.

4 thoughts on “Is ‘natural’ wine healthier?”

  1. Dick Dagger says:

    A prerequisite to comment on this post should be 1) a demonstrated basic understanding of science and 2) never have been to a naturopath.
    The so called benefits of natural wines are unsubstantiated and have been promulgated via a mob mentality. Wine doesn’t give me a headache but they sure do.

  2. Brenton says:

    Yes, Huon, John is right. You have a bet each way here. While Monique Milton says ‘a motive for her producing ‘natural’ wines was the avoidance of bad reactions that afflict some wine drinkers’, and you say ‘it is likely that some chronic asthmatics are triggered by excessive SO2 in wine, but by no means all’, you then go on to can her qualified claims. You over-react like a sceptic, who wants to tilt at windmills of his own making. You infer she might be making claims by which impressionable drinkers might be exploited. Seems unlikely – and your rave seems reactionary to something in yourself. I would hope you might be more open to possibilities here.

  3. Phillipe says:

    Hi Huon,
    lets disregard sulphur here but look at the huge array of chemicals that winemakers of all ilks add to their wines. Because they dont have to declare that they’re in the wine they all promise the wine writers of the world that they dont use them. A quick look in their lab will confirm otherwise. This is why so much of this “natural’ stuff is driven by winemakers who want to eschew this style of winemaking ( not necessarily coming from consumers who have no idea what is in their standard bottle of supermarket plonk )
    So if you arent looking at the nearly 200 legal chemical additives in wine in Australia then perhaps people shouldnt be discussing sulfur endlessly but the gut health effects of say – Polyvinylpyrrolidone (PVP) or Copper Sulphate
    Although more than anything they should be looking at the additions of oak shavings and oak chips and the tannin/histamine effects on drinkers.
    This article covers none of this and again loosely throws around the idea that not adding chemicals is furry thinking without any scientific justification for why dimethyl dicarbonate is really necessary as an addition.
    Or if the often high acetaldehyde levels in “natural” wines are carcinogenic.
    So many questions but few answers.

  4. John says:

    Reckon you are going to draw some heat on this as this is sacred cow topic! I also listened and was disappointed not to get a deeper understanding of “Natural Wine”. Not adding chemicals makes it natural? But which chemicals? In the vineyard or just the winery? A very perplexing trend that may pass once these wines fall off their perch in a few years. Maybe only the good sites will be able to produce reliably? I hope something comes of the hype.

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