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Why Are Some Wines More Primal-Approved Than Others?

Wine is one of humankind’s oldest and most favorite beverages not for the health benefits, or the antioxidants, or the resveratrol, but because it enhances life. Poets, authors, artists, philosophers, and laypeople across the ages will tell you that wine makes food taste better, promotes richer conversation, unfetters creative expression (a single glass can really dissolve writer’s block), relaxes the racing mind and emboldens the spirit.

Over the years, I’ve enjoyed wine with dinner and friends. Usually every night. Not only as a gluten-free replacement for the grain-heavy beer I used to drink to wind down at the end of a day, but as a hedge against the various causes of early mortality light-to-moderate wine consumption seems to protect against [1]. Some of the most recent research suggests that moderate wine consumption may even help against the run-of-the-mill cognitive impairments associated with aging [2]. The mechanisms behind the beneficial relationship of wine and health are not fully understood, but most studies attribute it to the high concentrations of polyphenolic compounds, like flavonoids and resveratrol. Even the alcohol itself has benefits in low doses, increasing nitric oxide release [3] and improving endothelial function [4]. The various health benefits associated with moderate wine consumption were just too well known [5] and numerous to ignore.

But in recent years I began experiencing negative side effects. I was waking up in the middle of the night, and I just didn’t feel well after throwing back a glass or two—even of my favorites. Something just wasn’t right, and I couldn’t ignore it. All the research in the world couldn’t justify a consistently bad night’s sleep.

I wasn’t the only one. From your emails asking for help, I know a lot of you can tell the same story. A love for wine that turned sour once the side effects couldn’t be ignored. I didn’t really have an answer beyond “stop drinking wine.”

So, with a bittersweet farewell, I stopped drinking it [6].

Until last fall. That’s when I met a guy named Todd White at Dave Asprey’s BulletProof Conference in Pasadena. Todd is the founder of Dry Farm Wines [7] and was providing wine for the conference.

We got to chatting. I told him that I didn’t drink anymore, and why. Todd’s eyes widened. I could see his brain going into overdrive. The dude was excited. I know that look. I’ve had that look. He was emphatic that his wines were different. He’d had the same problem with wine as me. Bad sleep, “blah” feeling, general all-around unpleasantness. He’d loved wine for decades and had been in the wine business for 15 years, but the side effects became too much. So he decided to do something about it and founded Dry Farm Wines. By selecting wines from vintners who used only traditional, organic, and natural winemaking methods, Todd could drink and enjoy wine again without the side effects. He was bringing wine back from the brink of industrialization.

Dry Farm Wines [8] is my favorite type of business. Just like I got into this Primal business to create a system of eating, training, and living that made me happier, healthier, and more productive, Todd created Dry Farm Wines so that he could improve his life and drink wine again. Any entrepreneur will tell you: tons of people have your problems, too. The trick is finding the one that will resonate with the most people.

Now, I was initially skeptical of Todd’s claims. I hadn’t just been drinking 2 buck chuck. Even some of the most expensive, highly-lauded bottles of California cab had left me awake and annoyed at 3 AM. Were Todd’s wines really different?

The way he put it certainly appealed to my Primal sensibilities. Similar to the effect the modern industrialized food system has on those who eat from it, modern wine production may be causing most of the problems associated with its consumption.

“Mark,” I thought. “You’re an n=1 guy [9]. Far crazier things have worked. Give it a shot.” So a couple weeks later, Todd came over to our home in Malibu for a wine tasting. To my surprise and delight, he was right. Not only did his wines taste great and complex and unlike anything I’d ever had, I didn’t experience any of the negative side effects I had with the commercial varieties. My sleep was unaffected. My mood the morning after was positive. After a couple of weeks of imbibing these babies and changing nothing else about my lifestyle, I was a total believer.

I was so appreciative of Todd giving me back something I’ve enjoyed—and confident that you guys would also be interested— that I decided to introduce him and Dry Farm Wines [8] on the blog. Todd isn’t just a wine aficionado. He is also an avid biohacker, fitness enthusiast and nutrition geek. In other words, we really get along and he knows what he’s talking about.

According to Todd, the winemaking process and farming techniques have changed dramatically from the naturally fermented grape juice our ancestors enjoyed [10]. Standard modern wines are now much higher in alcohol, higher in sugar, and filled with chemicals and additives to improve texture, color, and flavor. There are 76 chemicals and additives approved by the FDA for use in wine-making. Of these additives, the FDA bestows upon 38 of them the not-entirely-reassuring acronym “GRAS”—generally regarded as safe. Nice, huh?

Farming practices have been industrialized, too, and conventional wine often contains fungicides [11], mycotoxins [12], and phthalates [13]. The wine industry, like most of the agribusinesses in the country, has put profit and palate pleasing above all else. The name of the game is quantity and cost-effectiveness, not quality or nutrition.

The U.S. government also has their hand in plenty of the blame. Collusion between the mainstream wine industry and government has kept nutritional information and ingredient lists off of wine labels. Are they protecting trade secrets? Preserving decades-old family recipes? Nope: they simply don’t want you to know what you’re drinking because the truth is so unappetizing (or worse [14]). From excessive sulfites that keep microbes at bay but often cause headaches, added sugar to increase fermentation, added water to reduce alcohol, grape juice concentrate to deepen the color, fibers and gums to improve texture, antimicrobials like velcorin, added tartaric acid to provide missing acidity, and oak “essence” added because actual oak barrels are too expensive, accurate wine labels would contain ingredients lists far more complex than just “grapes, yeast, sulfur.” Will all those things hurt you? Maybe not, but it’s hard to know when you, well, don’t know what’s in that bottle.

Furthermore, the only requirement the government has for wine labels is that the alcohol content be included. And guess what? Even that’s just a guess. By law, the actual ABV in a bottle of wine can be 1.5% greater than stated on the label [15]. You really have no idea what you’re consuming or how much alcohol you’re drinking.

Since they contain no added sugar to boost fermentation and thus conversion into ethanol, all Dry Farm Wine ABVs are under 12.5%. And because Todd’s team lab-tests every batch [16], the ABV on the label is actually accurate. Drinking a low alcohol wine makes all the difference in how I feel, both while drinking and afterward. While drinking, I get that gentle lift we all like without crossing the threshold into sloppiness. Afterwards, I avoid the heaviness and foggy dullness. You can drink and enjoy more without increasing your alcohol intake to problematic levels.

These natural wines contain nothing but grapes and the wild yeasts that live on the grapes themselves. As Todd tells it, the farmers that make the wines he carries are nearly all in Europe where the natural wine movement has been growing steadily in recent years [17]. Like many of us, there is a fast growing interest in eating and drinking whole, natural products. Todd describes these natural winemakers as activist farmers and hippies who have a real pride in stewardship of the land. Most of them are multi-generational landowners who are still farming the same vines their parents and grandparents tended. They’re zealots, he says, rebelling against the modern practices they believe have poisoned wine-making. They have respect for and trust in nature and a commitment to craft and authenticity.

In their obsession for letting nature be the guide, all of them employ organic practices that create a “living soil,” rich in nutrients and teeming with beneficial organisms. This includes a rejection of irrigation, which increases yield and sugar content but “dilutes” the quality and washes away nutrients. An irrigated wine will be higher in alcohol but lower in complexity than a dry-farmed wine.

Todd’s wines are 100% dry farmed, which means they rely entirely on natural rainfall. That’s how it’s been done for millennia in Europe. His farmers are non-interventionists and believe irrigation is the first point of intervention in nature’s logic [18]. A dry farmed vine produces a more complex, deep flavored fruit that can be picked when it’s less ripe (and much lower in sugar content). Their use of old-growth vines also improves the quality. The more mature a grape vine, the deeper its roots and greater its ability to draw moisture and minerals from the soil.

The way these wines are fermented is different, too. Rather than use commercial yeasts, Dry Farm Wines [8] are fermented using the wild, naturally occurring yeasts found on the grapes. This lends more complexity and a unique quality that you simply won’t find in the homogeneous 100,000 gallon vat-wine.

But it’s not all tradition and instinct. They require that all of their natural wines meet the following standards and lab quantifications:

Alcohol under 12.5%

Sugar under 1 g/L

Sulfites under 75ppm (very little added, mostly naturally occurring)

Mycotoxin (Ochratoxin A) free

Organically farmed

Dry farmed

Old growth vines (35-100 years old)

Native/wild yeasts

Minimal intervention

Minimal filtering (watch for some bottom sediment)

No chaptalization (adding sugar to the grape must in fermentation to boost alcohol content)

Like the ancestral health community at large, they use science to improve upon traditional ways. Fanatical about lab testing, they are the perfect blend of craft and quantification. I know exactly what I am drinking: what’s in it, what’s not, how it was farmed, and how it was processed. It’s the only wine I drink now.

Anyhow, I’ll get off my new found wine case (get it? That’s like a soapbox, but with wine). If you’re a Primal reader, like me, who enjoys a glass of wine, check them out or look for wine. But if you want to get the most out of it, find a provider that’s local, organic, and dry farmed for all the benefits and fewer drawbacks.

Since Dry Farm Wines is the only wine club in the world focusing on traditionally-produced, dry-farmed wines, I’m happy to support them and their collective of rebel vintners. You could head down to the local Whole Foods or specialty wine shop and try a dry-farmed, natural, organic wine, but I really like that Dry Farm Wines curates their offerings. I have no clue if the dude down at the wine shop knows about the importance of sleep (and the effect wine may have on it) or polyphenol count or resveratrol, but Todd does. He’s one of us. That’s why we’ve partnered to offer a one penny bottle of wine with any club order and free shipping to all my readers [19]. (Full disclosure: If you click that link and purchase something, Mark’s Daily Apple receives compensation. Thank you for your support!) Check ‘em out and tell me what you think. If I can help a few people enjoy wine again, I’ll be happy (at least for the next week or so).

Thanks for reading, everyone. What are your experiences with wine? Anyone else have the bittersweet relationship I (used to) have with it? Find any differences between varieties you drink and the effects you feel later? Let me know in the comments below.

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