What You Drink Matters: What’s Really in Your Wine?

If you had asked me five years ago how wine was made, I had a very naive view that all wine was made by grapes that were simply crushed, fermented and then filtered a little before bottling in order to get rid of the used grapes. As it turns out, there are many more steps involved, particularly within the industrial wine industry.

I understand that there must be some level of control and manipulation in order to make wine. Otherwise its more likely that the grapes will turn to vinegar than something remotely worthy of drinking. Things like temperature control and judicious sulphur usage are necessary. However, in regards to the industrial wine industry, the aspects that I find the most disturbing is the widely accepted practice of using an assortment of additives and fining agents. This does not have to be disclosed to the consumer. There is currently no such labeling laws enforced in the wine industry which except for the Surgeon General Warning, disclosure of Alcohol By Volume (ABV), whether or not the wine contains Sulfates (which is basically most wines), and if certain food coloring agents were used (like red 40, etc & to be honest I have never seen this on a wine label).

But first, what is fining?

Quite simply, fining is the process by which the wine is clarified. It’s purpose is to remove unwanted materials and qualities from the wine like haziness, unwanted aromas, color, or bitterness. The fining agent binds to the unwanted particles in the wine, like a glue. These particles then fall to the bottom of the wine and then are filtered out. According to the Wine and Spirits Educational Trust fining is widely practiced and is generally considered an important step in ensuring the wine’s stability. However, this practice is not performed in natural wines, as well as many smaller wine operations. This step is simply not necessary if the proper care, patience, and attention is paid during the wine making process.

There are some fining agents which are completely synthetic like polyvinylpyrrolidone, a water soluble binding agents which lingers in small amounts in white table wines (A. Caputi, 1969) and is a known human irritant. Other common fining agents include Ovo-Pure (powdered egg whites), Isinglass (granulated fish bladders), gelatin (usually made from pigskin and cow bones) or with Puri-Bent (bentonite clay, which is also used in cat litter. The clay comes from the ground and it may inadvertently collect heavy metals, pesticides, or other substances. In 2016, the FDA issued a warning on ingestion of certain bentonite clay products as they were tested to have unsafe levels of lead in them. The FDA does not routinely regulate bentonite clay products, especially for industrial uses. This is also the fining agent used the the Cameron Diaz “Clean Wine”, Avaline).

Good wine making takes time and patience. Industrial Wine is made as quickly as possible.

It’s important to remember that for the industrial wine industry; Time is money, and the faster a production facility can churn out their wine, the faster it can make it to retailers and into your shopping cart. The usage of fining agents like the ones mentioned above aid in the speedy production of wine.

Wine is treated more like a science project than an romantic, artisan beverage. Large wine producing companies like Treasury for example, employ the expertise of food scientists who develop wine that suits the tastes of the general consumer. This is the same tactic that snack food companies like Nabisco and fast food chains like McDonalds use for their products. There are entire research labs dedicated to finding out exactly what the general consumer favors in a wine; more fruit flavors, level of sweetness, tannins, and so forth. There isn’t a problem or issue that the industrial wine industry hasn’t found a solution for. This is how these wines taste exactly the same, year after year. There is no such thing as vintage variation, which is normal and natural.

The List

Below is the lengthy list of permissible additives to wine in the United States. I find it nauseating. I will admit to being completely shocked when I first learned this. I contemplated writing about this for a while which is why I have not posted a blog article in quite some time. I just didn’t have the heart to write about a sample when I didn’t know more about it’s origins. It didn’t feel right anymore.

It’s funny how my wine journey has evolved. A few years ago, I would have never thought about what else was in my wine other than….grapes. However, now this has become a primary focus for me. I want there to be labeling laws and I want better agricultural practices overall (organic and biodynamic). It’s important not only for our health, but the health of our land, and the future generations that will inherit it.

The purpose of this article was not to make you never drink wine again, far from it. It was simply to open your mind to the hidden world of the industrial wine industry. Maybe next time you’ll think twice before picking up a bottle (or box) of Barefoot, Franzia, Fisheye, or Sutterhome. Perhaps consider a natural wine, one that’s a small production and made organically or biodynamic.

This article is part of a series that will cover more on this topic. If you’re not already, make sure you’re subscribed to the blog. The views expressed in this article are my own.

Ammonium phosphate (mono- and di basic)Yeast nutrient in distilling material.
Benzoic acid, potassium and sodium salts of benzoic acidTo prevent fermentation of the sugar in wine being accumulated as distilling material.
Enzyme activity:
Carbohydrase (alpha- Amylase)To convert starches to fermentablecarbohydrates.
Carbohydrase (beta- Amylase)To convent starches to fermentablecarbohydrates.
Carbohydrase (Glucoamylase,Amylogluco-sidase)To convent starches to fermentablecarbohydrates.
Copper sulfateTo eliminate hydrogen sulfide and mercaptans.
Hydrogen peroxideTo reduce the bisulfite aldehyde complexin distilling material.
Potassium permanganateOxidizing agent.
Sodium hydroxideAcid neutralizing agent.
Sulfuric acidTo effect favorable yeast development indistilling material; to preventfermentation of the sugar in wine beingaccumulated as distilling material; tolower pH to 2.5 in order to preventputrefaction and/or ethyl acetatedevelopment.
Acacia (gum arabic)To clarify and to stabilize wine.
AcetaldehydeFor color stabilization of juice prior to concentration.
Activated carbon– To assist precipitation during fermentation.- To clarify and to purify wine.- To remove color in wine and/or juice from which the wine was produced.
Albumen (egg white)Fining agent for wine.
Alumino-silicates (hydrated) e.g.,Bentonite (Wyoming clay) and Kaolin:To clarify and to stabilize wineor juice.
Ammonium phosphate(mono- and di basic):Yeast nutrient in wineproduction and to start secondaryfermentation in the production ofsparkling wines.
Ascorbic acid iso-ascorbicacid (erythorbic acid):To prevent oxidation of color andflavor components of juice andwine.
Calcium carbonate (with orwithout calcium salts of tartaric an malic acids):– To reduce the excess natural acidsin high acid wine, and in juiceprior to or during fermentation.- A fining agent for cold stabilization.
Calcium pantothenate:Yeast nutrient to facilitatefermentation of apple wine.
Calcium sulfate (gypsum):To lower pH in sherry wine.
Carbon dioxide (including foodgrade dry ice):To stabilize and to preservewine.
Casein, potassium salt of casein:To clarify wine.
Citric acid:– To correct natural aciddeficiencies in wine.- To stabilize wine other than citrus wine.
Copper sulfate:To remove hydrogen sulfide and/ormercaptans from wine.
Defoaming agents (polyoxyethylene40 monostearate, silicon dioxide,dimethylpoly-siloxane, sorbitanmonostearate, glyceryl mono-oleateand glyceryl dioleate):To control foaming, fermentationadjunct.
Dimethyl dicarbonateTo sterilize and to stabilizewine, dealcoholized wine, andlow alcohol wine.
Enzymatic activity:
Carbohydrase (alpha-Amylase):To convert starches to fermentablecarbohydrates.
Carbohydrase (beta-Amylase):To convert starches to fermentablecarbohydrates.
Carbohydrase (Glucoamylase,Amylogluco-sidase):To convert starches to fermentablecarbohydrates.
Carbohydrase (pectinase,cellulase, hemicellulase):To facilitate separation of juicefrom the fruit.
Catalase:To clarify and to stabilize wine.
Cellulase:To clarify and to stabilize wineand to facilitate separation ofthe juice from the fruit.
Cellulase (beta-glucanase):To clarify and filter wine.
Glucose oxidase:To clarify and to stabilize wine.
Lysozyme:To stabilize wines from malolacticacid bacterial degradation.
Pectinase:To clarify and to stabilize wineand to facilitate separation ofjuice from the fruit.
Protease (general):To reduce or to remove heatlabile proteins.
Protease (Bromelin):To reduce or to remove heatlabile proteins.
Protease (Ficin):To reduce or to remove heatlabile proteins.
Protease (Papain):To reduce or to remove heatlabile proteins.
Protease (Pepsin):To reduce or to remove heatlabile proteins.
Protease (Trypsin):To reduce or to remove heatlabile proteins.
Urease:To reduce levels of naturallyoccurring urea in wine to helpprevent the formation of ethylcarbamate.
Ethyl maltol:To stabilize wine.
Ferrocyanide compounds (sequesteredcomplexes):To remove trace metal from wineand to remove objectionablelevels of sulfide and mercaptansfrom wine.
Ferrous sulfate:To clarify and to stabilize wine.
Fumaric acid:– To correct natural aciddeficiencies in grape wine.- To stabilize wine.
Gelatin (food grade):To clarify juice or wine.
Granular cork:To smooth wine.
Isinglass:To clarify wine.
Lactic acid:To correct natural aciddeficiencies in grape wine.
Malic acid:To correct natural aciddeficiencies in juice or wine.
Malo-lactic bacteria:To stabilize grape wine.
Maltol:To stabilize wine.
Milk products (pasteurized whole,skim, or half-and-half):– Fining agent for grape wine orsherry.- To remove off flavors in wine.
Nitrogen gas:To maintain pressure duringfiltering and bottling orcanning of wine and to preventoxidation of wine.
Oak chips or particles, uncharredand untreated:To smooth wine.
Oxygen and compressed air:May be used in juice and wine.
Polyvinyl-polypyr-rolidone (PVPP):To clarify and to stabilizewine and to remove color fromred or black wine or juice.
Potassium bitartrate:To stabilize grape wine.
Potassium carbonate and/orpotassium bicarbonateTo reduce excess naturalacidity in wine, and in juiceprior to or during fermentation.
Potassium citrate:pH control agent and sequestrantin treatment of citrus wines.
Potassium meta-bisulfite:To sterilize and to preserve wine.
Silica gel (colloidal silicondioxide):To clarify wine or juice.
Sorbic acid and potassium salt ofsorbic acid:To sterilize and to preserve wine;to inhibit mold growth andsecondary fermentation.
Soy flour (defatted):Yeast nutrient to facilitatefermentation of wine.
Sulfur dioxide:To sterilize and to preserve wine.
Tannin:– To adjust tannin content inapple juice or in apple wine.- To clarify or to adjust tannin content of juice or wine (other than apple).
Tartaric acid:To correct natural aciddeficiencies in grape juice/wine and to reduce the pH ofgrape juice/wine whereameliorating material is usedin the production of grape wine.
Thiamine hydrochloride:Yeast nutrient to facilitatefermentation of wine.
Yeast, autolyzed:Yeast nutrient to facilitatefermentation in the productionof grape or fruit wine.
Yeast, cell wall/membranes ofautolyzed yeast:To facilitate fermentation ofjuice/wine.

Sec. 24.246 Materials authorized for the treatment of wine and juice.

Sec. 24.247 Materials authorized for the treatment of distilling material.


A. Caputi, Thomas Brown, Massao Ueda. Am J Enol Vitic. (January 1969) 20:152-154; published ahead of print January 01, 1969.

Bosker, Bianca (2017) Cork Dork, 2nd version. p. 201-203. Penguin Publishing. New York, NY.

Feiring, Alice (2019) Natural Wine for the People Ten Speed Press, New York.

Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. List of approved substances: Image Provided By:  Wikipedia

Images: Constellation Brands

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