In this episode, we discuss:
- The modern wine industry and what it means to be a natural wine producer
- Common additives in commercial wines and their health effects
- How to make conscious choices in wine consumption
- Dry Farm Wines website
- Visit DryFarmWines.com/ChrisKresser to receive an extra bottle of wine in your first shipment for only a penny
- Achieve your health goals and live your best life with Adapt Naturals. Join the email list at chriskresser.com for the latest updates on the July launch of the Core Plus bundle.
Hey, everybody, Chris Kresser here. Welcome to another episode of Revolution Health Radio. If you listen to this show, you probably think a lot about where your food comes from, the quality of your food, how it’s made, what ingredients, additives, [and] chemicals [it has], all that stuff. Of course, I’ve been writing and speaking about that for more than 15 years, and we talk about it a lot on the show. But I’m guessing you may not have paid the same level of attention to [the] wine you drink, if you do drink wine. And that’s the topic of this show.
This is something I didn’t know very much about myself, up until a few years ago. But I did know that starting in my 30s, I began to feel pretty terrible after I drank wine to the point where I completely stopped drinking wine, which is not the end of the world. But I enjoyed having a glass of wine with dinner and socially, and it was a bummer not to be able to do that ever because I felt so bad the next day, and sometimes even the same night, when I would drink it. I was at an event about six or seven years ago, and I ran into Todd White, who is the founder of a company called Dry Farm Wines. They were sponsoring the event and providing wine. We struck up a conversation, and he offered me a glass of wine, and I said no. I told him my story and why I had stopped drinking wine. He said, “I think you should try this. This is what we’re doing; it’s very low [in] sugar, low alcohol, [with] no additives. I was pretty skeptical because of all the experiences I’d had. I tried a lot of different types of wine, and I pretty much always felt bad no matter what I’d had. But I took a chance and I had it, and it was incredible. I felt great while I was drinking it. I felt great the next day. And I literally had not been able to drink wine for years prior to that.
I got really interested in what goes on with wine and had several conversations with Todd and, in my way, did a deep dive into the research and the industry and learned some pretty shocking things about wine and how wine is made commercially in the [United States] and in many other industrialized countries. [I] came to understand that, in the same way that we have an industrial food system and industrialized food from big food companies, we have industrialized wine from big wine companies in the [United States]. Most of the wine that’s sold in the [United States] and in a lot of industrialized countries is highly processed, just like the food that you see on the shelves at the grocery store.
So I invited Todd White to come on to my show and talk a little bit about the history of wine, what’s going on in the U.S. wine industry, the over 70 additives that can be added to wine without being disclosed on the label, [and] the fact that [with] alcohol in general and wine in particular, there are no ingredient labels, so we don’t even know what’s going into the wine. We talk about the importance of dry farming without irrigation, organic and biodynamically grown wine, small family farms and what Dry Farm Wines is doing to support them, the interaction between sugar and alcohol in wine, and why low-sugar and low-alcohol wines are so much better for us than the higher-sugar, higher-alcohol commercial varieties. So if you’re a wine drinker, I think you’ll be fascinated by this episode. And if you’ve stopped drinking wine like me, it’s still worth a listen because you might actually consider giving it a try again. I, unfortunately, cannot get Dry Farm Wines anymore because I live in Utah, and it’s illegal for companies like Dry Farm Wines to ship their product into Utah. But it is available in 44 states, and when I used to live in California, I got a box of it every month because it made such a big difference. It was the only wine that we could drink. I also would often give it as a gift because it was such an amazing product and people just loved it.
So, anyhow, this episode is going to be all about wine and how we can get back to a more ancestral approach to winemaking and wine drinking, if you will, and a little bit more about Dry Farm Wines and the cool stuff that they’re up to. I hope you enjoy the episode. Let’s dive in.
Chris Kresser: Todd, thanks so much for joining me on the show. It’s a pleasure to have you.
Todd White: Thanks. Great to see you. Happy to be here.
Chris Kresser: In the intro, I mentioned that a lot of people think a lot about the quality of the food that they eat. And this is something I’ve been writing [and] speaking about for many years. Everyone who is listening to this show is, of course, aware of that on some level. But my guess is that people don’t pay the same level of attention to the wine and alcoholic beverages they drink. Maybe that falls into the category of [the] 80/20 rule, or, “I’m drinking, so I don’t really need to think that much about the quality of what I’m drinking.” But it turns out, there’s quite a big difference [between] commercial, common wines that you see and the type of wine that, for example, your company Dry Farm Wines is selling. Maybe we could talk just a little bit about the state of wine, so to speak. What are the problems with most wines? And why should people even care or be concerned about that?
The Modern Wine Industry and What It Means to Be a Natural Wine Producer
Todd White: Well, I think it’s worth turning the clock back to understand how this happened and why it happened. Here’s the problem, and it’s particularly pronounced in your state, as an example, where the Utah [Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control] controls what wines come into your state. That’s unique. There’s only a handful of states where the state actually controls this process, [and] Utah happens to be one. But in the rest of the states, they operate in what’s known as the three-tier system. In the three-tier system, usually a multigenerational business controls what wines come into your state. This law was written in the 1930s in response to the repeal of prohibition in 1933. The law was created, and everything that you’re going to learn today, it might not surprise you, is going to come down to money, greed, and political influence. This is why you can’t choose to drink a healthier wine. We’re going to talk about what’s wrong with those wines and why they’re not healthy. But it begins with your access to wine.
The system is designed to benefit a small number of people. In fact, there’s an antitrust discussion going on right now in Washington, [DC], driven by the Biden administration, looking at this very issue. This law, which was written in the 1930s, was designed to keep organized crime from controlling the alcohol industry. However, the way it’s evolved since then has been to benefit a handful of families across the United States who control how wine comes into your state. Most states operate under this three-tier system. You have a distributor, and all the wine comes in through a distributor that then goes to a wholesaler that then goes to a retailer, that then gets to you. The distributors ultimately control what wines come in. And here’s where the money rub comes in. The wine industry has consolidated considerably over the last 50 years. Using Wall Street money [and] using public money to consolidate a massive number of companies that control most of the wine, they also control how the wine gets into your state. So these small natural organic wine producers like the wines that I drink and sell, [which] are healthier for you, don’t have access to distribution in most states because they don’t get representation by these distributors. So these laws go back to the 1930s.
Now[adays], there’s no need to have this three-tier protected system because organized crime is not a threat to controlling the alcohol industry in the way that it was in the 1930s. There are many laws, including a lot of labor laws, alcohol laws, all these laws that were written in the ‘30s and ‘40s, that don’t have the same meaning today as when they were interpreted at the time. So here’s the problem: the wine industry is consolidated around this three-tier system. And that consolidation creates these giant wine companies. Your top three wine companies in the United States, just the top three, control 52 percent of all the wines that are made here. And the top 30 companies in the United States make over [90 percent] of U.S. wine. So when you go into the grocery store or into a bottle shop, and you see all these wines, hundreds or thousands of bottles of wine, in some cases, most of those wines are made by just a handful of companies. Those companies’ goal is not to make wine better or healthier for you; it’s to make it cheaper and faster. And they do that using chemicals and additives. This is where the wine thing has come off track. Wines are also higher in alcohol today than they’ve ever been before. And it surprises a lot of people to hear me say this, but alcohol is a dangerous neurotoxin.
Most people think, well, the wine guy is here to sell wine. That’s not what I’m here to do at all. If you don’t drink, I’m not recommending that you begin drinking. Some people shouldn’t drink at all. Alcohol ruins millions of lives in the United States every year. So people are surprised, “Well, I thought the guy was here trying to sell you wine.” No, I want to educate you. If you choose to drink, you should be more thoughtful about what and how you drink. [It’s] what we call conscious consumption, which begins with just lowering the alcohol, first of all, which is why we only sell lower-alcohol wines. Because we believe that alcohol is an exogenous toxin. Therefore, it needs to be approached with a conscious forethought. If you’re going to drink wine, what you’re drinking makes a lot of difference.
There are 76 additives approved by the [U.S. Food and Drug Administration] (FDA) for use in winemaking. Some of them are natural and some are quite toxic. The most toxic one is known as dimethyl dicarbonate. If you look [up] dimethyl dicarbonate on the internet, it’s going to say, “Hazard, colon toxic.” How this dimethyl dicarbonate gets in wine is that it’s used to treat the single most common bacterial fault found in wines known as Brettanomyces. Brettanomyces gives wine an off-putting aromatic and an off-putting taste. It’s a very common bacterial fault, and they use [dimethyl dicarbonate] to correct it. Now the problem is you don’t know if this chemical is in your wine because, guess what? Wine is the only major food product without a contents label on it, or nutritional information. How did that happen? The wine industry doesn’t want a contents label on the bottle. And they’ve been successful in fighting contents labeling on the bottle. They spent millions of dollars [on lobbying]. You might know the alcohol lobby is very powerful. So [you] don’t have nutritional information, [you] don’t know how much sugar is in it, [and you] don’t know how many carbs are in it, if you’re conscious about low carb consumption or if you’re conscious about sugar consumption. There’s no contents labeling, so [you] have absolutely no idea what’s in it, including things like defoaming agents.
When you move wine from one tank to the other as a part of the fermentation process, that’s done with a pump. And when it’s pumped over, it foams quite a bit. In commercial winemaking, they have a spray for that, [which] they spray to dissipate the foam. All these additives and chemicals are being used in winemaking, [along with] color agents that make wine darker and stabilizers that give the wine more body [and] mouthfeel. Sugar also gives wine mouthfeel and a bit of a longer finish. All these things [are] going on in wine that you don’t have any idea [about]. If you care about what you put in your body, you’re drinking a commercial substance that you have no idea what’s in it.
Chris Kresser: I’m going to interrupt there because there’s a lot to unpack, and it’s crazy, actually. It strikes me as a really archaic industry that is not at all in alignment with where we are now in terms of disclosure of ingredients and access to a variety of different products. It reminds me of the music industry 30 or 40 years ago where you had to sign with a major label, [and] the major labels were controlling all our access to music. There were all these amazing independent musicians and bands, but there was no Spotify, [and] there was no other way to access music other than going through the major record labels. Of course, in the last 20 years, it’s been this huge revolution where with Spotify and other services, and the internet, in general, we can have access to these amazing, smaller, independent musicians without the interference of the major music labels.
It seems to me that there’s a similar phenomenon with the wine industry, except it’s still stuck in that 30- to 40-year-old model, where [in the case of] a lot of these independent small producers, the only way you’re going to know about them is if you happen to live in a winemaking region, and you can go and buy directly from the farm. Why do you think these other industries have been disrupted or shifted, whereas the wine industry is still stuck in the 1950s, ‘60s paradigm? Is it just [that] the lobby has been that successful?
Todd White: Here’s the other problem. Most of the wine industry, with the exception of a couple of things, is not federally controlled. It’s controlled [by] each state. In your state, you have a whole set of rules. You’ve got 50 states with 50 different sets of rules. The only thing that the government at the federal level is involved in is additives from the FDA, and the TTB, which stands for the [Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau], is responsible for the label. The TTB approves the label that goes on the bottle. Other than that and the three-tier system of distribution, all the other laws are at the state level, which is why your state has a unique set of laws that are particular to Utah. And it might not surprise you that, because of the nature of politics, that’s how [Utah] became so conservative as it relates to alcohol.
Chris Kresser: So you’d have to change the laws in all these states, not just one change federally.
Todd White: And these distributors have very powerful political connections at the state level. But in fact, it’s better than it used to be. The Supreme Court ruled that interstate shipping from wineries was illegal and anti-trade about 10 years ago. Now you have 44 states [where] it is legal to ship wine to your door. Now you have [a] choice. Not in [Utah]; you don’t have [a] choice because it’s a felony to ship wine to [Utah]. But for 44 states, those consumers have [a] choice. Now what they need is education. If they care about their health, then it matters that they care about what’s in their wine. We created the “better for you” wine category because I was looking for a better, healthier way to drink. I was a biohacker [and] followed a ketogenic diet. I [have] only [eaten] once per day for the last five years. I’ve been an athlete and a fitness enthusiast, and I wanted a better way to drink wine. Wine was making me feel bad. I had been a wine aficionado and drinking wine every day for many, many years. And wine was starting to really make me feel bad. I don’t know if it was my aging or [because] at the time, I had adopted a pretty strict therapeutic ketogenic diet. Now I’m on what I’d call a modified ketogenic diet. But for a couple of years in the very beginning, before keto went mainstream, I experimented with what I would call a therapeutic ketogenic diet. At the same time, wine was making me feel really, really bad.
I discovered the natural wine revolution quite by accident. I wasn’t looking at it as a business. I mean, I’m now in the business of selling natural wine, but at the time, I was simply trying to find a healthier way to drink. I discovered natural wine, and what makes a wine natural is a pretty simple definition and one that’s agreed upon all over the world, although there’s no official certification for natural wines. Dry Farm Wines, my company, has a certification process, but there’s no national certification for natural wines. But it’s fairly well agreed upon about what they are. Natural wines are always organic or biodynamically grown. Biodynamic farming is a prescriptive, advanced form of organic farming. Natural wines are always fermented with wild native yeast. Commercial wines are fermented with [genetically modified organism] lab-grown yeast. When a grape berry is harvested, it doesn’t matter where, it has a white waxy film on the surface of it, and that white waxy film is yeast. It collects naturally and indigenously through the vineyard where the grape has grown. That indigenous yeast is used to ferment natural wines. The reason they’re not used to ferment commercial wines is that these natural yeasts are temperamental. They’re difficult to work with, they require a lot of coddling, and you can’t make wine in great volume using these native yeasts.
So what happens in a commercial winery is that the winemaker introduces sulfur dioxide to the juice after it’s pressed to kill the native yeast and then inoculates it with lab-grown yeast. These lab-grown yeasts have been modified to be strong and sturdy, you can make wine in large volumes with them, they will withstand a higher alcohol environment than a native yeast, and you can buy them in flavor profiles. You would know that yeast has flavor profiles if you followed the sourdough baking craze that happened during the pandemic. Everybody would be trying to get everybody else’s mother yeast because it had flavor characteristics and profiles. Yeast has a substantial impact on the flavor profile, and you can purchase these commercial yeasts that are modified to have certain flavor profiles. And then, number three, natural wines are additive free. They’re not being chemically manipulated. As a result, natural wines are grown in pretty small quantities by very small family farms. There’s not a lot of money in making wine this way because you can’t make it in great enough volumes. [Going] back to the consolidated industry, you’ve got these giant wine companies [that] make millions and millions and millions of cases of wine.
They don’t want you to know that, so they hide behind thousands of brands and labels to trick you. They want to feature a farmhouse or an animal on the label or a chateau to have you believe that you’re drinking [wine] from this place, when, in fact, most of these wines are made in giant wine factories located in the Central Valley of California. These wine factories are ginormous, like multiple, multiple football fields big, where this wine is made. And, by the way, everything I’m sharing with you, industry stats, the wine factories, the law, all this [information] is available on Google. Additives, the FDA. If you type “FDA approved wine additives” into your computer, the FDA document will come right up. All this information is not my opinion. You can validate any of it. You can search “California wine factories” and see pictures of these things. This is not marketing speak or Todd’s opinion. This is just the way it is.
Chris Kresser: So these companies can create any label and name it and put pictures on there that make it seem like it’s a winery in Napa Valley or somewhere else, and there’s no regulation around that?
Todd White: Not exactly. So that’s a great example. If, in fact, the label says “Napa Valley,” which is a legal appellation, 75 percent of the juice in that bottle must come from the Napa Valley. That doesn’t mean that it’s made without additives or that it’s even organically grown or irrigation free. As you know, the name of our company is Dry Farm Wines. What that means [is that] we don’t allow irrigation to be used on any of our vines. It saves over a billion gallons of water a year just on the farms we work with. Irrigation is bad for the planet. It’s unnecessary. It does make farming easier and cheaper, but it also results in poorer quality fruit. But what it does do is create bigger yields [and] berries filled with water, and it might not surprise you that a berry filled with water weighs more. Fruit is sold by the ton. So the more it weighs, the more valuable it is. Ultimately, everything here comes down to money and greed. It’s much cheaper and easier to farm and irrigate a grape field than it is a dry farmed one. And there’s virtually no dry farming in the United States, virtually none.
So you can’t just put anything on the label. You can’t say it’s from Napa Valley if it’s not from Napa Valley. But you could put any image you want on it, and it doesn’t matter whether it’s site-specific or not. Also, it doesn’t matter where the wine is made. The question is where the fruit [came] from, in the case of an appellation specific like Napa Valley. But Napa Valley is a very unique part of the story. Napa Valley makes a tiny, tiny, tiny fraction of the wine that is made in the United States. I have a home in Napa Valley. It’s a very, very tiny fraction of the overall wine that’s produced, and much of it is produced in Napa. Not in factories, but in smaller wineries. It doesn’t mean it’s natural, it doesn’t mean it’s additive free, [and] it doesn’t mean it’s better for you. And as you know, those bottles are typically $100, $150. They’re typically pedigreed and very expensive, and can go up to like $1,500 a bottle.
Want a better and healthier way to enjoy a glass of wine? Tune in to this episode of Revolution Health Radio as I talk with Todd White from Dry Farm Wines about how to make thoughtful and educated choices about what you drink. #chriskresser #naturalwine
Common Additives in Commercial Wines and Their Health Effects
Chris Kresser: I want to talk a little bit more about additives because this strikes me as a strange thing in most countries, where ingredients and toxins are innocent until proven guilty. This is true in personal care products, in home care products, and all kinds of stuff. You mentioned a few of the additives that are concerning in wine, and you also mentioned that there’s no requirement to disclose these on the bottle, and there is not even a place to disclose them because there’s no ingredient list on the bottle.
What are some of the health impacts of some of these additives? And, just personally, your own experience? I’ll share my experience with Dry Farm Wines when I didn’t live in Utah, as well. A lot of people, when they drink wine, wake up the next day with a bad headache or a hangover. Sometimes I [even] have patients who get skin rashes and things like that. They always just assumed it was the wine, or perhaps the alcohol. But it seems entirely plausible, and certainly, my own experience confirms this, that it’s not the wine, but it’s something else in the wine like additives that they don’t even know they’re drinking.
Todd White: Yeah, I’d love to tell you. The fact is, we don’t know what the health impacts are. Here’s what we do know, and this probably relates to your experience with it, and certainly my experience, and the experience of millions of other people who drink natural wine and who give us feedback about their experience of how they feel.
We don’t know because we don’t have control group studies, [and] we don’t have solid science on a lot of what we eat and drink, and that includes wine. There’s just not been anybody to underwrite the studies of what these things mean. But here’s what we do know for sure. Drinking less alcohol is healthier, which is why we only sell and drink lower-alcohol wine. We know without a doubt that drinking less alcohol is better. Also, anecdotally, when you drink these wines, you feel substantially better not only while you’re drinking them, but the next day, as well. We do know a little bit about what causes most people to get rashes or hot flashes or redness or splotchiness or tension in their frontal lobe. Most of that comes from biogenic amines like histamine and tyramine. That’s what’s causing most of that, particularly with women and red wine.
As you know, [health events are] starting to return, and we’re the healthy wine for most all forward-looking health events. [For] anything that [has] to do with metabolics or keto or Paleo or low-carb, we’re the official wine. I’m speaking in London at the first big event that is coming up in May, called the Health Optimisation Summit. Are you [going] there?
Chris Kresser: I was invited to go, but I couldn’t make it due to another commitment. But it sounds like a great event.
Todd White: Yeah, it’s got a nice speaker lineup. I just looked at it a couple of days ago. But anyway, when we would meet thousands and thousands of people in person, there would always be this huge number of women, typically in their 40s or 50s, who would say, “I love red wine, but I can’t drink it.” To which we would say, “Here, drink this red wine; you’ll be fine. Let me know tomorrow how you feel.” Universally great, no problems. So we do know that biogenic amines cause a lot of problems, particularly for women. We know that some people seem to be affected by higher sulfites. Sulfites get very high in wine because sulfur dioxide is used to sterilize and preserve conventional wines. We don’t know what it really means. Sulfur has been used to preserve wine since the Romans. So how much is enough? At what point are you affected? We don’t really know. Not everyone is affected.
Then just lowering the alcohol and getting rid of the sugar. Sugar and alcohol have a particularly nasty marriage. Sugar is a nasty drug, and we believe that sugar is the most widely addicted and abused drug on the planet. You know that sugar and alcohol have a particularly nasty marriage because if you drink three margaritas, that’s a very different outcome than if you were to take three shots of tequila. How you feel is substantially different, putting the sugar and the alcohol together, than just having grain alcohol.
Chris Kresser: That’s definitely true. I think almost everyone listening to this podcast has a personal experience related to that. What is the difference in sugar levels, roughly, between Dry Farm Wines and typical wines? And also, in alcohol content? Because you’re reducing both of those at the same time, and I think that’s one of the reasons there’s such a big difference.
Todd White: Alcohol in the United States in wines is teetering around 15 percent. Dry Farm Wines doesn’t sell anything over 12.5 [percent] in our wines [and] as low as 6 percent. Most of the wines I drink are around 9 or 10 percent. Now does 12 percent or 15 percent sound like a big difference? It doesn’t, but it is a huge difference. You’ll feel a huge difference. If I drink those wines, they immediately give me a headache. Now that I’ve not consumed conventional wines for a very long time, [on] the rare occasion when I do, they make me feel very bad, and that’s generally the experience of our customers, as well. Once they start drinking natural wines, they can’t go back to drinking conventional wine.
Let’s talk about the sugar element. Our wines are statistically and categorically, by law and definition, sugar free. That means that we do not allow more than one gram of sugar per liter. A wine bottle is 750 milliliters, so a liter is 25 percent more than what is contained in a wine bottle. By law under the government’s code, less than a gram per liter is legally sugar free. We lab tested the top 20 best-selling wines in the United States last year. It didn’t matter what country they were from; we lab tested the top 20 best-selling wines in the United States. Of those, only two met our criteria for sugar free. Sugar can range anywhere from zero grams, or a fractional amount of sugar that’s statistically sugar free, let’s just call it zero [grams] [of] sugar, to a dessert wine [that] could be 100 grams of sugar in a bottle. I’m talking about something that’s noticeably very, very sweet.
Chris Kresser: That’s still a lot though.
Todd White: It could range on commercial wines, [the ones] you’re seeing in the grocery store, anywhere from a few grams in the bottle to 10 or 20 grams. It just depends on what range you’re at. But if you get into what are obviously sweeter wines, you will taste sugar. If you’re in the five gram, six gram range, you won’t taste the sugar because wine has an underlying [acidity] to it. It’s the same thing in a cola, where you have ascorbic acid that is so high [that] even though it has maybe 32 grams of sugar in a 12-ounce serving, it doesn’t taste like that. If it were just sugar and water, it would be super, super sweet.
Chris Kresser: Right, and I think your point, too, is that it’s not just the sugar independently or the alcohol independently. It’s the exponential effect when you combine the two together that makes the biggest difference.
Todd White: Well, you’ve [drunk] a lot of our wine, [and] you understand that you feel substantially different. It’s not just a little bit different. It’s substantially different.
Chris Kresser: You may recall when we first met, which was back in your early keto experiment days, I had stopped drinking wine for quite a long time because I described it as kryptonite for me. I could drink clear spirits like tequila or vodka or gin, but I couldn’t drink beer and I couldn’t drink wine because I felt terrible the next day. To the point where I thought, “Oh, maybe I’ve developed some kind of allergy to alcohol or something in wine.” And then, when I drank Dry Farm Wines, I mean, I was very skeptical.
Todd White: I recall you were quite skeptical.
Chris Kresser: I was. I mean, I’m kind of skeptical, in general. But I was skeptical because I had tried so many different wines and organic wines and wines from Whole Foods.
Todd White: Just because wine is organic doesn’t mean it’s additive free. It doesn’t mean it’s sugar free, either. It just means it’s grown organically. It doesn’t mean that it’s fermented with wild native yeast; it just means [that] it was organic farming. Now, is that a step in the right direction for the earth and for wine in general? Sure. Organic wine must be better for you than non-organic wine. But just because the wine is organic, [it] doesn’t mean that it checks these other boxes.
Chris Kresser: I can attest to that because it still didn’t make a difference. Maybe there was some difference, but not to the point where I could drink wine. Then we met, and I had some wine at that first event and I was shocked. I could drink it and I didn’t have [a] headache, I didn’t feel terrible, and I felt good and normal the next day. And I continued to drink it when I still lived in California. This move to Utah has been amazing in lots of ways, but one way that it has not been amazing is that I can’t get Dry Farm Wines anymore.
Todd White: There’s actually a surprising number of health-focused, forward, very progressive thinkers who live in Utah now, particularly around Salt Lake City. I was just in Utah two weeks ago for an event up at Powder Mountain. There’s an amazing number of smart, very healthy people who live in the Salt Lake City area. I don’t know if you’re around Salt Lake City, but we have a lot of customers there who would love to get our wine.
Chris Kresser: I’m in Park City, which is up the road from Salt Lake City. I [probably] know the folks at Powder Mountain where you were. But yeah, it’s a bummer because I really used to enjoy having wine. I was never a heavy wine drinker, but I would love to have it socially at dinner parties or out [at] dinner or something like that.
Todd White: Wine and dinner, or just food and wine are a great pairing. Talking about the spirits thing for a moment, I think it’s fair to give tequila or vodka its due for being a clear distilled, pure, ethyl alcohol. The problem I have with spirits and the reason I don’t drink them, is because they’re too high in alcohol. Tequila is 45 percent alcohol, and alcohol is such a domino and progressive drug. When I say a domino drug, what I mean is that it draws you in. The more you drink, the faster you drink, [and] the more likely you are to drink more. And we don’t think that people should be drinking more; we think you should be drinking less. Lower alcohol [means] they can drink more volume without having the same negative consequences from having too much alcohol. I freely talk about this, [that] my life might be better off if I didn’t drink at all. It’s very possible that my life could be enhanced by that. I don’t know. [But] I’m not going to stop drinking. I like drinking wine. What I don’t love is alcohol. I like it in moderate amounts, and it’s an occupational hazard, unfortunately, that in my line of work, if you drink too much of even natural wine, you will get drunk.
Natural wine doesn’t prohibit you from getting drunk. It gives you a healthier way to get drunk, but it doesn’t prohibit you from getting drunk. I happen to love wine. I don’t love alcohol. It surprises a lot of people to hear me slam on alcohol all the time. But I think that if we want to have a healthy relationship with drinking, we should drink less, meaning lower the alcohol, but still be able to drink the same amount. And that’s what I do. I also don’t drink during the daytime, and I don’t recommend anybody else does either. I’m a fat burner, so I remain ketogenic, although not therapeutic. The moment you take in an exogenous energy source, like alcohol, you’re going to stop burning fat. And I want that to be only at night. I don’t want to stop that process in the daytime. I don’t eat in the daytime for the same reason, as well.
How to Make Conscious Choices in Wine Consumption
Chris Kresser: I think you’re making some great points that I want to highlight here, and I appreciate it because I’ve talked a lot about this, as well, in the past that, when you look at the research, it is pretty clear that overconsumption of alcohol is a huge problem and contributes to poor health, so I think we’re both on the same page there.
Todd White: And poor brain health in particular.
Chris Kresser: Absolutely. So we’re both on the same page there. I think the question is, if someone does choose to drink alcohol for other reasons, [like] socially [or because] they enjoy it, then how do you do [it] in the way that’s best for your body? For me, because I don’t have access to Dry Farm Wines here and I can’t really find any wines that have a similar profile for all the reasons that we’ve already talked about in the show, I don’t really drink when I go out because I can’t control what’s in the drink. If I make a margarita at home, it has half or less than the amount of tequila that would normally be in there, fresh squeezed lime juice, and sparkling [water], like a Topo Chico or something like that. And maybe a tiny bit of agave because I’m not that sensitive to that and I can handle that. But it doesn’t taste anything like what I would order if I go out to a bar or a restaurant. I’m getting about a third [of the sugar], if that.
Todd White: It’s impossible; you can’t order a margarita out. I mean, it’s just crazy.
Chris Kresser: Especially a cheap margarita with the premade mix and all the sugar in it and stuff, that’s just devastating. Again, that’s like kryptonite for me. I’ll feel like a train wreck.
Todd White: I couldn’t even think about it. I haven’t [drunk] anything like that in 20 years.
Chris Kresser: I think what I love about what you are doing, and have since I met you, [is that] you’re very forthright and honest about what we know and what we don’t know about alcohol, about wine, [and] about the industry, and you’re really helping people make better choices that are more health promoting, if they’re going to drink wine. The other piece of it that’s important to me, and you touched on it, and I’d love to unpack a little bit more, is the environmental impacts. You mentioned the amount of water that’s saved by Dry Farm [Wines] and no irrigation. But then also, collectively, with all the winegrowers you’re supporting, [you] have almost 90,000 acres of organic vineyards, which represents something like 7 percent of all organic vines in Europe. [Environmental awareness is] super important to me in the food choices that I make. We order our beef from a local farm here in Utah. We have a [Community Supported Agriculture], Copper Moose Farm here in Park City, where we get a lot of our produce and always try to support local small farms when it comes to food. So why wouldn’t we also want to do that when it comes to alcohol if we’re drinking?
Todd White: Here’s the difference, and I like to use this analogy when we think about organic farming, or we think about living soils and the restoration of [soil]. We have a foundation that makes regular grants for regenerative farming research and restoration of living soils. We work with about 800 of these very small family farms. The way I like to think about this, [and] this goes back to the organic discussion, as well, [is that] just because something’s organic, that’s different [from] the small family [farm] living soil. The way I’ll illustrate that is very simple, and everybody will immediately relate to it. When you go to the farmers market and you look at these vegetables that are grown by small family farms, they are teeming with color and vibrancy. You just want to take a photograph of them. They’re so beautiful and so vibrant. But when you go to [the] organic section in your grocery store, they don’t look like that, although they’re organic. [It’s] what I call industrial organic. It matters that you have this spirit and this love of the local farms that you’re supporting. It matters in the quality of the product that you’re getting. The same thing is true of wine.
When you select a wine from a small family farm, there is love and commitment to the rhythms of nature and to the feeding of a living soil. Which is why you see many, many, many natural wine growers don’t till their land. They never plow because they don’t want to turn that soil over where there are billions of living organisms below the soil. When you turn that soil up and it faces the sun, it kills the living soil. So it’s all these kinds of things. When you go into a natural vineyard, often, you’ll walk alongside grasses and other wild plants and flowers that will be chest high, [with] the grape vines on trellises just above them, because the natural wine grower believes that everything in nature is connected and that the Earth had a couple of billion years to figure out how to make all this work together. They want biodiversity. Livestock and bees and insects. They want insects in their vineyard. There are natural systems designed for nature to take care of itself. When you go into a living, wild vineyard, it [looks] quite wild. It looks nothing like the vineyards in California that you’re used to seeing, which just have scorched earth below them because they’ve been treated with RoundUp.
Chris Kresser: It just strikes me that, again, all the people listening to this show deeply appreciate that when it comes to food and make a big effort to source their food from local farms and are well aware of the impact of large monoculture-type operations and follow the work of folks like Joel Salatin and Allan Savory. But there’s, in general, been less attention on the importance of similar practices in winemaking.
Todd White: Wine has always had this sort of romantic image. The industry has marketed it in a romantic way. It’s also had this image over the years as being the healthier beverage choice of alcohol. There’s never been anyone who’s really questioned what we’ve questioned on that scale. And you can imagine the industry is not very happy with me. I’ve told millions of people about this, and nobody was talking about it. Now there are other people who are starting to try to copycat us. They’re not really talking about these things [that] I’m talking about, but they want to look and act like us. But no one had exposed this. And again, everything I’m telling you is not marketing [or] something I made up. You can validate everything I’ve told you on Google. We believe it matters to support small family farms. We believe it matters to protect the Earth. We can do that on 90,000 acres or maybe 100,000 and save a lot of water and provide support for these farmers. And by the way, natural wines are not expensive. As you know, our wines are about $27 a bottle, including shipping to your door. And wine is very expensive to ship because it’s super heavy. It’s glass bottles filled with liquid. Most of it is water.
We’re super, super intentional about our vetting practices. We have a certification protocol. We lab test every wine to ensure that it is what we say it is [and] to ensure it’s what it’s been told to us to be. We test for sulfites, we test for alcohol, [and] we test for sugar. We want to make sure what we’re representing is what’s been represented to us. We’re the largest buyer and seller of natural wines in the world. So we [are] very, very committed. The other thing is that when people meet us, like at health conferences, they can see that we’re actually who we say we are. That we are keto, that we do care, that we look healthy, and that we’re committed to living a lifestyle that expands health span. If life span comes along with it, that’s great. But the most important thing to me is expanding my health span and staying healthy. I hope that’s for 100 years, but I don’t want to get sick until the very end. It’s likely that we all get sick at some point, but what we can do is delay that. Which is one of the reasons I’m fanatically opposed to the consumption of sugar. Only in very, very moderate doses. I think the overconsumption of sugar and elevated blood glucose is a primary driver of most chronic illness.
Chris Kresser: When I think of Dry Farm Wines, it’s like the difference between a processed food and an unprocessed food. And you can go even further back to like, we know today if you go into the grocery store and you see a carrot or an apple, that’s nothing like what carrots and apples were like hundreds of years ago. They have an evolutionary history. They’re almost not even the same thing.
Todd White: They’re not the same thing at all. It’s the same thing for wine. The wine we sell is the same wine the Romans were drinking.
Chris Kresser: That’s exactly my point.
Todd White: It’s the same wine that is found in Sardinia where Blue Zones’ and Dan Buettner’s work has been done, showing that in most of the Blue Zones, where centenarians and super-centenarians have been studied, most of them, with the exception of one, consume wine. But these are natural wines made in their garage. These are not coming from the grocery store.
Chris Kresser: Yeah, they’re not ultra-processed wines, which is what we’re mostly getting in the store. If you are paying attention to your diet and following an ancestral diet and trying to eat as close to what humans ate for the vast majority of our evolutionary history [and] you’re going to drink alcohol, then it makes sense that you would pay the same level of attention to what you’re drinking.
Todd White: You would drink the same wine they were drinking.
Chris Kresser: Exactly.
Todd White: We didn’t have the advent of chemical farming until the 1920s, more or less, and we really didn’t get what we know as the wine industry today until 30 years ago. All this happened with, again, Wall Street money and consolidation of the industry. And that was supported by the three-tier system. So the three-tier system, it all works together, right? [With] these distributors and these very large wine marketing conglomerates, the bigger scale you are, the more attractive you are to a distributor. And since the distributor is the only way to get your product into the state, this is what’s wrong.
Chris Kresser: It’s a big problem. But the good news is [that in] 44 states in the [United States], you can order Dry Farm Wines. I happen to be in one of them where you can’t, but I think a lot of the listeners will be fortunate enough to be in a state where you can. I want everybody to know that you can get an extra bottle in your first box for just one penny if you go to DryFarmWines.com/ChrisKresser. And Todd, I think you have different packages of wine for whites and reds and for different preferences. How does that work?
Todd White: You can choose a mix [and] match any way that you want. Sparkling, orange, rosé, white, red. Orange wine is not made with oranges, by the way; it’s a white wine that’s had skin contact during the fermentation process. It’s commonly referred to as orange, but it has nothing to do with orange, and it’s also sugar free. You can combine any frequency of delivery and any variation of [types]. We have special packages, like a bold red membership for people who like big red wine, [and] we have a Pinot Noir membership for people who like Pinot Noir. It can be customized in any way you want.
Chris Kresser: Again, that’s DryFarmWines.com/ChrisKresser. If you are a wine drinker, I highly recommend it for all the reasons we’ve talked about. Even if you have stopped being a wine drinker and you would like to drink wine again, but you stopped because you couldn’t tolerate it like me, and you’re fortunate enough to live in one of those 44 states, then I would also highly recommend trying it. Because you might, like me and like Todd, be able to start enjoying wine again in moderation without any of those undesirable side effects.
Todd, thanks so much for joining me and sharing your wealth of knowledge on wine and the history of wine. And thanks for the great work that you’re doing making these really amazing ancestral wine products available to everybody.
Todd White: Thanks, it was a great time. [I] appreciate you having me [on] today.
Chris Kresser: All right, everybody. Thanks for listening. Keep sending your questions to ChrisKresser.com/podcastquestion, and we’ll see you next time.
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