I love wine.
One of my favorite things is to unwind at the end of a long day with a glass of good wine.
But I don’t love the negative effects of wine. I experience lower-quality sleep after just a glass or two. And I am concerned about the possible long-term health consequences, especially since alcohol is a known neurotoxin.
I lead a very healthy lifestyle overall, but it is hard to determine the right approach to alcohol. Certain studies show moderate drinking has health benefits, while other reports say no amount of alcohol is safe.
Ultimately, since wine is one of the great joys in my life, I want to continue enjoying it while finding the healthiest type possible.
As I started researching the healthiest wines, I came upon a health-focused, natural wine club called Dry Farm Wines.
I recently had a chance to talk to the company’s founder, Todd White, and learned that he started the company to solve the same issue I’ve been facing.
“For much of my adult life, I’ve had sort of a tenuous relationship with alcohol in general, which is what led me to this business,” Todd said.
Todd lives in Napa Valley, has been a life-long wine lover, and even made his own wine as a hobby in the past. But he reached a point where wine was making him so sick that he couldn’t drink it anymore.
He is also a health fanatic and self-described biohacker.
“Biohacking is the art and science of how we alter our behavior to influence our neurological or biological outcome,” he explained.
He has been experimenting with diet and lifestyle hacks for optimal performance for decades.
“For me, it is mainly focused around having higher energy, higher cognitive performance, and anti-aging,” Todd said.
Todd’s love of wine, obsession with health, and penchant for personal experimentation would eventually lead to Dry Farm Wines.
When Todd first started feeling sick from wine, he thought it was due to the alcohol.
So he started experimenting with lowering the dose of alcohol by mixing wine and tea together. He found that he felt better just by diluting the alcohol content (mixing wine with water would have a similar effect — he used tea in the wintertime). But after a while Todd started to miss the great taste of real wine.
Around that time, a wine expert friend of Todd’s told him to check out the low-alcohol wines coming out of Europe. Todd previously didn’t know anything about low-alcohol wines. He went into local wine shops asking for wines lower in alcohol, but the salespeople looked at Todd like he was crazy with that request — so he just started examining wine labels on his own to determine the alcohol content.
“I discerned that the breaking point from alcohol — what seemed to be the delineation between lower alcohol and higher alcohol — was 12.5%,” said Todd.
He bought a case of the lowest alcohol wines he could find in that store (between 12% and 12.5%), but wound up pouring most of them down the drain because they were undrinkable. He kept scooping up low-alcohol wines wherever he could find them, but they always seemed to be hit-or-miss.
Except for one Paris-based importer that Todd found to be delivering consistently high-quality, low-alcohol wines. Todd felt physically better after drinking them, too.
He researched and contacted the importer and learned that all their wines were “natural.” At that time, Todd hadn’t heard of natural wines. But now he was on to something with low-alcohol, natural wines.
Todd located the top natural wine retailer in the Bay Area and became one of their best customers. He even found one specific bottle of Pinot Noir from the Mosel region in Germany that he couldn’t get off his mind. “This one bottle of wine — I became so fascinated with it, it changed my life,” Todd told me.
Todd was determined to understand what made that wine (and others like it) so amazing. The biohacker in Todd came out and he started lab testing the natural wines he liked best. He was looking to find the perfect formula of taste, alcohol level, and other contents (sugar, sulfites, etc.).
When he found the right mix, he started sharing those wines with his friends. They all agreed the wines were magical — alive, ethereal, soulful. They tasted great, had lower alcohol, paired nicely with food, and didn’t produce a hangover.
Todd didn’t know it at the time, but he was uncovering some dirty secrets about the US wine industry.
It turns out the FDA allows 76 artificial additives to be included in conventional wine, including ammonium salt and copper sulfate.
And instead of using native yeasts found on vines, US wine companies frequently use genetically modified (GMO) yeasts during fermentation. Additionally, most US wine is not made organically — meaning synthetic pesticides can be present in the wines we’re drinking.
We have a pretty good sense about what is in our food these days, but we have no idea what is in our wine.
Todd says that’s because the wine industry has spent millions of dollars lobbying to keep ingredients and contents labeling off of wine. And the US wine industry is powerful, with just three major corporations dominating over 50% of the domestic wine production.
“The wine industry tells you a story that you’re drinking from a farmhouse or chateau, when in fact you’re drinking from some massive factory in central California,” said Todd.
The reality is these wine powerhouses are loading our wine with additives. “These additives are used across all conventional wines,” Todd said. “Less than one-tenth of one percent of wines in the world are made naturally.”
Alcohol content in wine has also been on the rise in recent years. It is common to see wines at 15% alcohol or higher these days. Todd says the wine industry loves alcohol because it is addictive, leads to increased consumption, and produces a boldness in flavor that appeals to many drinkers (particularly Americans). But alcohol labeling on wine isn’t tightly regulated either. “You could buy wine at 14% and it could be 15.5% and still be legal,” Todd told me.
Dry Farm Wines is doing it differently.
“Natural is just the beginning of our criteria,” Todd said.
Like other natural wines, Dry Farm Wines requires organic or biodynamic farming and their wines are always fermented with wild native yeast.
But Dry Farm takes it a step further by only sourcing wines that are irrigation-free, meaning no extra water is used in the cultivation of the grapevines (hence the name, Dry Farm Wines). The vines rely on rainfall for water. Not only is this more environmentally responsible, Todd says it also yields more flavorful and healthful wines.
He says this dry farming process creates more character in the grapes and preserves the antioxidant content. Red wine in particular is heralded for its healthy polyphenols. There are virtually no domestic US wines that are farmed without added irrigation, which means all of Dry Farm wines come from abroad (mainly Europe).
Additionally, Dry Farm Wines does not allow sulfur dioxide exceeding 75 parts per million (which is the amount that could be naturally-occurring in the fermentation process). Most of their winemakers do not add any sulfur. By contrast, the US government allows sulfites in wine up to 350 ppm.
“When you add 100, 150 parts per million, you actually sterilize the wine,” said Todd. “You kill all the gut-friendly bacteria, you kill all the soul and the life in the wine.” But that also means natural wines can have taste and quality variation from bottle to bottle, because they have not been sterilized with sulfur dioxide.
Of course Dry Farm Wines are also lower in alcohol — always 12.5% or less. They are also virtually sugar and carb free (less than 1 gram/liter).
Todd told me Dry Farm Wines is the only wine merchant in the world that does lab testing to select and verify the purity of their products.
All-natural, lab-tested, health-quantified wines aren’t for everyone.
Dry Farm Wines appeal to people who enjoy drinking wine daily, but who want to mitigate the negative consequences of alcohol consumption.
“Our customers are people who are interested in their health,” Todd said. They are people who care about what they put in their body, who want higher-functioning mornings, and better business performance.
“Our customers want a lighter, fresher taste,” he continued. “Because that’s how they eat — just lighter, fresher. Our wines don’t appeal to everyone because they’re not heavy and rich. They’re light and fresh. In large part because they’re lower in alcohol. And some of it is our wine style.”
I recently tried my first few bottles of Dry Farms Wines and can confirm they taste light, fresh, and clean. I do find them very flavorful, but it is too soon to tell if I feel differently compared with conventional wines.
Todd says if you drink natural wines for a month, you won’t be able to go back.
With Dry Farm Wines, you obviously know exactly what you’re getting.
But what about when you’re out at a restaurant or wine shop?
Todd recommends traveling with your own natural wines, whenever possible. That means bringing your wine to a restaurant and just paying the corkage fee.
There are also more natural wine retailers popping up in major US cities these days. Todd says there is a strong presence in New York, Chicago, San Francisco, and Los Angeles, but the natural wine movement is still slow to emerge in other markets.
There is a natural wine app called Raisin that is popular in Europe (Paris is the epicenter of the natural wine movement) and starting to catch on in the US. The app shows natural wine retailers, bars, and restaurants in your local area.
I will continue drinking wine — it is one of the great pleasures in my life.
But I want to do so thoughtfully and in the best interest of my health and longevity.
I am excited about exploring the world of organically crafted, unprocessed wine, low in alcohol and free of sugar and additives.
Todd White and Dry Farm Wines are at the forefront of this emerging movement.
Andrew Merle writes about living well, including good habits for health, happiness, productivity, and success. Subscribe to his email list at andrewmerle.com.