Are Organic Wines Better For You Than French Wines?

By Heather Callaghan

Do you get headaches after a glass or two of wine? Some blame sulfites, some blame fluoride, some blame non-organic and they might have a point.

So you would think scrambling for the nectar of French vines would be a safe haven. Even the French were surprised to find out just the opposite – their overuse of pesticides and fungicides finally caught up with them and could tarnish their national treasure. Keep reading to see how to avoid this problem — and the hangover.

Scientists led by Dr. Pascal Chatonnet of Excell laboratories in Bordeaux, France tested 300 wines for traces of growing chemicals and found that only 10% were completely chemical free. They tested vintage varieties from 2009 and 2010 grown in three regions, two being the all-but sacred fine wine regions of Bordeaux and the Rhone, and found a lot of fungicides, especially those applied late growing season.

While individual compounds were thought to be below safe levels – the worry is the cumulative and synergistic effects, the molecular interaction, and what happens during fermentation breakdown.

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According to Farming News:

The wine industry in France uses a proportionately high volume of chemical products on vines, accounting for 20 percent of all agricultural chemicals for products grown on 3 percent of the agricultural area.

More tragic, International Business Times reports:

Dozens of French grape farmers have been struck by illnesses that have been traced back to the pesticides they used. One farmer named Yannick Chenet died in 2011, seven years after he accidentally inhaled toxic fumes from his spraying machine. Other farmers have suffered Parkinson’s disease and various types of cancer. Studies have shown that farmers and laborers on vineyards in France tend to die from brain cancer at higher rates than the general population, and also are more likely to develop dementia.

A previous study from European Pesticide Action Network (PAN) found even more contamination from multiple EU countries with up to 24 chemicals in the wines (up to 10 in one bottle), classified as “carcinogenic, mutagenic, reprotoxic or endocrine disrupting”.

This must be an unfortunate black eye for the world’s Wine Country for another reason as wine connoisseurs can tell you – everything affects the taste of wine – everything. Even a hint of a flower fragrance in the air that season adds nuance. If getting a piece of cork in the bottle can ruin it, imagine what heavy pesticide dousing can do to the flavor when it’s in the crushed grapes themselves. Health and quality are more important than taste, but imagine what can happen to the wine industry if this isn’t ameliorated.

Excell laboratories organized a conference to talk about “new perspectives” in growing. In January, the EU called for changes in pesticide use to protect declining bee colonies. France’s government plans to halve the amount of pesticides by 2018 but expect mega opposition from the ag industry.

There is no list of brands to look for and no definite date for the positive changes – so we can’t really be sure of French wines made in the last few years or so. Look for the words “Vin Biologique” or “Organic Wine” on foreign labels. Check out this infographic on buying organic wine. In the meantime, it might be better to pursue organic American brands. Michigan, in fact, is becoming a booming wine valley thanks to the Lake effect, and more people are starting and visiting wineries there. There is more demand for local cuisine. Still have to watch that fluoride if city water is used in the processing.

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The best possible way to ensure your food and drink is take part in its creation. Microbrewing is a flourishing hobby and can have added health benefits by using natural fermentation. It’s surprisingly easy and fun to give as gifts. Homemade wine and microbrew kits were included in this list of gifts for the preparedness gift-giver. Many people and restaurants are opting for healthy fermented Kombucha as a non-alcoholic alternative. That might be the best bet as more studies are pointing to alcohol as a carcinogen. That flies in the face of all those “wine and beer are healthy” studies. Alcohol will always cause liver toxicity – so will pesticides.

Here’s a trick to prevent that hangover — and very likely help in the event your wine is laced with neurotoxic pesticides. Take activated charcoal – one capsule for each drink consumed and try to counter each glass of wine with a glass of pure water. The black powder will absorb the toxicity and lighten the burden on the liver which should make you feel better in the morning. No charcoal? Burnt toast is often referred to as the “poorman’s” activated charcoal – maybe that’s why it’s a longtime drinking remedy.

Image: Wikimedia Commons

Heather Callaghan is a natural health blogger and food freedom activist. You can see her work at and Like at Facebook.

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