167: Lessons We Can Learn from Europe and Natural Wines

167: Lessons We Can Learn from Europe and Natural Wines

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Lessons We Can Learn from Europe and Natural Wines (With Heather!)

Katie and Heather are back, though not in the Sauna this time, to talk about Katie’s recent trip to Europe and all the lessons we can learn from Europe. They also talk about natural wine and what separates wine from even organic and biodynamic wines.

Natural Wines

They were both already big fans of Dry Farm Wines (get an extra bottle for just a penny at this link), but after seeing and understanding the process of natural wines, they are now superfans!

Here’s why:

Katie visited many multi-generation small family vineyards in Italy and saw first hand how these wines are produced. These farmers would be offended to hear their wines just called organic, as in the wine world, “natural” means so much more. This is a stark contrast to the food world, where “natural” is an ambiguous and misused term!

For a wine to be considered natural and meet Dry Farm Wines’ criteria, it must:

  • Be from a vineyard that is not irrigated (thus the Dry Farm name). This means that the grapes have less sugar and the finished wine has less alcohol.
  • Use only natural yeast and no commercial yeast. Many wine makers, even organic wine makers, use commercial yeasts in making the wine. This allows them to have a more standardized finished wine. So what’s the problem with this? For one, the natural yeast that occurs on the grapes must be killed first, often with sulfites or other unsavory ingredients. Second, not all of these commercial yeasts are gut friendly. To use natural yeast, the naturally occurring beneficial yeasts and bacteria present on the grapes are cultured to create the yeast used in fermentation. The result is a delicious wine that has thousands of strains of beneficial bacteria and yeast in it.
  • Be low sugar and low alcohol. We pretty much all know why sugar isn’t great for us. But the low-alcohol part seems confusing at first glance. Don’t we want alcohol in our wines? Yes and no. Objectively, alcohol is toxic. Yet regular wine consumption is a commonality of almost every blue zone (places where a large percentage of people live beyond 100 years old). Like anything, too much alcohol can be harmful, certainly, but for those who tolerate it, small amounts, especially combined with the antioxidants and living bacteria can be helpful.
  • Pass lab tests and taste tests. If a wine meets all the basic criteria, it is taste tested (and they are picky!) and then a sample is sent to a lab to be tested for everything from sugar to alcohol content to sulfites and many other factors.

While we can all hope for the day that such rigorous standards apply to food, it is great to understand and have found a wine company that takes such care in selecting wines.

Things We Can Learn From Europe

The other part of this podcast centers on the many lessons Katie learned from her visit to Europe and the things we can learn from the way people there live. She set out to find out why many places in Europe (including Italy, the pasta capital of the world) consistently outrank the US in many health metrics.

Katie hoped to find a few things and instead found a long list, including:

Stronger Focus on Community

This was noticeable immediately, especially when visiting vineyards and small family farms. In Italy, these families came together each night for a meal and for time together. This was a given and seemed non-negotiable. Families would prepare food together, share wine and enjoy each other’s company and the strong family bonds were easily evident.

With the growing body of evidence about the importance of community and strong relationships, this alone could be the key to the better health metrics in Europe. For instance, having good relationships with family and friends and a strong support system is statistically more important than quitting smoking (which many Europeans still do) and twice as important as daily exercise!

Drastically Reduced Plastic Use

Compared to the US, Europe seems to use so much less plastic. Plastic is harmful to humans and the environment in many ways, and Europe seems to understand that. Plastic is a known endocrine disruptor, carcinogen, and creates problems in many other ways. In fact, it may be largely to blame for the early puberty crisis occurring in America that is even beyond the control of many parents since plastic use is so widespread.

In many grocery stores, plastic bags simply weren’t available and where they were, they came with a steep charge (up to $1 each). Everyone carries cloth bags or a backpack and most people seem to walk to the store, shop for a single day only and walk home. Which leads us to….

They Move So Much More!

Another striking difference between the US and Europe is the ratio of people walking to driving, especially in towns and cities. Since many cities are older and were designed pre-cars there isn’t much room on the streets or around buildings to park so walking is many times an easier option and certainly a healthier one too!

Katie was surprised that she walked over 75 miles during her short visit, sometimes walking almost 10 miles a day! With recent evidence showing that sitting is bad, and that standing still at a desk can be just as bad, it turns out that the solution is to move more and not do anything all day long.

The Italians had this down and all of them seemed to move so much more as a part of daily life than many Americans do. Heather also found this cool website that rates areas based on how walkable it is.

So Much More

Many of the people Katie met also have a variety of other health factors in their favor, including taking daily naps, growing their own food and living a more minimalist lifestyle. Listen to the episode to learn more!

What do you think? What do you think we can learn from Europe? Any other questions? Pass them on in a comment below or in a review on iTunes. I read each and every comment, and my guests often do too and might answer your questions!

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Reader Comments

  1. Yes, because it refines the character of the person.

  2. So true! I currently live in Germany, and although we’ve been here (in Germany) for a long time we STILL haven’t reduced our plastic consumption as much as our German neighbors. I can always spot an American family in our neighborhood from the number of plastic bags they put out in front of their house on the “plastics” recycling day. American families (like myself!) will have out 4-5 bags of plastic materials, whereas German families will have one. In general, the Germans produce much less waste than we do. And also YES about the moving more throughout the day! Walking is a hugely popular activity here. Large groups of people of all ages go on walks together every weekend, and the trails in my neighborhood are incredible! Many older people bike to the grocery store in the next village. And almost everyone works in their garden daily! It’s awesome.

  3. My father in law, is now deceased, but lived his life in Slovenia as a farmer with vineyards and initial processing facilities. He never added any substances to his wine and sold it directly to commercial wineries, who would re-process the all natural wine for retail bottling and sales. Of course, it was no longer natural wine.
    The alcohol content of natural wine is below the standards of most countries, so the word natural is no longer natural once re-processed.
    I didn’t especially like the taste of the true natural wine, but if you wanted a healthy drink you could depend on my father-in-law’s wine for good health.

  4. Yikes! Your endorsement of “natural” wines makes me cringe. While I appreciate the sentiments behind the movement, it is completely unregulated (just like the food industry) and recommending to your readership as an equal or greater category of wine to Certified Biodynamic or Organic is misleading. Did you know that many wines considered to be natural are made with grapes sourced from conventional producers? At the RAW wine fair in New York (the largest natural wine convention in the US) only a portion of participants could trace 100% of their grapes back to organic sources. The definition of “natural” wine is loose at best, and with so many interpretations, how can one be assured they are getting a clean wine? They can’t. Companies like Dry Farm are great because they thoroughly vet their producers; however, navigating the general marketplace is tricky because there are so many green-washers trying to cash in on the “natural” trend. Demeter certified Biodynamic wines actually meet all the criteria of “natural” : low sulfites, no synthetic pesticides, herbicides, fungicides, native yeast, little to no manipulation in the cellar, and 10% of the farm is dedicated to natural habitat. But what you get with Biodynamic that you don’t get with “natural” is an assurance that your wine was produced in a truly environmentally friendly manner, free of toxins, that is backed by a 3rd party. My advice for anyone interested in “natural” wines – do your research!

    • That’s one of the things I love about Dry Farm Wines, many of their wines are Demeter certified, and they personally meet with and vet out every wine grower they are considering, before they even get to the lab testing part. But the problem with “organic” wines in the U.S. is that they can add organic products (such as additional yeast or sugar) that should not be added to the wines.

      • True, organic producers have the ability to add ingredients to their wine should they deem necessary, however, any ingredients used are at the very least certified organic by the NOP. In regards to adding sugar, a process referred to as chaptalization, that is typically only done in cooler regions to raise alcohol levels. Chaptalization is actually illegal in Argentina, Australia, Austria, California, Italy, Greece, Spain, Portugal, and South Africa, so organic wines from those regions, by law, cannot contain any added sugar.

      • On a side note, if all that organic wine producers are adding is a little sugar and yeast, I’d gladly take that over a “natural” wine that has Round Up in it.

        • The natural wines I drink are all “organic”, whether they have the certification or not, and that is where the lab testing comes into play, to make sure there are not any nasty chemicals that have leached in through the soil…

          • As an added note is much easier to track and be absolutely certain in Europe when you want a truly organic product. There are only certain pesticides and herbicides allowed, all of which have natural origin. By natural I mean certain viruses, yeast and bacteria strains along with plant extracts like pyrethrum, neem or even plain potassium bicarbonate. About the only “icky” substance that was allowed and is currently being withdrawn is rotenone (because its origin could have been synthetic instead of natural and there was no clear cut method of verifying it).
            Regulations are pretty strict and tests on soil, produce and even methods are done every single year by a qualified body.
            If you need more info, you can find it all here https://ec.europa.eu/agriculture/organic/organic-farming_en

  5. Yes because hardship is the mother of creative problem-solving!

  6. I have never heard of this, before. Thank you for sharing this fact about not only wine, but how some Europeans live too!
    I have always been on the fence with wine because of the alcohol content, but I may reconsider if I can source it from a natural winery and if there are actual health benefits as well.

    • Yes, hardships are what make people realize what really matters.

  7. Living in the UK now, there are noticeable differences…and yes moving more is one of them. I can’t begin to explain enough to my friends and family at home that living in London isn’t all glam, pubs and parks. It’s actually hard work, getting groceries is exhausting as well as getting to and from work, among other things..I now walk an average of 4-5 miles a day, that said…it’s London, not Europe and the cities in Europe are vastly different from each other and the less populated areas…so generalizing Europe is really a hard thing especially with the force at which American companies are trying to infiltrate over here. The UK is still quite plastic crazy, one of the hardest things for me is not being able to buy water in bulk from water stations at stores like we do in the US. EVERYTHING is plastic. I have messaged stores like Whole Foods and gotten nowhere with getting water stations put in- which is hard for me to buy water in plastic every week and not worry about environment or my health. Also, they have zero understanding or insight on dangers of BPA (which is a dirty secret in Europe)..I could go on, but some of the best things about being here is in general, people have a healthier relationship with food and natural foods…unlike the US.

  8. Hardship is something that can help you on your #wellness journey!!

  9. Hardship makes us humble and empathetic and gives us perspective!

  10. very interesting read I am one of those who cant drink no sulfites its feel like a punch in my stomach a lot of people don’t even know they cant drink it the ignore the signs. I stick with organic wines

  11. Better the house of mourning than the house of feasting!

  12. Hardships make you stronger, bring people together and increases gratitude!

  13. When my kids were little we always sat down for dinner together and I live in the U.S. I think it depends on the family because everyone I know gathered for this meal. Also, I have a job where I’m on my feet and moving for 4-9 hours a day as a retail merchant, and I see people everywhere doing the same as me, so I think this is also based on the individual, and it can’t be assumed people in the U.S. don’t move enough. I also know many people who eat a nutrient dense diet and have given up gluten and other processed foods. I grew up in a family with seven siblings and we had a very small amount of material goods. I think it’s tricky to generalize about habits in a country.

  14. Hardships are great teachers!

  15. Absolutely! Hardship reminds us that we all have ways to grow!

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