Grapevine: When Dinner and Breakfast Drinks Share Identity Crises

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Nick Antonaccio
Nick Antonaccio

The food and beverages we consume have gone through revolutionary production processes and distribution channels in the last 50 years. Before the globalization of our economy and the dominance of the corporate industrial complex in the food chain, life seemed simpler. Before science perfected ways to optimize food production and increase the shelf life of foodstuffs, life seemed self-controlling.

Here in 2014, we’re coming full circle for many of these products. The surge of neighborhood farmers’ markets and a demand by consumers for more natural products has brought us to a new ethos, introducing concepts such as locavore, sustainability and farm-to-table into our lexicon.

But not all stars are aligned. Certain sectors of the food chain are still entrenched in the big business, industrial food chain. Two of these products are American wine and orange juice. What, you say? One cannot find more natural sources of beverages than these two. California vineyards and Florida orange groves are close to nature herself.

Let’s examine two myths these products have in common: they are home-grown and their taste is natural.

First, they are home-grown: Fact or myth?

It is fairly straightforward. American wine is produced in the United States from grapes grown in the United States. Well, not quite. In recent years, American producers have seen demand outstrip supply in certain vintages. To sustain their market share and profitability, a number of producers have purchased huge vats of grape juice and/or processed wine from South America. That California Cabernet you enjoy may be partially sourced from Chile.

Florida orange juice comes from Florida orange groves. Except when it doesn’t. There is a growing percentage of orange juice on grocery shelves that is a combination of bulk juices purchased from several countries, blended together and bottled/boxed for retail sale by the giant orange juice companies–Pepsi (Tropicana) and Coca-Cola (Minute Maid).

Second, their taste is natural. Fact or myth?

Grapes are crushed, fermented and bottled, preserving a particular wine’s natural components and taste. Well, not always. A growing percentage of wines are influenced in the winery, which at times may resemble an industrial factory.

Here are two of the many techniques employed:

1. To increase tannins and structure during production, bags of wood chips are floated in stainless steel wine vats. Want a toasty aroma and flavor in your wine? Don’t wait years for the natural evolution; add a bag of oak chips for a few weeks.

2. To completely control flavor consistency each year, a winemaker may employ a device called a spinning cone. The flavor compounds, and alcohol, of a tank of wine are literally stripped out of the wine via centrifugal force. The winemaker now has a clean palette to re-construct his wine. He then purchases and adds into the wine personally designed flavor compounds and alcohol. Just like that, a perennially consistent wine product is created.

Making orange juice is simple. Pick oranges, squeeze oranges, bottle the juice. Well, not exactly. In order to insure a consistent flavor year in and year out, producers resort to modern science, similar to the spinning cone used in the wine industry. Some grapes go to hell and back and now we find out so do oranges.

First, all oxygen is removed from the extracted juice to retard spoilage. Then, as reported in a June article in The Atlantic magazine, “Oils and essences are extracted from the oranges and then sold to a flavor manufacturer who concocts a carefully composed flavor pack customized to the company’s flavor specifications. The juice, which has been patiently sitting in storage sometimes for more than a year, is then pumped with these packs to restore its aroma and taste, which by this point have been thoroughly annihilated.” In spite of this process, the final product may still be labeled “natural” and “100 percent pure.”

Sometimes it seems the more refined and sophisticated our preferences for natural foods become, the more refined and less natural our food products remain.

Nick Antonaccio is a 35-year Pleasantville resident. For over 15 years he has conducted wine tastings and lectures. He also offers personalized wine tastings and wine travel services. Nick’s credo: continuous experimenting results in instinctive behavior. You can reach him at or on Twitter @sharingwine.


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