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Two Beverages Strain the Meanings of Homegrown, Natural Taste

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GrapevineThe food and beverages we consume have gone through revolutionary production processes and distribution channels in the last several decades.

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 in harmony with the natural order.

Here in 2022, 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 into our lexicon concepts such as locavore, sustainability and farm-to-table. 

But not all the 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 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 homegrown and their taste is natural.

First, they are homegrown. Fact or myth?

  1. 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 them 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 (and if it’s not the dominant source, you won’t find that information on the label).

  1. 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 or 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?

  1. 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:

  • To increase tannins and structure during production, bags of wood chips may be 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.
  • To completely control flavor consistency each year, a winemaker may employ a device called a spinning cone. The flavor compounds and alcohol in 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 or her wine. He or she then purchases and adds personally designed flavor compounds and alcohol into the wine. Just like that, a perennially consistent wine product is created.
  1. Making orange juice is simple. Pick oranges, squeeze oranges, bottle the juice. Well, not exactly. In order to ensure a consistent flavor every year, certain 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 an article I read in The Atlantic, “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 45-year Pleasantville resident. For over 25 years, he has conducted wine tastings and lectures. Nick is a member and program director of the Wine Media Guild of wine journalists. He also offers personalized wine tastings and wine travel services. Nick’s credo: continuous experimenting results in instinctive behavior. You can reach him at nantonaccio@theexaminernews.com or on Twitter @sharingwine.


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