Sometimes, the best ideas can come from two people with very different backgrounds. This was the case for Feravina founder Mike and his partner Melissa, a couple who shared a love for wine and health but came from vastly different fields - Mike is a sommelier, while Melissa is a nutritionist.
One evening over a glass of wine, they sought to answer a question that had been lingering in their minds: what would be the ideal wine criteria for quality and health for wine-loving health enthusiasts like themselves? They put their heads together and created the criteria that eventually became the foundation of Feravina, a wine company that prioritises taste and health consciousness in equal measure.
In this article, Mike shares why he and Melissa created a new standard for wine and health enthusiasts, and how that results in a superior wine-drinking experience.
How we came up with our health-conscious criteria
As a couple, we eat organic produce, shop at farmers’ markets, read ingredient labels (well, Melissa does most of that!) and are mindful of what we put in our bodies. For us, transparency of product ingredients and the manufacturing process is a key part of how we assess whether a food or beverage is worth consuming or not. Yet when it came to wine, because you can tell so little from what’s on a wine label, we were at a loss as to how the wines were made, other than the natural wines we were drinking, which by definition are made without the additives, processing aids, and GMO yeasts often used in commercial wines.
Melissa was in shock when I shared that up to 80 additives can be used in winemaking - something that she, and probably much of the population, thought involved just fermenting grapes. This revelation opened up a larger discussion about not only the fermenting of grapes, but the picking and growing of grapes too, and the difference between commercial wine businesses (typically prioritising profit over quality) versus independent winemakers (typically prioritising quality before profit).
Ultimately, we came up with the following criteria for what we considered to be healthier wine:
- Wines that were made with organically or biodynamically grown grapes
- Wines that were made naturally and didn't contain any additives, processing aids or GMO yeasts
- Wines that had little to no added sulphur/sulphites
- Wines that were lower in alcohol
- Wines that were sugar-free and keto-friendly
- Wines that were ethically and sustainably made - vegan, sustainably sourced and grown, and made by small, independent winemakers
Each of the criterion we selected for our healthier wines serves a specific purpose and provides its own set of benefits, as outlined below.
Made with organically or biodynamically grown grapes
Sticking to organic and biodynamic wine was a no-brainer for us. We aim to eat this kind of produce whenever possible, so why not insist on drinking it as well?
Firstly, the grapes for these wines are grown without synthetic pesticides, fungicides, herbicides, and fertilisers, many of which have shown to be harmful to humans who consume or work with them, as well as the local ecosystem where they are used.
Secondly, organic and biodynamic grapes have been shown to have higher levels of antioxidants, which are linked to wine's health benefits, than grapes farmed conventionally. While drinking wine isn't the best way to get your antioxidants, it certainly can't hurt to have higher levels of them in the wine you're going to drink anyway.
Made naturally without additives or processing aids
Australian wine is legally allowed to have just over 80 different additives added to it, with similar rules across the globe. Additives range from genetically modified yeasts and yeast nutrients to colour and flavour enhancers, acidity regulators, antiseptics, stabilisers, powdered tannins, concentrated grape must for sweetness, preservatives, and much more.
While some of these ingredients are harmless, others have shown cause for concern (we’ll be writing an article on this soon - watch this space!), and are typically used to make wine made from low-quality grapes taste or look better, hence why they are more often found in commercially made wines.
We find that the best quality wines are the best because of the excellent quality grapes they're made from, not because synthetic chemicals are added to make them more palatable. Natural wines provide a pure and unadulterated wine-drinking experience as no additives are used during the winemaking process (other than some sulphur as a preservative, although often sulphur isn't used at all), and they allow the unique flavours of the grapes and terroir to shine through.
The only additive we allow in small quantities is sulphur dioxide, or SO2, just prior to bottling. More on that below.
Mike assessing wines for Feravina.
Sulphites are a family of compounds that naturally occur in wine, and are also used as a preservative and antioxidant in winemaking. The most common form used in winemaking is sulphur dioxide, or SO2 for short.
While some level of sulphites in wine is a natural byproduct of the fermentation process, this generally only accounts for between 10-20ppm (or mg/L) of sulphites in the wine.
Legally, in Australia, a dry wine can contain up to 250ppm of sulphites, and sweet wines are allowed an even higher level of 300ppm.
Sulphites are an allergen, but only a few people are seriously allergic to them. What's more common is sulphite sensitivity, which manifests as sinus congestion, rashes and headaches - something quite a few people experience from drinking high-sulphite wine. These sensitivities depend on the wine's sulphite level, so wines with just a touch of added sulphur usually won't trigger a reaction.
The bigger issue though with adding sulphites to wine is that if it's added pre-fermentation, the yeast excretes more acetaldehyde in response as a defence mechanism. This is problematic, as acetaldehyde is a toxin and a major contributor to hangovers.
To avoid this, we chose to have a cut-off for sulphite level in our wines of 50ppm, which in a well-made wine is plenty to prevent the wine from oxidising (spoiling) during the bottling process, but not enough to trigger any adverse reactions in sensitive individuals.
Adding the sulphites after fermentation (just prior to bottling) also doesn't raise the acetaldehyde levels, meaning hopefully fewer hangovers and more morning jogs the next day!
Lower in alcohol
Alcohol is a toxin, but without it, wine isn't wine. We looked into alcohol-free wines, but they didn’t live up to the quality or health criteria of natural wines. Non-alcoholic wines go through the usual wine fermentation process, then are highly processed to remove the alcohol and add in ingredients like sugar and gums to add texture and improve their palatability.
The alcohol-free wines we tried made us sad and unsatisfied - kind of like comparing Coke to Coke Zero. We found them to feel synthetic, have a flat flavour, an unbalanced weight on the palate and mouthfeel, sometimes an unappealing aftertaste, and nowhere near as good as the real thing (not that we drink Coke, but we’re sure if you’ve tried both, you’ll get what we mean!). No thanks!
Still, we thought paying attention to the alcohol levels of the wines we drink was a good idea to minimise the negative effects of alcohol, so we capped alcohol content to 13.5% ABV. We chose this cap so we could still include plenty of lovely full-bodied wines which tend to have higher alcohol levels.
Most of Feravina's wines are a fair bit lower in alcohol than that, with plenty hovering in the 12% range while still being just as complex and balanced and delicious as any other higher-alcohol wine.
Sugar-free and keto-friendly
Sugar can be added to wines to improve their flavour, certain wines contain natural sugars that haven’t been fermented in the wine, or winemakers intentionally halt fermentation to improve the flavour of their wines. Sugar content isn’t easy to detect in wines just by tasting them, and because wine labels don’t include nutritional information, consumers can be left in the dark as to which wines are sugar-free, and which wines aren’t.
With a growing trend towards low-carb living and ketogenic diets, and the general desire to minimise sugar consumption, we select wines that are as close to sugar-free as possible, ensuring our wines are a healthier option for those looking to enjoy a glass of wine without consuming sugar.
Most high-quality dry wines contain very little sugar anyway, but we made a point of stocking only wines that were as sugar-free as possible. There is no such thing as a zero-sugar wine because grape juice contains sugar, and one cannot guarantee that every single molecule of it was eaten by the yeast.
For this reason, the definition of sugar-free when it comes to wine is a wine containing less than 0.5% sugar, which our wines are. In fact, a glass of one of Feravina's wines contains less than half a gram of sugar. For context, that's about the same amount of sugar in one TicTac or a squeeze of lime one might have in a vodka-soda.
This is also important for people trying to maintain a strict keto diet. Some people on keto diets limit their carbs to less than 20 grams a day, and when you're doing that, every gram counts. We wanted our keto friends to be able to enjoy our wines without any worries, hence this became one of our key criteria.
Wines ethically and sustainably made
Wine growing and making, just like farming, is big business. There are big players in the market that focus more on profit and yield than quality, to small independent farmers and winemakers that care for the land and quality over all else. The difference in the end product can be as stark as comparing Kraft Singles to fine artisanal organic cheese, yet with wine, it can be harder for consumers to discern the difference, as many commercial wines have premium-looking labels.
While we do love a fancy wine label, we focus more on what's in the bottle and how it’s made, which is why we only source wines from independent winemakers who care about quality over all else.
They’re also stewards of their land, so farm sustainably, often growing varieties indigenous to their environment that result in interesting, complex wines, rather than growing well-known varieties the market demands (e.g. Shiraz, Chardonnay etc) that often don’t grow well in all regions.
This is why you’ll find a range of unique varieties you’ve never heard of in our wine collection. While most people feel unsure about choosing anything but their usual varieties - once you step out of your wine comfort zone and try them, you’ll discover there’s a whole world of wine you’ll love just as much as your old favourites!
Our selection process also extended to the importance of protecting the welfare of animals and the sustainability of their local environment surrounding the vineyards. Wine is meant to bring us joy, and we couldn’t enjoy it knowing that animals might’ve been unnecessarily harmed just for our wine.
Hence we made a conscious ethical decision to select wines whose grapes were handpicked to avoid the unnecessary harm to animals living in vineyards caused by mechanical picking, and only vegan-friendly products are used in the fining process, with most of the wines not being fined at all.
Drink better with us
What started out as a selfish pursuit of finding wine we wanted to drink that fit with our lifestyle and our values, we also knew there were many health-conscious wine lovers out there who’d enjoy these wines too, so that’s how you’re here, reading this article on our website.
Overall, our criteria for healthier wines prioritise both taste and health, making them a great option for those looking for a more natural, sustainable, superior wine-drinking experience. By focusing on the quality and purity of our wines, we’re passionate about giving you access to the best quality wines from across the globe that make you feel good while drinking them, and the next day too.
If you haven't had the chance to try our wines yet, we encourage you to do so. We know there are many wines out there that make health claims and fail to deliver on taste, yet we prioritise quality above all else. Our customers rave about our wines and often say they prefer them over these other options. So come and join us for an exceptional drinking experience. We're confident you'll love them as much as our customers do. Cheers!