Right in my own backyard, a new trend is happening. Dry farm wines are all the rage in Napa Valley, celebrity circles, and beyond. Dry farm wine is marketed as all-natural, sugar-free, and lower alcohol. It claims to be the wine industry’s answer to a healthier form of wine, which is also keto and paleo-friendly and has a lower risk of causing a hangover. Is this true or marketing hype? Let’s look deeper into this new darling of the wine world.
What Is Dry Farming?
While you may have accidentally killed a houseplant or two after forgetting to water it for far too long, dry farming uses less water on purpose.
Dry farming is the process of growing crops without an irrigation system. The grapes rely on rain to grow. This makes dry farming an environmentally friendly, water-saving method of agriculture. In California, agriculture uses a large majority of the total water available for human use. Thus, farming methods that use less water are eco-friendly (2).
It is important to note that “dry farming” does not have a legal definition. Not all dry farm winemakers grow their grapes the same way. Also, the processing methods, filtering, and aging practices are left up to the individual winemaker.
What Is Dry Farm Wine?
Dry farm wine is a wine made using dry farming practices, i.e., no irrigation system. This type of farming is done more commonly in Europe, where rainfall is reliable. Most wine in California is not dry-farmed due to the minimal rainfall.
To clarify some confusion, if you Google “Dry Farm Wine,” you will be routed to a boutique wine club named ” Dry Farm Wines (DFW), located in the Napa Valley. The club offers wine that is advertised as a “healthier version” of wine. It is touted as a type of wine that is allowed on the keto and paleo diets. But please understand, all dry farm wine does not follow the guidelines put in place by the business named “Dry Farm Wines.” There has been chatter amongst the wine community that some of the company’s marketing is confusing to consumers.
The Dry Farm Wines company claims their wines don’t leave you with many negative effects that some people experience with traditional wine, such as brain fog or sleep disruption. If these claims are true, it may result from several factors that are actually found in many dry farm wines, not just those sold by the company. This includes lower alcohol content, less sugar, and fewer additives that people may be sensitive to.
The wines the DFW company chooses wines manufactured using natural, organic, or biodynamic methods, free of additives, low carb, low sulfite, and wild, native yeasts that are not genetically modified ( non-GMO). All wine chosen by Dry Farm Wines is also produced without the use of glyphosate ( Round-up). These factors may or may not be the same qualities found in other dry-farmed wines. You would need to ask.
What Is Actually In Wine?
Has it ever struck you as odd that wine bottles don’t have nutrition labels? As a registered dietitian and medical doctor, I wish it were possible to see the ingredients – all of them. There are more than 70 additives that can be legally added to wine in the US without any disclosure. Disclosure of what is in your wine is at the discretion of the winemaker.
Having a complete ingredients list would empower everyone to make informed choices.
While you might assume that a more expensive bottle of wine is more natural and free of additives – that isn’t true (3).
Is Dry Farm Wine “Sugar-Free”?
No. Sugar in wine comes from the grapes themselves and can also be added during the fermentation process. Sugar is food for the yeast; yeast converts the sugar into alcohol.
A serving of wine varies in sugar content, from 1 gram per serving for a dry red to 1.5 grams of sugar per glass of white. A dessert wine may contain 8 or more grams of sugar. FYI: a serving of wine is 5 oz.
If a food or drink contains less than 0.5 grams of sugar per serving in the US, the manufacturer can round the product’s sugar content down to zero and claim it is “sugar-free.”
In reality, it doesn’t matter if wine is sugar-free when measured as the body does its magic and converts the alcohol in wine to sugar after you consume it.
The Dry Farm Wine Company is intentionally choosing dry farm wines that have lower measured sugar content and lower alcohol content. The company tests the sugar content of its wines. It allows a maximum of 0.15 grams of sugar per glass (5).
So while wines from the Dry Farm Company do not have zero sugar, the sugar content of their wine meets the legal definition of “sugar-free.” Bottles of dry-farmed wine purchased through other companies may vary in their sugar content and may or may not be considered “sugar-free.”
What About Yeast?
In the US, there are genetically modified (GMO) and natural yeasts used in winemaking. If your goal is to avoid GMOs, it would be best to look for wines being made with wild yeast (6). Yeast is added to wine to ferment the sugar into alcohol. This creates different flavor profiles.
It isn’t easy to find out which yeast is used in a particular wine. The Dry Farm Wine company takes out the guesswork by only allowing natural wild yeast in their products. They are marketing to people who are trying to avoid genetically modified organisms ( GMO’s).Note: if you have a yeast sensitivity or allergy, you might not tolerate wine at all, from any source (7).
Filtering of wine is done to remove sediments that may alter the flavor or to increase the clarity of the wine. Some winemakers will filter their wines, and others won’t. The decision of whether or not to filter a wine is left to the discretion of the winemaker.
Filtering is primarily done to remove two organisms, one of which is a yeast. If you are sensitive to yeast, many wines may be problematic for you, but unfiltered wine may be more bothersome.
There is no health benefit to unfiltered wine.
All wine naturally contains small amounts of sulfites. This is an important point as some wines may claim to be “sulfite-free” or “have no added sulfites,” but all wine contains sulfites as the yeast produce them in the wine. Most wines also have sulfites added as a preservative during growing/processing stages. White wine typically has more sulfites than red, but both can have it added (9). Winemakers don’t have to list added sulfites until it has reached a minimum concentration. Sulfites can cause headaches in some people, but the amounts naturally found in wine with no added sulfites do not typically cause headaches.
If you can tolerate dried apricots or mango without a headache– two foods rich in added sulfites – you probably will not react to sulfites in wine.
It is also important not to assume that a headache following a glass of wine is due to sulfites. It may actually be because of total alcohol consumed, histamine, tannins, or a sensitivity to the yeast or alcohol itself in the wine (8).
The alcohol content of wine varies from 5%-20%. Most wines in the U.S. contain approximately 14% alcohol. Dessert wines and ports are higher in alcohol (10). One glass of wine has about the same amount of alcohol as a 12-ounce beer or one liquor shot (11). Dry farm wines, in general, can often have lower alcohol content than traditional wines because they are picked earlier, but this is not always the case. The longer the fruit hangs on the vine, the higher the sugar/alcohol content of the wine. Picking time is chosen by the winemaker.
The alcohol content of a wine accounts for some of the “day-after” effects of wine. Lower alcohol content will, therefore, have less of the traditional hangover effects-if drunk in moderation.
The wines offered by The Dry Farm Wine Company. All have an alcohol content under 12.5 % l (12).
Paleo Friendly? What about Keto?
If someone wants to drink wine but follows a ketogenic diet, the Dry Farm Wine Company is marketing to them. They source low sugar wines, but it is important to note that all dry-farmed wines, in general, may not be keto-friendly.
While the definition of paleo depends on who you ask, wine is approved on a paleo diet for most. Most folks following a paleo diet aim to avoid additives in their foods and drinks; that makes an additive-free wine a good fit.
Where To Buy Dry Farm Wines
You can get started with the list I have put together which contains over 60 dry farm wines. Sign up for my newsletter above, and you will get the list sent to your inbox. This is a starter list, but other dry farm wines can often be found at your local wine shop; this just requires a bit of research or a nice conversation with the wine merchant. If you choose dry farm wines because of the environmental benefits of using less water- any dry farm wine will satisfy the requirement.
Wine is grown using the dry farming method worldwide, so whether you’re interested in something from afar or local, there are options. This is fun research to do!
THIS ARTICLE IS COPYRIGHTED BY AMY BURKHART, MD, RD.
Dr. Amy Burkhart is a doctor (M.D.), Registered Dietitian, R.D., and fellowship-trained in integrative medicine. She specializes in treating chronic digestive disorders from an integrative/functional medicine perspective.