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What's in Your Wine?
It could be Mega Purple

On my last trip to California, I had an experience that left a question in the back of my mind that was jogged loose last month by a column by Matt Kramer in the November 15th issue of Wine Spectator. The article was called "Why Authenticity Matters" and in it he used not-from-concentrate orange juice as an example. It seems that not-from-concentrate orange juice can spend up to a year in tanks after being pasteurized and stripped of oxygen, a process that also removes most of the flavor. Then, before packaging, they use "flavor packs," developed by companies like ADM who specialize in flavorants, to reflavor the juice.

That's why not-from-concentrate juices are always so consistently the same. It was enough to make me want to go back to squeezing my own juice. That got me to thinking about a comment from a wine grape grower I met on my last trip to California. We were in a Cabernet vineyard in Napa in late October and it had been a tough year. Grapes that should have been ready for harvest were still pretty tart when they should have been very sweet. When I pointed that out, his comment was "they're going to need a lot of concentrate this year." This week I finally did a little research and "wow!" Grape concentrates are permitted additives in wine and appear to be widely used. It also seems to be something no one in the industry wants to talk about. The concentrates are thick and very sweet, and are available for almost every grape varietal. They are used by wine makers to enhance color, weight and sugar levels after fermentation.

While searching the Web for the many manufacturers of grape concentrate, I found Mega Purple, a more powerful grape concentrate made by Canandaigua West, a division of wine giant, Constellation Brands. It is produced by concentrating the deeply colored hybrid grape Rubired, has 68% sugar and sells for about $135 a gallon. They also produce Mega Cherry Shade and Mega Red Grape Concentrates. I found one set of photos online that showed a few drops of Mega Purple in the bottom of a wine glass in the first picture and then a photo of the same glass filled with dense purple liquid after water was added. Obviously it offers a serious punch of color.

How widely these products are used, I have no idea. The Wikipedia entry about Mega Purple claims that is is used by almost every low to moderate value (under $20) wine producer. I find that hard to believe, but maybe I'm being naive. I certainly see a lot of Pinot Noirs that look way too dark. It does take some of the romance out of wine making. Anyone out there amongst our readers in the business of winemaking want to comment? I would love to here from you.

What's In Your Wine? Part II