A touch of fungicide with your wine?

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Molécula de Natamicina - Natamycin Molecule

This is floating around in your glass?

A few days ago I read in Diaro del Vino the case of seven Argentinean wines and two South African wines that were removed from the German market due to the presence of Natamycin/Pimaricin, an antifungal used in the food industry as a preservative to prevent the growth of fungus in cheeses and sausages.  How odd.  How would an antifungal find its way into these wines?  Or more importantly, do they contain a level harmful to consumers?  Well, harmful or not, I prefer my wine without antifungals.  A bit irritated, I began to search for more news of this scandal.  On the website weinverkostungen.de, Thomas Günther reports that since November of 2009 the Landesuntersuchungsamt Rheinland-Pfalz (LUA), the German agency responsible for the health of people and animals, has discovered Natamycin in 16 of 314 sampled wines.  In the EU, the US, Argentina, Canada, Chile, and New Zealand the use of Natamycin in the production of wine is prohibited although its use in South Africa is permitted.  In some cases, for example Argentina, it is permitted for the cleaning of beverage containers and wineries.  So the antifungal is present in the wines due to residue left from cleaning?  Susana Balbo, president of Wine of Argentina, has asked producers to stop using the detergent NAT 3000 which contains the antifungal.  But Marc Dubernet, director of the French enological laboratory Dubernet, believes that the use of Natamycin for cleaing is very expensive.  And columnist and wine specialist Rogerio Rebouças of the daily Jornal do Brasil assures that in reality the Argentineans are using the product to “stabilize the wine”.  As the South Africans know, Natamycin will eliminate the presence of Brettanomyces, a contaminant yeast which leaves wine with little fruit fragrance y characteristics of barnyard, horse sweat, and rancid cheese.  But also as is known in the world of wine, there are other chemicals utilized and universally accepted for the elimination of Brettanomyces.  So why are the Argentineans using a prohibited chemical?

And in the case of South Africa where Natamycin is used in many food products, The Wine and Spirit Board of South Africa in its memorandum of 13 November 2009 wrote to its producers and exporters:

“We appeal for your assistance in informing all your suppliers that the use of Natamycin/Pimarizin to these markets [the European Union, the US, Argentina, Australia, Canada, Chile and New Zealand] and specifically to Europe, is illegal. The use of this product in wine for export can potentially be damaging to the international image of South African wine. The Department also encourages producers to find alternatives to Natamycin, for example Dimethyl-dicarbonate (DMDC), as DMDC is allowed internationally.”

And on the subject of health, Natamycin is considered non-toxic, so why the worry with its use in wine?  I agree with the Germans.  The unnecessary use of antibiotics and antifungals in the production of our food will only serve to increase the growing resistance of microbes.  So not only do I ask Argentinean and South African wineries to stop their use of Natamycin, but also producers around the world to stop the unnecessary use of antibiotics, antifungals, and hormones in the production of our food.

About Gregg Smith

Gregg Smith is an American sommelier certified by The Court of Master Sommeliers living in Lima, Peru, and serving as director of the wine and bar program at Central Restaurante.
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4 Responses to A touch of fungicide with your wine?

  1. Pingback: ¿Un toque de fungicida con tu vino? | El Blog de Vides y Vinos

  2. Bernardo says:

    Hi Gregg,
    If you eat cold meats, yoghurt and cheese, then you are also eating natamycin. I suspect that you are objecting to this compound not for what it is, but for what it is used in. In this case, wine.
    You consider the use of a harmless and effective substance somehow distasteful, but what about sulphur? Why not rather focus on sulphur dioxide which is also used in wine (and food!) as a preservative and which is arguably much more harmful than natamycin.
    Don’t you find it odd that countries with the highest consumption of cold meats, dairy and cheese (and therefore high consumption of natamycin) have banned wines that contains the same compound in ostensibly lower quantities? Take note that the yeasts and fungi being inhibited by natamycin are non-pathogenic (meaning that they will not cause disease in humans) and that the unlikely forming of resistance by these micro-organisms will not be the beginning of the apocalypse, where rogue germs will be hunting down humans.
    What I find most puzzling, is the use of the word anti-fungal… Sulphur dioxide is anti-fungal, as is DMDC, alcohol, sorbic acid etc. Why single out natamycin? Because everyone else is?
    My plea to the world is: Not only do I ask all governments and wine pundits to stop being ignorant, but also people around the world to stop unnecessarily listening to so-called experts when they have non-sensical things to say about the use of chemicals in the production of our food and wine. It is easy to condemn something without offering a solution. That’s why so many people are doing it. Also take into account, when a sommelier opens and showcases a bottle of good wine, it takes about 2 hours to enjoy and finish the wine. As a former winemaker, I can positively say that it can take up to 2 years to make a good bottle of wine. You’re irritated with wineries and winemakers about something that is added to a product to preserve and improve it, which by the way is much more difficult to do and takes much longer than your job (making wine, that is). Kinda puts things into perspective, doesn’t it?

    • Gregg Smith says:

      Hi Bernardo,
      Thank you for your comment. When I asked the opinion of a well-respected winemaker in California, his comment was that they must have had a big problem to resort to using natamycin. Yes, indeed there are other antifungals out there including as you mention, sulfur dioxide. My point of view, however, is that although natamycin is deemed safe for human consumption, why use it when sulfur dioxide is pretty much universally accepted and has been used for many years? Not to mention that its use in wine production is banned in Argentina, the source of the wines rejected by Germany. So why was it found in these wines? My perspective is that I (and seemingly a lot of other people in the world) prefer to eat and drink things that are produced without the unnecessary use of chemicals additives. And if it takes you two years to make a good bottle of wine, why would you want to add chemicals unnecessarily to it? I think that puts things in perspective, don’t you? And just for good measure here is the perspective of the European Union Scientific Committee on Food: “In view of the general principle with regard to the undesirability of using antibiotics in foodstuffs the Committee is strongly opposed to proposals for further food uses of natamycin such as use on ham and wine and other beverages.”

  3. Bernardo says:

    Gregg,
    Foreign wines containing Natamyxin was banned to boost locally produced wines not containing Natamycin. A clever ploy. Also, the European Union is not the be-all and see-all of science in the world. The word antibiotics is being very loosely used by them. Sulphur dioxide is also an anti-biotic, by the way. Sure, it has been around for a long time, but this does not mean that no other alternatives should ever be used or researched again. Just because something has been around for a long time, does that mean that we should stick our heads into the ground and not consider any new and safer alternatives? If a new winemaking method or safe/r chemical is suddenly discovered, making sulfur in wine obsolete, should we disregard it merely because sulfur has been around for quite a while?
    Consider this: most yeast strains being used by winemakers sectretes proteinaceous compounds during fermentation. These compounds are also called killer toxins. This toxin secretion is a clever strategy by yeasts to kill of or inhibit competing wild or “weaker” wine yeasts. In the massive world of microbiology, warfare on a miniscule scale between yeasts, bacteria and fungi is going on all day, every day. It is simply part of nature. Natamycin is simply a specific bacteria’s way to get rid of competing bacteria. There is absolutely nothing harmful (to humans) or sinister to it. Using a micro-organism (bacteria in this case) to produce chemicals that are beneficial to humans is absolutely nothing new. Look at how insulin and growth hormone is produced.
    As far as winemaking is concerned, sometimes winemaking is all about problems and how to solve them. Some of the most difficult vintages in history have yielded the most incredible wines. Your very respected Californian winemaker is right, maybe there was a very big problem. So what? Is he implying that winemaking should always be problem free and smooth sailing?
    You also use the word “unnecessary”… Well, when exactly is it “unnecessary” to add something to wine or a during a bottling run? Everything carries a cost when wine is made. Winemakers work with tight budgets nowadays, so every addition into wine is carefully thought out and the cost is calculated. Simply adding an “unnecessary” item to wine will carry a large cost. The word “unnecessary” implies idiocy on the part of winemakers.
    You probably ingest more natamycin that you would like to believe. Regardless, I’m pretty sure that you will still continue eating cold meats, polonies, dairy products and cheese (which contains Natamycin).
    Your case against Natamycin completely puts things out of perspective, to be completely honest. It underlines the fact that greed and ignorance plays a big role in the demise of Natamycin for use in wine.
    I will unfortunately not be able to engage in any further discussion regarding this issue (heavy workload etc. and harvest will be here in a week).
    Regards,
    Bernardo

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