Wines & Vines

Thoughts – Food and Drug Administration’s temporary standard for lead in wine

Thoughts – Food and Drug Administration’s temporary standard for lead in wine – editorial

Philip Hiaring, Sr.


Max Goldman is a veteran enologist and an ASEV Merit Award winner. So when Max sends me something I pay attention (try sending me something yourself; I probably will pay attention, at least for a moment). Max has sent me an offer he received that I just might refuse. It’s from the Watercheck National Laboratories in Cleveland and suggests you should have a test of your drinking water for only $29. Max suggests sagely that “everybody is getting in on the lead scare.” Especially when the government doesn’t know yet what the safe level is on lead in food. At least, the FDA has adopted a temporary standard for lead in wine. It’s 300 parts per billion (ppb). I said in this space last July that one ppb compares with 1 pinch of salt in 10 tons of potato chips. The OIV had declared its safe level for wine at 300 ppb. Of the 432 U.S.-made and foreign wines tested by the BATF only 3% exceed 300 ppb. The FDA has yet to establish its own limitation but it says it’s only a matter of time before it outlaws lead capsules over corks. That scare seems especially far-fetched. The emphasis on lead as a peril has centered thus far on children chewing on lead paint in the home, i.e., on pencils. Children so far as I know, have minimum exposure to wine in any form. As for adults, they have ingested wine from bottles with lead capsules for hundreds of years–all over the world–and no ill effects have been reported. Another purported threat is so inconsequential that it’s laughable: the danger that discarded lead capsules can pollute ground-covered city dumps. The FDA espousal of the 300 ppb limit is a credit to the Wine Institute, which has worked on this like a beaver. Still ahead for the California wine industry: the fight against the Prop. 65 suits by a San Diego law firm contending the wineries and retailers didn’t warn the consuming public. The Wine Institute and the California Association of Winegrape Growers have won on another front–that of the OIV’s limitation on fluorides in wine. The most effective weapon against the grape-leaf skeletonizer is Cryolite, which contains fluorides. The OIV previously had banned more than 1 part per million of fluorides in wine. CSU-Fresno had determined that Cryolite containing 3 ppm will kill the skeletonizer. So the OIV has ruled 3 ppm is okay. You doubtlessly noticed that Dick Peterson is taking off this month (p. 7) against saying “cultivar” when the user means “variety.” I have a pet peeve, too, and it’s about the modern trend of enologists to capitalize the first word of a two-word grape variety and to write the second word lower case. This means you get “Pinot noir” and “Sauvignon blanc.” I say it’s part of the name and should be capitalized. Why confuse the consumer any more?

COPYRIGHT 1991 Hiaring Company

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