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Uncorked: Study Finds Pesticide in French Wine

Posted by Jason Davis on Fri, Oct 25, 2013 @ 09:33 AM

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Wine is often regarded as one of man’s greatest accomplishments. A pinnacle of craft that requires knowledge of soil, weather, geography, geology, grapes, fermentation, and time.  You can use the word “terroir” in reference to it, and impress (and perplex) everyone around you.  It makes you wait a painstakingly long time before the end results, and then it is subjected to intense scrutiny (using intimidating terms like chewy, earthy, fleshy and jammy).  And hopefully, after all of this, it provides “unparalleled” rewards to the human palette.

When the findings of a recent study detecting trace amounts of pesticides in French wine hit the press, many a connoisseur’s cork broke off beneath the mouth of the bottle.  Let me warn you before you read this, this is a bit of a spoiler…but it’s not as bad as oxidized wine.  Or perhaps you know all about this already and want to jump ahead to the AutoMate-Q40 application note related to this topic.  Just click here:  Pesticide Analysis Using Automated QuEChERS: The Determination of Pesticides in Wine.


The Excell Laboratory, which works with wine and food industries in several countries, and runs labs in France, Argentina, Spain and Chile, tested 92 French wines (including those made with organically grown grapes) for pesticide residues. The purpose of the Excell study was to lobby in favor of testing wine, not just grapes, for pesticides, and to draw attention to the number of chemicals in use. The study it is worth noting, was funded by Bordeaux’s nine most prominent estates. 1 The results showed trace amounts of pesticides in almost every bottle, as well as the presence of insecticides and fungicides not permitted for use in the EU.2 A majority of the findings were “well below” toxicity thresholds defined by the European Union.  But oddly enough, the European Union (EU) has established Minimum Recorded Levels (MRLs) for table and wine grapes, but not for the wine itself. 1 Regardless, the results must have been disquieting to many wine consumers.

The study indicated that wines made from grapes grown under “conventional” agriculture on average contained four pesticides, mainly fungicides, and wine from organic grapes contained one to two pesticides. The largest pesticide count was found in a bottle of 2010 Bordeaux that cost 10.44 Euros ($14.39 USD).  This Bordeaux in particular contained 14 chemicals, while another 2012 Bordeaux costing 3.75 Euros ($5.17 USD) contained 13. Wines with lower price tags did not necessarily contain more pesticide traces than more expensive wines, and many of the wines contained more than one pesticide. 2

In addition to the 2013 study, a 2008 survey by Pesticide Action Network UK found similar results in wines from across Europe (and also included bottles from Australia, South Africa, and Chile).  In that study, all 34 “conventional” samples tested showed pesticide residues, while only one of six organic wines exhibited pesticide traces.

Because wine is often made with a mixture of grapes from differing sources, which could potentially use different pesticides, the risk of mixed pesticides can occur.  Coupled with pesticide’s ability to reside in the environment for a prolonged amount of time, the eventuality of a mixture of different chemicals becomes increasingly likely.  This concern is substantiated by the Excell study’s results.

The risk posed from combined pesticides has been referred to as the “cocktail” (also referred to as “synergistic”) effect of the combined chemicals.  Meaning a pesticide, when mixed with other chemicals, may become more toxic than the sum of its parts. Pascal Chatonnet, head of the Excell laboratory states: “There is a worrying lack of research into the accumulation effect, and how the [pesticide] molecules interact with each other.” Quechoisir.org, a French consumer group also adds, “Health-risk assessments for pesticides are generally based on toxicology studies for a single product, without taking into account cumulative effects.”3

The use of Fungicide and Insecticides in Wine Grape Production

Viticulture (the cultivation of grapes) accounts for roughly 20 percent of France's 62,700 tons of pesticide consumption, and 80 percent are fungicides.1 In the case of wine made using organic grapes, pesticide traces can originate from the environment around them.

The use of different fungicides and insecticides is common in vineyards across the world to improve crop yields.  Weather conditions, especially rainfall, can affect the impact of diseases on vines as well as parasites, and can be directly correlated to pesticide use.  Areas that are warm and dry require significantly less pesticides than those that have more precipitation. For example, grapes grown in Provence, France undergo less pesticide use than those grown in a rainy region like Bordeaux.2

A Risky Red, a Worrisome White?

It is somewhat redeeming that none of the wines in the study contained pesticide levels in excess of the EU MRL, and that the study’s results do not imply that drinking wine is an immediate health risk due to trace pesticide levels. Of the study Pascal Chatonnet, summarizes:  "Your liver will be completely destroyed long before you'll have toxicity from pesticide residue in wine."1

To me, that puts things in perspective. 

The study itself, none-the-less, indicates some very important points to consider, including the dominant use of pesticides in vineyards, the effects of their numerous possible combinations, and their ability to linger in the environment for a significant amount of time.  All of which are substantial justifications for continued analysis and potential adjustments in current regulation. We may also recognize the brighter side of the study which showed:

  • Only 0.3 percent of the wines did not meet current regulations (EU).

  • That 10 percent of the wines tested pesticide-free despite the fact that they were not all organically grown.1

 Analysis and Detection of Pesticides in Wine

This study carries particular importance with us at Teledyne Tekmar.  In September of 2013, Teledyne Tekmar conducted a study that evaluated the performance of our AutoMate-Q40, Automated QuEChERS Workflow Platform, for monitoring multiresidue pesticides in a red and white wine. The AutoMate-Q40 exhibited excellent recoveries averaging 97.5%, and the recoveries fall within the methods guidelines of 70-120% recovery for most pesticides. The AutoMate-Q40 also demonstrated great precision on average of 5.4%RSD which falls within the method guidelines of RSD <20%.4,5,6

The study’s results can be found in the AutoMate-Q40 application note Pesticide Analysis Using Automated QuEChERS: The Determination of Pesticides in Wine.


Blog Source:

Information in this blog was derived from the following sources.  Information maybe be edited in content and length.  For further information, please refer to the source document and/or website.
  1. Mustacich, Suzanne.  Wine Spectator [Online]. May 20, 013, Wine Drinkers Face Little Danger from Pesticides, but Winegrowers Do: A French study found chemical residues in wines, but at low levels; experts hope to eliminate need.  http://www.winespectator.com/webfeature/show/id/48474  (accessed October 23, 2013).
  2. Ruitenberg, Rudy.  Bloomberg.com. September 25, 2013, French Wine Test Finds Pesticides in Each of 92 Bottles Analyzed. http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2013-09-25/french-wine-test-finds-pesticides-in-each-of-92-bottles-analyzed.html (accessed October 23, 2013).
  3. Philpott, Tom.  Mother Jones [Online]. February 22, 2013, 9 out of 10 French Wines Contain Pesticides. http://www.motherjones.com/tom-philpott/2013/02/your-french-wine-has-9-pesticide-traces (accessed October 25, 2013).
  4. European Committee for Standardization/Technical Committee CEN/TC275 (2008), Foods of plant origin: Determination of pesticide residues using GC-MS and/or LC-MS/MS following acetonitrile extraction/ partitioning and cleanup by dispersive SPE QuEChERS-method.
  5. AOCA Official Method 2007.07 Pesticide Residues in Food by Acetonitrile Extraction and Partitioning with Magnesium Sulfate. Gas Chromatography/Mass Spectrometry and Liquid Chromatography/Tandem Mass Spectrometry, First Action 2007
  6. Anastassiades, Michelangelo.: QuEChERS a Mini-Multiresidue Method for the Analysis of Pesticide Residues in Low-Fat Products

Tags: Food Testing Laboratory, pesticide analysis, pesticide, QuEChERS, Wine, SVOC, Automate-Q-40

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