Here is a picture of Mega Purple. No, not really. It’s actually easier to imagine some random middle-aged guy in The Phantom costume. As funny as it seems, this mental image really works when writing about this subject, because Mega Purple is here to save the day. Well, actually… save poorly made wine.

I think that we as general wine consumers (myself included) have romantic ideas about how wine is made, and have very little knowledge about the processes and additives used everyday in large-production wineries. Brandon Allen from Slo Down Wines put it best while filming his commercials for Sexual Chocolate. He said, “It comes from special grapes grown on vines in the hills of California, that have been picked by men with gentle, well-manicured hands… It’s aged for a really long time in magical oak barrels, that turn grape juice into a sweet, alcoholic nectar. It comes in a bottle. It’ll make you feel good.” Yeah, he’s joking around, no doubt. But a serious question arises: if we care about the food we eat, why not be conscious of what is in the wine we drink?

The best way I can describe Mega Purple is this: do you know those frozen juice concentrates at the grocery store? You just add water, and boom… you’re ready to go? Well, this is it. Just the kind of grape concentrate that no one wants you to know about. Mega Purple is made from grapes (Rubired, a cross between Alicante Ganzin and Tinta Cão) which are genetically engineered to produce intense color, tannin, and sugar. “The process used for producing the additive is proprietary. Based on the descriptions of effects to wines by winemakers it is likely produced by a series of processes [tinkering with its chemistry] such as vacuum distillation, fractional distillation and solvent extraction… There has been some discussion in the industry regarding the use of additives such as Mega Purple to bolster or enhance sensory attributes such as color, taste and mouth feel… According to journal reports, Mega purple is used by almost every low to moderate value wine producer (below $20 in the grocery store) to help standardize the bottled product ensuring a more uniform product… [and] sells for approximately $135 a gallon…. Mega Purple has raised some controversy within the wine consuming community as its use is considered to be akin to adulterating a wine. Others, such as John Williams, winemaker for Frog’s Leap Winery, has stated that the need for its use is evidence of poor viticulture and or winemaking.” (Wikipedia)

Did you catch that part at the end? It’s been reported that almost every wine producer, that you see every day in the grocery store under $20, is using it. Guaranteed for the bottles under ten bucks. And have you ever really wondered how Two-Buck-Chuck from Trader Joe’s is sold for $2.99 (or whatever it is now)? Do you realize that they are making a profit on these wines? Here is “The Phantom” truth (they don’t want you to know) about how these wines are made:

  • First you plant flat massive vineyards that are measured not in acres, but in square miles in the hottest part of the central valley of California so the grapes get insanely ripe.
  • And how does someone attempt to tend a vineyard of this size? By machine, of course. All the trimming needed, all the insecticides sprayed, and all harvesting done… mechanically.
  • For a tractor (for lack of better words) to harvest grapes, it was designed to literally straddle the row and whack the hell out of the vines with it’s two “Transformers – the movie” type arms. Anything that’s in the vines that can fall into the catching bin, does. Grapes, rotten fruit, bugs, mice, snakes even. Not joking.
  • All the “fruit” is then shipped to a production facility. It is there the brands formula and recipe is executed. Once the raw juice has completed fermenting (using laboratory yeasts to enhance the final flavors), adjustments are made. This list of possible techniques is endless: watering down, reducing (evaporating), pasteurizing, adding artificial tannins, acidifying, adding oak flavors if needed (wood chunks, staves, chips, and even saw dust is used), and of course, Mega Purple (or it’s evil sister, Ultra Red) to boost the sugar, tannin, and color in the wine so it looks, smells, and tastes just a bit more expensive than it really is.

If you are the wine shopper out there looking for the cheapest bottle on the shelf, I am sorry if this information ruined your day. I truly am. But, I feel persuaded to let everyone know the truth… well, at least the ones that want to. Ignorance was bliss, right? I’m at the point in my own wine search, that finding wines that have been made using organic farming and minimal winemaking, is at the top of the list. Honestly, they make me feel much better the next day. Maybe it isn’t just quantity that gives you a hangover… maybe it’s quality. Trust me, I know the better-made wines tend to be a more expensive, that’s why when I can’t afford ‘em, I’ll drink a beer.