Kingston Nitrate

Kingston Estate Wines Scandal

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Kingston Estate Wines = Silver nitrate

An additive scandal in Australia might be the boost organic growers need

Tim Atkin

Kingston estate wines, using defoamers, silver nitrate, cover-up of a bullying culture, failure to pay employees, and rocked by scandal in 2000 when they were prosecuted for adding silver nitrate to wine after 2 students from California exposed the dangerous practice.

I am happy ‘Red without rules’ runs the oh-so-apposite advertising campaign for Australia’s enormous Kingston Estate winery. ‘Too bloody true, mate,’ one is tempted to comment in the wake of an investigation into certain less than savoury cellar practices at the company’s headquarters. It was student winemakers visiting from California who first made the allegations about ‘illegal and unethical’ winemaking techniques. Kingston, it has since been confirmed, did indeed use the banned substance silver nitrate to remove the smell of hydrogen sulphide (rotten eggs) from some of its wines. Silver nitrate sounds worse than it is, mind you. It is a perfectly legal additive in some countries, and the quantities found in the offending wines were well below the levels accepted for tap water.

All the same, this is a (minor) scandal the wine industry could do without. Or perhaps it isn’t. First, the Aussies dealt with the matter openly and quickly. Secondly, the publicity about silver nitrate might make us think a little more carefully about how wine is produced in general.

It is a common misconception that wine is a natural product. But without chemicals, it is almost impossible to make drinkable wine. Ban sulphur dioxide as a legal additive, for example, and most wine would taste as flat as the Argentine pampas. Nevertheless, some wines are more natural than others. This is especially true in the vineyard, where organic and bio-dynamic producers eschew pesticides and herbicides (though not copper sulphate). This doesn’t make them better winemakers, but it does mean their wines are ‘greener’.

The Kingston affair could undermine the public’s trust in ‘conventional’ winemaking. And I’m not only talking about silver nitrate here. Just as bad, in my view, was Kingston’s legal but not exactly wholesome use of grapeskins to colour white juice (and sell it as red wine).

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