GEORGE BALLING: Of questions and myths

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Through the holiday season we received many questions from readers and customers alike. Wine is a great subject to write about, let’s face it the folks that read on a weekly basis like wine probably quite a lot, and with rare exceptions it is almost controversy free, a true blessing for the author in this day and time! So here are a few recent questions we have received.

This question we have received multiple times over the years we have written the wine column. Do European winemakers and wineries add sulfites into the bottles they export to “the States?” Flatly and emphatically NO! This question has almost taken on an urban myth type quality and we want to dispel this notion. It is nearly impossible to run a winery without the use of sulfur based chemicals; they simply fill too many needs not to have them. They are used to clean, they are used to stop fermentation, and they are used to preserve color in the wine and as a preservative in general.

Having said that generally speaking and caveat here that generalizations are always fraught with peril, Europeans tend to use a lower level of sulfites than wineries here at home. Of course there are exceptions on both sides of “the pond” but Europeans tend to take a more naturalistic approach including the deployment of sulfur.

The idea though that they would add some or additional sulfites to wine destined for the U.S. is without merit, if for no other reason than it would be very difficult. Trying to keep batches of wine separate based simply on their destination would be daunting at best and result in an uneven quality of the finished wine. No winery that I know of is signing up for that, when one of the hallmarks of the industry is to produce the best and most consistent product they can.

We continue to receive many questions on how wineries and vineyards are doing in the fire zone in Napa and Sonoma Counties. For the wineries they are beginning the rebuilding process, and for vineyards they came through the fires largely intact with little damage. For the vineyards as we speculated early on there is just too much water in grapevines for them to burn.

Wineries, hotels and restaurants are all open for business and what we hear most is they want us as wine tourists to come back! The biggest devastation is in housing. So many homes were destroyed that the rebuilding of the housing stock is truly an overwhelming task, the effects of which will be felt for years to come. The many families that are left to secure housing need our help more than any other group and will for some time.

We do not see a price spike in wines from California, the wine market is too big too diverse and too global to allow that. Having said that, you may see certain wineries that do not have product in the market from the 2017 vintage if they either lost their wine or it contracted smoke taint.

We consistently get questions about the availability of this wine or that wine here in North Idaho. We always are willing to help customers find their desired bottles and we order 1 or 2 bottles for folks all the time once we find them. Here is the trick. The wine must be distributed in Idaho in order for me or any other wine retailer or restaurant to be able to get it. That is the way our liquor law is written if a winery is not affiliated with an Idaho licensed distributor we can’t carry it, that will be the only time we can’t track a wine down for you.

Keep the questions coming it is one of the most rewarding parts of writing our weekly wine column.

If there is a topic you would like to read about or questions on wine you can email or make suggestions by contacting the Healthy Community section at the Coeur d’Alene Press.

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George Balling is co-owner with his wife, Mary Lancaster, of the dinner party — a wine and table top décor shop in Coeur d’Alene by Costco. George has also worked as a judge in many wine competitions; his articles are published around the country and is the wine editor for Coeur d’Alene Magazine ( You can learn more about the dinner party at You can get all of these articles as well as other great wine tips by friending us on Facebook!/dinnerpartyshop.

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