Chris’ note: The markets are closed for Labor Day. So today, instead of our usual financial fare, we’re sharing an essay from my friend Will Bonner. Will is the founder of the Bonner Private Wine Partnership. And below, he shares why all wine isn’t created equal.
Most folks think that the anti-aging properties of wine all come from the antioxidants it contains. But as Will explains, the real health benefits come from extreme-altitude wines as a result of a specific kind of nutrient they’re dense in…
From inside a cluster of trees, we heard a scream.
“Sh*t,” muttered my younger brother as he leapt from his horse.
My father, Bill Bonner, and I had been showing my younger brother and his fiancée two extreme-altitude vineyards on our family ranch, Gualfin, in northwestern Argentina.
One is accessible only by horseback. The other, just barely.
Go figure… Gualfin is an old native word for “end of the road.”
But the roughness makes the ranch exceptionally suitable for producing an intense, complex red wine that may be the healthiest wine in the world.
More on that in a moment…
To say the family ranch is remote is an understatement.
It sits in the shadow of the Andes Mountains on Argentina’s wild, northwestern frontier, in a place known as the Calchaquí Valley. The nearest city is a rough, six-hour drive in a 4×4 across a wide desert plateau.
In such a remote area, that which is not useful… is dinner. And the local horses know it.
Riding across the Calchaquí Valley
Accordingly, they tend to be a docile lot.
But the roan mare my brother’s fiancée was riding that day had woken up on the wrong side of the straw pile. Out of nowhere, she suddenly bolted, leaving the poor girl clinging on for dear life.
It’s a family tradition to bring prospective spouses out to the ranch. We call it the Gualfin Test.
The test is not whether they fall off their horse or succumb to sunstroke or altitude sickness. It’s whether they demand to be driven back to civilization for a hot bath, air conditioning, or (worse) a doctor.
For my brother’s fiancée, the test had begun. But she was in good company.
Every organism on the ranch – from its people, to its horses, to our vines – must weather the Gualfin Test.
They contend with wild temperature swings (as much as 70° F)… powerful blasts of UV light through the thin atmosphere (80% more intense than in Bordeaux)… low oxygen levels… roaring winds… and the assured absence of help if you get into trouble.
It’s enough to kill most things.
But for those plants and animals that survive, the “test” comes with major benefits: longevity and good health.
Gualfin’s inhabitants are a small group of homesteaders and natives. They live in near total isolation.
Up at our most remote vineyard – so inaccessible, it’s impossible to harvest – an elderly woman, Elena, lived in complete self-sufficiency well into her 80s.
She made – and I can attest to this personally – the best cheese in the valley.
She had no daily pill regimen. The nearest pharmacy would have been a day’s journey away. And she rarely saw a doctor. Around these parts, if you fall ill, the trek to see a doctor is more dangerous than toughing it out on your own.
In any case, the people here seem to stay active and live far beyond what their rough-hewn lives might dictate.
For scientists, the latter observation would scarcely be surprising. “That which does not kill you…” is actually a scientific fact.
Stressing yeast with short bursts of extreme heat and cold allows them to live up to 30% longer. And studies have linked “caloric stressing” – aka fasting – to longer lifespans and less disease.
Of course, we aren’t all going to pack up and move to the edge of civilization to battle it out against the elements. But that’s where wine comes in…
At over 8,400 feet above sea level, in the most extreme growing conditions on Earth, Malbec grape vines growing in the Calchaquí adopt some unusual characteristics.
They become ultra-efficient at concentrating the few nutrients they have. They become ultra-resilient against bugs and other potential threats. People say there are vines around that must be more than 100 years old. I believe it…
And the benefits of this struggle against nature don’t just stay in the plant.
They carry on through to the wine… and the wine drinker.
It’s a myth that red wine is good for your health because it contains antioxidants.
The real health benefit of red wine comes from a part of the vine known as the “sirtuin pathway.”
It springs to life when the vine comes under stress.
The extreme-altitude vineyards of the Calchaquí Valley – facing low oxygen, high UV, and sudden temperature swings – cling to the edge of survival.
The remote Calchaquí Valley
They survive because sirtuin activation floods the grapes and their skins with a plant chemical known as a flavonoid. This thickens and darkens the skins to protect the grapes. You can tell a wine has had surtuin activation like this because the wine is so opaque it almost looks black.
The near-black color of our wine is a telltale sign of high flavonoids
The grapes we grow in the Calchaquí Valley may have some of the densest flavonoid concentrations of any grapes in the world. In some cases, the flavonoid levels in our grapes may be up to 10 times that of other, lower-altitude grapes.
Here’s what we found when we had a certified lab test our extreme-altitude Malbec, Sunal Ilógico, against a common California red:
10 times more resveratrol
93% less sugar
80% higher levels of anthocyanin (an antioxidant that lab and animal models suggest may inhibit tumor growth)
What does that mean for your health?
When you drink this inky red wine, those flavonoids pass into your body. Once there, they activate your own sirtuin pathway.
Effectively, the plant passes its resilience – hard-won after years in the wilderness – on to you!
When you drink a glass of extreme-altitude Malbec from the Calchaquí Valley in Argentina, your body quite literally experiences what it is to live on the open range thousands of miles away, at nearly 9,000 feet above sea level.
Activating your sirtuin pathway may be a key step in slowing aging and fighting off disease.
And sirtuin activation is far from folk science. In fact, it’s beginning to attract significant investment from some of the biggest names in medicine.
Investors include pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) – to the tune of $720 million – as well as MIT’s head of aging.
Scurrying up the embankment after her runaway horse, we found my brother’s fiancée on the ground, shaken and bruised, but still among the living.
She got back up, wiping away the tears from the shock. The mare stood close by with its head bowed sheepishly.
After a first fall, a novice rider can be reluctant to get back on. But there wasn’t much choice. There are no cell towers or phone lines for at least 50 miles. And even if we had a phone to call for help, the path was impassible by car.
My brother helped his fiancée back on her horse. She took a deep breath, nodded her head, and urged the mare forward.
The rest of us exchanged glances… and smiled. She had passed the Gualfin Test.
Chris’ note: Will you pass the Gualfin Test? The Bonner Private Wine Partnership has a limited number of bottles of extreme-altitude wine from the Calchaquí Valley available for Daily Cut readers. It’s never before been available in the U.S. And it’s packed with sirtuin-activating flavonoids (one of the densest concentrations in the world).
Founder, Bonner Private Wine Partnership