Friday, December 24, 2010

Red Wine Headache - Take An Aspirin And Call Me In The Morning

Red Wine Headaches (The RWH Syndrome)

Roxi, a colleague, recently asked me on Facebook what caused her headaches when she drank wine. My standard “bar talk” on the subject was not enough because she gets headaches from all kinds of wine, red and white including grape juice but not the actual fresh unfermented grapes.

So I was stumped and started researching the subject more. I’ve read everything from the Harvard Health Letter, to a great New York Times article to a blog from Winegeeks.

What I found was a plethora of information and for the last few days I’ve immersed myself in ‘wine headaches’. I had to smile though because every article or research paper ended with words to this affect. “Don’t confuse red wine headaches with the headache that comes after a full evening of drinking. That's called a hangover!” You think?

Bottom line I found out there is no definitive answer because the food you eat is so unbelievably coupled with your body's chemistry that each of us may react differently to what we consume. While there seems to be no doubt the syndrome exists, definitive causes of it are as varied as the cure for hiccups.

I did find many helpful suggestions from the research that can help you conduct your own personal tests with different wines looking for a grape varietal type, production style or origin of grape that would provide relief from Wine Headaches. If you have RWH syndrome it can come on within 15 minutes of drinking red wine and be accompanied by nausea and flushing.

First, here is the list of top causes of wine headaches. I tried to keep it short and concise. The more practical suggestions and testing options follow.

Top Causes of Wine Headaches

Sulfites are a naturally occurring compound that nature uses to prevent the microbial growth found on grapes and is used as a preservative for dried fruits, lunchmeats and cheeses. White wines generally contain more sulfites than red wine. Sweet white wines have the most sulfites. Sulfite can cause an allergic reaction and will give headaches to asthmatics. Over 20 years ago the FDA determined that a little less than 1% of the population is allergic to sulfites, meaning they lack the digestive enzyme which would allow the processing of sulfites commonly found in foods like lunch meat, sausage, and cheese. Therefore, the FDA required that wines containing certain levels of this compound say so by placing the phrase "contains sulfites" on the label. This information has long been translated by some into a warning that people who get headaches from red wine should stay away BECAUSE OF the sulfites. That is incorrect. The language is intended only as a warning to that small minority who are in fact allergic to sulfites. At this point in time, no study has proved that sulfites are the culprit.

Alcohol has a powerful dilation effect on the blood vessels of the skin and your extremities. This means that it causes the vessels to open, allowing increased blood flow. The alcohol stimulates blood flow to the skin and extremities making you feel warm inside. However, it also makes you lose body heat more quickly. Therefore, the alcohol in wine can cause the blood vessels in your nose and sinus area to swell causing a feeling of pressure. Depending on how sensitive you are to this effect, you might experience a headache.

Histamines Many people may be sensitive to histamines. Histamines are found in many food products, but mostly in fermented foods and beverages, and are more common in red wines than in white wines. Histamines have also taken quite a bit of blame for causing red wine headaches. Histamines are compounds found in plant and animal tissues that cause an allergic reaction in humans. They stimulate gastric secretion and cause dilation of capillaries, constriction of bronchial smooth muscle and decreased blood pressure.
While histamines are found in grape skins, researchers believe that they are not found in high enough volumes to be considered problematic.

Tannins have recently taken most of the blame for causing red wine headaches. Tannins are natural defense mechanisms in plants that create a bitter, astringent taste which induces a negative response when consumed. In wine, these plant polyphenols are derived from the grape skins and provide the flavanoids in wine that give you the dry, puckery mouth sensation. They’re not only found in wine, but also in cheese, nuts, chocolate and tea. The tea industry has recently been touting the healthy effects of antioxidants provided by the tannins.

One possible link is the fact that tannins bind starches together, and prevent these starches from being used by the body to produce serotonin. Serotonin is used to dilate and constrict blood vessels in the brains. When there is a serotonin deficiency, these vessels tend to constrict, thereby reducing blood flow to the brain, which will cause a migraine. Tannins are also naturally found in wood, especially in oak. Most wine is aged in oak, so logically the tannins found within the oak are going to be transferred into the wine.

Suggestions and Testing:

1. Dried Fruit Headache? If you think you’re allergic to sulfites, eat a dried apricot or other dried fruits which have a higher sulfite level than wine. This will cause a stronger headache than red wine would.
2. Chocolate Headache? Tea, soy, or chocolate — though all contain tannins. So if chocolate doesn't give you a headache look for other causes. I didn't even get in to the cacao chocolate content and tannins.
3. Young or Older Wine: Joe Coulombe, the founder of Trader Joe's, may have an explanation. He opines that most Americans today drink very young California red wines. Some of the substances which cause hangovers become inert with age, so Coulombe believes that drinking older wines will reduce exposure to both hangovers and wine headaches.
4. French or American Oak: Something that has not been studied is the difference between tannin transference from American oak and French oak. We know that American oak leaves stronger impressions in wines and wines stored in French oak barrels receive more subtle barrel flavors. Why is this important? Because many people have claimed to be receive a migraine every time they drink American red wine, while they are able to drink most French and Italian red wines without any ill effects.
5. Take and Aspirin and Call Me In the Morning: One suggestion for histamine sensitivity, take a non-sedating antihistamine like Sudafed, Claritin or take an aspirin to stop production of prostaglandins which cause pain and swelling.
6. You Get What You Pay For: Stick to the Good Stuff. Many articles mentioned that the quality of wine can have a great effect on a possible headache.
7. Rotate Black Tea and Wine: If you suffer from headaches and/or flushed skin when drinking wine, try drinking a cup of black tea before you drink the wine. If you will be drinking over the course of an evening, have another cup or two of black tea during the evening. Quercetin, a bioflavonoid found in black tea, significantly inhibits the headache/flush response (which is an inflammatory effect from histamines), according to Tareq Khan, M.D., a pain expert with St. Luke's Episcopal Hospital in Houston, Texas.
8. Bottom Line Experiment: This could help lick your problem. Dr. Fred Freitag (read a lot of his research) advises a potentially long, maybe painful, and costly experiment. A sufferer of the headaches himself, Dr. Freitag finds that he can drink some reds and not others. “Try different brands, different grapes, different countries of origin. That’s the only way you are going to find out.” Drink a half a glass of red wine; if it is going to give you a headache, it will do so within 15 minutes. If there is no reaction, stick with that wine for the evening, keeping your alcohol consumption to no more than two glasses. Keep a journal.

Whew! That's it. If you suffer from Red Wine Headaches, please consider this an executive summary. There is so much info on the internet.

Cheers, Kathy
Olympic Cellars Winery
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Friday, December 10, 2010

Bucket List or Afternoon Delight?

I’m a WORKING GIRL. That’s who I am and what I do. My work over the years has defined me, more so then being a mother or a wife. Hard to say this in print but work and career were at the top of my list too many times.

I always felt something was wrong with me… feeling more comfortable at work then at home. I failed miserably at soccer Mom, car pooling and after school play dates. My daughter even took control of her hair brush in third grade… apparently I didn’t know how to “do” hair.

Maybe all this started with my Dad. I grew up in the 50’s with a stay at home Mom. My parents were always entertaining, my mother in the kitchen. And me… I was the bartender! The evening always found the men and women split into two groups, with me hanging around the guys talking business.

It’s just ironic that 60 years later I stand behind a bar and have a wine brand called Working Girl.

I’ve been talking and planning all the things I was going to do during my “60th decade” birthday for some time. It was the “biggest” of all birthdays to me. To be honest, it scared the crap out of me. My own mortality was not far from my mind, my parents both passing away in their very early 60s. It also didn’t help that I had the sheer pleasure of regretting my ‘fun in the sun’ years with a new nose via skin cancer in December 2009.

2010 was the year to do all that ‘stuff’ I had put off for so many years. Tick-Toc, Tick-Toc. But of course, what I was planning was also tied to events or marketing at the winery. Still just couldn’t have fun without a business purpose.

But all that changed.

First, someone asked if my plans were my bucket list? Well I don’t know where I was when the phrase was coined but I’d never heard of it. (If you haven’t either… it’s your list of what you plan to do before you kick the bucket”.)

So can that… I’m too superstitious. What if I accomplished everything then I really did kick the bucket! I would predetermine my own destiny. I know… GROSS… but all this was going through my head.

So I quietly got out of my comfort zone… trying not to be so structured and inflexible. Stop rating the success of the day by how much was checked off the list. Everything in my life had been scheduled… and yes even time in the bedroom if you get my drift.

My routine was predictable even down to when I poured myself a glass of wine… at 7:30 p.m. Then one more hour of work, fix dinner, watch TV for an hour, get ready for bed, read for an hour… sleep. Boring.

Then I heard an old song from my past, “Afternoon Delight”. Yeah, I know the lyrics but the song to me meant way more than an afternoon in bed.

Think about it for a moment… these lyrics from the song taken out of context says it all.

My motto's always been; when it's right, it's right.
Why wait until the middle of a cold dark night.
Sky rockets in flight. Afternoon delight. Afternoon delight.

Are you humming the tune yet? Do you feel like just dancing right out of your office? The song says “Do It, Don’t Wait” until your 60, or you retire or when the house is cleaned.

I’m making progress. I did do a few things on my list… walked on fire, got a tattoo and a dog.

And, I’m considering a new Working Girl Wine… Afternoon Delight!

Might have to explain this one a bit but damn it will be good.

Who knows what I’ll do next.

Cheers, Kathy

Working Girl, Olympic Cellars Winery

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Saturday, December 4, 2010

Are You "One" With Your Wine Glass

While I know that the better a wine glass is -- the right lead content, the right shape and the correct rim -- it enhances your tasting experience. I also have my favorite glass which does not meet any of these standards.

This glass is “just me”. It was given to me by my best friend who knows my most favorite flower in the world is Sunflowers. The glass is literally drenched in bright yellow flowers and green leaves making it impossible to see the wine, the legs of the wine on the glass or the color of the wine. But I don’t care because the nuances I miss drinking wine from this glass is more than made up for by the warmth of memories. I will hand wash this glass each evening just so it is ready for the next day.

Molly, Lisa and I all shop together for the gifts at the winery. We all have to agree before we buy anything. And if you know any of us, we all have strong opinions.

Our space at the winery is limited so what we buy has to “speak to us”, i.e. we need to immediately relate and can think of someone in our lives that would just love it. If it meets that test and even better yet is made by a small or fair trade business then it’s a done deal.

For the holidays we have a large selection of what I describe as ‘hostess, co-worker, girlfriend gifts’ in an affordable price range which I can almost guarantee won’t hit the “re-gifting” shelf because they will be treasured. When you pick out a gift it will remind you of the person you’re buying it for and that makes it special… for you and them.

And if you want to buy wine… you’re at the right place. We’ve always specialized in a wider variety of wines because we know that individuals’ tastes vary. The wines are award winning… white, red, dry, sweet and sparkling. All award winning including my own "YUM" judging criteria... Yummy, Yummier and Yummiest

Happy Holidays,
Molly, Lisa and Kathy

PS. I just gave myself an idea... I'll do a video. Stay tuned

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PS. Just gave myself and idea… I’ll do a short video for those of you that can’t come to the winery. Stay tuned.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Ladies of the Night to Working Girls

You might be wondering where this blog is heading but bear with me.

Ralph and I are on “working vacation” in Cabo. Both of us with laptops at the pool (and towels over our heads so we can see our monitors). But we do take time… walk the beach and discuss everything under the sun, literally!

Our hotel beach front walking distance is limited by a huge rock outcropping at one end. The first day, I took this picture. Really wanted to climb over the rocks and see what was on the other side, but as you can see that would have taken some climbing gear.

So take a good look. What do you see?

At first I saw a whale, breaching in the Straits of Juan de Fuca where I live. Then I thought the whale had that carved, indigenous Indian, NW art style.

Ralph and I stood there so long staring at this monolith that we began to draw a crowd. People wondering what we were looking at and why I was taking so many pictures. Conversation started… folks from Chicago, Montana, and Columbia, MO. One young boy thought it looked like some animated monster from a movie I’d never heard of…

What I quickly realized was that each of us looked at this huge hunk of rock from a different perspective... sort of our own personal photo lens.

Anyway, it got me thinking. And I realized Working Girl Wines and this “rock sculpture” have a lot in common.

Our wine labels are seen through each individual’s set of experiences. And often the labels start conversations. People definitely have different opinions and also judge the potential of the wine by its label. The old cliché, ’you can’t judge a book by its cover’ definitely applies.

Sometimes our wines get stuck near all the other labels that are considered “sarcastic and irreverent” like Fat Bastard, Bitch and Frog’s Piss (yuk!). Yet some of these wines have earned prestigious awards just like our Working Girls wines.

Many of you know the story of how our wine brand got named “Working Girl”… very much tied to the three working women who are in their second careers and now own and operate Olympic Cellars Winery. Our ages are spread across multiple decades giving us quite a different perspective and breadth of experience… a good combination for running a business.

When we look at our Working Girl wine labels we see strong, diverse women working each day to make a living for herself and her family.

But there are times as we pour the wine in our tasting room or at wine events, we hear the same old “trying to be funny” comments or snide remarks about the real “Working Girls”… you know the Ladies of the Night. We often keep our replies light or launch right into the description of the wine ignoring these derogatory comments.

But as I think about this, why should we let anyone else control us by their bad behavior? We always tell people it’s about taking the name and image of the Working Girl BACK. Maybe in the past ‘working girl’ referred to prostitution but not anymore. Back then it was the only job women were allowed to make money at. But not now.

So, I think the Working Girl brand name is an important statement about strength and ownership of words.

And, as I so often say…. I am Women, Here Me Pour!!!!

Cheers, Kathy

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