Dangerous arsenic levels found in California wine: suit

A MAY 20, 2009 FILE PHOTO.Eric Risberg/AP

According to the lawsuit, tests by three independent laboratories found that in some cases arsenic levels in certain wines were 500% higher than what’s considered safe.

LOS ANGELES — Dozens of bottles of low-priced California wines sold under such labels as Franzia, Mogen David and Almaden contain dangerously high levels of arsenic, according to a lawsuit filed by four California residents.

The industry group Wine Institute dismissed the lawsuit as “irresponsible,” adding it has not called for any vintner to pull any of the wines named in the complaint from store shelves.

The complaint, which seeks class-action status, was filed Thursday in Los Angeles Superior Court. It lists as defendants 28 California wineries. It also asks for unspecified damages and a halt to production of arsenic-tainted wine.

“We believe this allegation is false and misleading and that all wines being sold in the U.S. marketplace are safe,” the institute, which represents more than 1,000 California vintners and related businesses, said in a statement.

Institute spokeswoman Gladys Horiuchi said Friday that although the United States doesn’t have specific arsenic levels for wine, many other countries do. She added that California vintages have never come close to exceeding those levels.

According to the lawsuit, tests by three independent laboratories found that in some cases arsenic levels were 500% higher than what’s considered safe.

Horiuchi said those comparisons were based on levels considered safe for drinking water, not wine. The lawsuit’s lead attorney, Brian Kabateck, said the levels were originally found in tests done by the head of the Denver-based lab BeverageGrades.

“He decided to test 1,306 bottles of wine representing more than 75% of the wine consumed in the U.S.” Kabateck said Friday. “Out of those he found 83 that had excessive arsenic levels.”

The attorney added that subsequent cross-testing at two other labs confirmed the findings. Arsenic occurs naturally in the air, soil and water in small amounts, as well as in wine and other beverages. In larger amounts, it can be deadly.

Kabateck said tests showed the arsenic found was “inorganic” or not naturally occurring. He said it might have been introduced in the vinting process.

He noted nearly all of the affected wines sell for between $ 5 and $ 10 a bottle.

“Out of 1,306 tests only 83 came back,” he said. “We know that the vast majority of the wine business is safe. If you’re spending $ 20 on a bottle of wine you’re not going to have concerns most likely.”

The 83 bottles of wine cited in a lawsuit this week as having dangerously high levels of arsenic came from 28 California wineries and were bottled under 31 different brand labels. 

Those labels and the types of wine cited in the complaint:

— Acronym (GR8RW Red Blend).

— Almaden (Heritage White Zinfandel, Heritage Moscato, Heritage Chardonnay, Mountain Burgundy, Mountain Rhine, Mountain Chablis).

If you’re spending $ 20 on a bottle of wine you’re not going to have concerns most likely.

— Arrow Creek (Coastal Series Cabernet Sauvignon).

— Bandit (Pinot Grigio, Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon).

— Bay Bridge (Chardonnay).

— Beringer (White Merlot, White Zinfandel, Red Moscato, Refreshingly Sweet Moscato).

— Charles Shaw (White Zinfandel).

— Colores Del Sol (Malbec).

— Glen Ellen by Concannon (Glen Ellen Reserve Pinot Grigio, Glen Ellen Reserve Merlot).

— Concannon (Selected Vineyards Pinot Noir).

— Cook’s (Spumante).

— Corbett Canyon (Pinot Grigio, Cabernet Sauvignon).

— Cupcake (Malbec).

— Fetzer (Moscato, Pinot Grigio).

— Fisheye (Pinot Grigio).

— Flipflop (Pinot Grigio, Moscato, Cabernet Sauvignon).

— Foxhorn (White Zinfandel).

TUESDAY, APRIL 17, 2007 PHOTOEric Risberg/Ap

A worker stacks cases of Charles Shaw wine at the Bronco Wine Company facility in Napa, Calif. A suit claims Charles Shaw’s White Zinfandel is one of 83 bottles of California wine with dangerously high levels of arsenic.

— Franzia (Vintner Select White Grenache, Vintner Select White Zinfandel, Vintner Select White Merlot, Vintner Select Burgundy).

— Hawkstone (Cabernet Sauvignon).

— HRM Rex Goliath (Moscato).

— Korbel (Sweet Rose Sparkling Wine, Extra Dry Sparkling Wine).

— Menage A Trois (Pinot Grigo, Moscato, White Blend, Chardonnay, Rose, Cabernet Sauvignon, California Red Wine).

— Mogen David (Concord, Blackberry Wine).

— Oak Leaf (White Zinfandel).

— Pomelo (Sauvignon Blanc).

— R Collection By Raymond (Chardonnay).

— Richards Wild Irish Rose (Red Wine).

— Seaglass (Sauvignon Blanc).

— Simply Naked (Moscato).

— Smoking Loon (Viognier).

— Sutter Home (Sauvignon Blanc, Gerwurztraminer, Pink Moscato, Pinot Grigio, Moscato, Chenin Blanc, Sweet Red, Riesling, White Merlot, Merlot, White Zinfandel).

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