Wine, teeth and truffles

May 27, 2011


Truffles anyone? How about wine and what it does to your teeth and throat?  Here is the lowdown on both starting with teeth.

Both white and red wines fight germs that can cause sore throats and dental plaque. It is not so much the alcohol and acidity, but the combination of carbon containing compounds found in wine. Red wine has a more powerful combination than white but not by much.

Now don’t start gargling with wine because the downside is the acids in the wine will softened your protective tooth enamel. It is suggested that you wait at least an hour before brushing after eating any acidic foods and drinking wine.

Same goes for brushing your teeth right before drinking wine or any other acid product because it is the abrasion effect from the brushing which leaves the teeth unprotected.  Let your saliva go to work for a while which can re-mineralize your teeth and prevent damage. Swishing out your mouth with water and swallowing as you drink wine also helps and is something I regularly do at long tasting events – also mainly so I don’t get bombed!

Don’t think that sipping white wine instead of red is going to help the look of your teeth because you can still get dark dental stains. The tannins, when combined with the acidity, hold compounds that saturate and weaken your teeth’s enamel. So when you have that cup of tea or coffee after dinner and that last glass of wine, you are helping to stain your teeth. A good thing for the cheese industry is that you won’t see the staining with foods like cheese which offsets the compounds when served up with wine.

Procedures for teeth whitening have been around for thousands of years. Whitening products were used back to 2000 B.C. from human waste products and natural ingredients. Egyptians and Romans used wine vinegar and pulverized pumice applied to chew sticks to whitened teeth.

Also, a bit gross, many physicians of the time prescribed human urine for teeth whitening which was real forward thinking in that ammonia, found in urine, is still used to clean teeth enamel. Later, establishments with the red and white barber pole, besides getting a haircut, were a place where caustic nitric acid would be used to whiten teeth. It was alright for a while but the problem was that the enamel would wear down leaving a mouthful of pulpy, decayed teeth.  Nowadays there is bleaching, whitening strips, lasers, whitening toothpastes, and dental rinses used.

The top ten foods and drink for protecting your gums and teeth are: celery, green tea, kiwis, parsley, shitake mushrooms, wasabi, water, cranberries, wine, and coffee. They promote saliva, anti-oxidants, vitamins, or anti-bacteria compounds that prevent plaque, gingival, and periodontal problems even through some may stain teeth if you don’t heed the above information. For me, because mine were looking a little ratty, I took advantage of my dentist Dr. Mark Leopold’s annual First Three Thursdays in June fund raiser for the Women’s Shelter of San Luis Obispo. For the half-off price of $195 and the check made out to the Shelter, I got my teeth whitened and a feel good tax write-off for a great cause to boot!

OK, now about Truffles. Truffles are primarily underground mushrooms that are fairly rare and hard to grow. Looking at the main growing grounds around the world, particularly in France, it seems that they can be grown wherever you grow Pinot Noir winegrapes. So this winter we are going to plant a test plot of host Hazelnut and Oak trees. The trees come inoculated with the fungi for the French black truffle also know as the Perigord truffle named after the province in France where they are famous. They are also grown in Spain and other suitable places and are one of the most prized (and expensive at $1,000 plus a pound) delicacies in the world. There are thousands of truffles in the world but few are edible.

Working with truffles expert Dr. Charles Lefevre in Eugene, Oregon, we plan to raise these ¾ to 2 inch black diamond shaped jewels on the hillsides of our Avila Valley vineyard where we can’t grow long straight rows of grapevines. Truffles grow in and around the roots of the inoculated trees mostly a couple of inches deep usually in a circle about four to five feet from the tree trunk. The hard and delicate part is to find and harvest them without damaging the root system.

Traditionally, pigs are used which root them out but they also eat them or a dog trained to smell them out. I am going with the dog which has the added benefit for me because I have needed an excuse to get my grandkids a dog ever since my old white lab, Mich, died a while back. In some cases, a “burn” area of grasses above the truffles caused by the phytotoxic activity from the truffles below along with the presence of hovering flies gives them away.

Well drained soils need to be high in pH (around eight) because the truffle fungi can thrive in such a moderately alkaline soil; whereas, other competing fungi may not. As with the vineyard, in some places we will have to add a bunch of natural lime to raise the pH to the desired levels. This is critical if you are going to raise truffles because competing native fungi from native oaks, shrubs, conifers, and other nut trees can take over hence no truffles. Therefore, virgin land a hundred feet from other trees is desirable. If we are invaded by outside murderous fungi, then I guess we will end up with some real nice mature tree landscaping!

The convenient thing about the harvest is that it happens during the winter from  late November through February after our winegrape harvest and when things  are slow in the vineyard. Harvest timing is critical because plucked truffles only last a couple of weeks before they start to deteriorate. So after-harvest  handling and distribution is a big deal because of the short shelf life. However,  with a three to four month season we can string out the harvest depending on demand because of the built-in underground storage.

We will prep the ground this summer and plant this winter. It will take three to five years before we see our first truffles with full production in about 10 and hopefully above 35/lbs (high of 100 lbs per acre). The wait time, along with declining farm  ground in Europe, are probably reasons why the production of truffles has fallen from 1000 tons globally in 1900 to only 100 tons nowadays. You have to think  generational when planting winegrapes and orchards.

Schoolhouse Rock starts on June 18th on Sundays 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. with a trolley tour to the vineyard at 4 p.m. Also, Scott Liddi has moved into our new kitchen and will have  his famous Italian sandwiches & salads available daily in the tasting room. “We don’t care to eat toadstools that think they are truffles”. Mark Twain

John is a 6th generation California farmer whose family has been continuously farmed in California for 160 years starting in the Sacramento Delta in 1850. John now concentrates on farming 45 acres of wine grapes in the Avila Valley and Paso Robles producing Salisbury Vineyard wines.



  1. r0y says:

    All kinds of nuggets of goodies in this piece! Thank you for sharing! While not a big wine-drinker, I might just start having a glass here or there.

    It’s a bit disturbing the whole “Whitening products were used back to 2000 B.C. from human waste products and natural ingredients.” Human waste AND natural ingredients. I don’t want to think of my waste as unnatural, but I’m sure my family would not agree! Phew!

    As far as those “wine straws” – that seems gimicky to me at $2.50 for four (4) straws is a bit much. Couldn’t the standard plastic ones work? Or maybe we go back to the paper straws of yesteryear! (and you can get 20 for $4 or better)

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  2. JennyLaFever says:

    Great article!! Have you heard of or tried WineStraws? They are awesome, and people have started using them with white wine too :) Happy Friday!

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