Wine-fed cows are happy, produce tender Vinbovin steak

Sheryl Nadler
Shine On

In the southern Herault region of France, three beef cows were selected as part of an experiment that saw up to two bottles of local red wine added to each of their diets. The result? "'Happy cows' who ended up producing an exceptionally succulent meat," reports the Telegraph.

The cost of feeding the cows is triple what it costs to feed a non-wine-fed cow, says the story, but some restaurants in Paris are happy to pay the price for this ultra luxe form of beef, called Vinbovin.

Wine-fed beef is nothing new to Bill Freding, owner of Southern Plus Feedlots and Okanagan's Finest Angus Beef in Oliver, B.C.,  whose company recently took over Sezmu Beef's wine-fed beef operation.

"We've got a custom feed lot that we can handle up to 5,000 head quite comfortably," he says. "We try to maintain 100-200 head on feed at all times for the wine program. Last year we had more but the market didn't develop, so we didn't move as much as we thought we might."

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Like Freding's naturally-raised cattle, wine-fed cows are also raised without steroids or antibiotics. The only difference in their feed is the 1 litre of red Okanagan Valley wine each cow consumes daily, he says.

Do the cows appear drunk? Happy? Sleepy?

"You'd never know it," he says. "A litre of wine for a 1,000-pound  animal or a 1,200-pound animal is like a half a glass of wine for yourself."

Can you taste the wine in the beef?

"It's got maybe a little bit of a sweeter taste to it," says Freding of the wine-fed cows. "The big difference is in the colour of the meat — you get a real nice red colour. And if you're comparing it to commodity beef, it's certainly more tender and a lot more flavourful. But another difference is in the processing, where we dry-age all the beef for 21 days."

Freding says the cost of feeding a wine-fed cow is approximately $200 more than it costs to feed a commodity cow over a 60-day period. Because they're trying to establish a market for this luxe beef, he's currently selling it to restaurants in British Columbia for 10 to 20 per cent more than he sells commodity beef. At 10 per cent, he's just breaking even, but they're hoping to slowly get to the 20 per cent mark, where they will show some profit on the wine-fed product.

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Do wine-fed cows enjoy any added health benefits?

Freding's company recently participated in a research study conducted by Thompson Rivers University that looked at any possible health benefits the cows might glean from drinking wine on a daily basis, but the results didn't show any great advantages to it.

"It might be just because there's not enough wine," he says. "A litre might not be enough."

As far as he knows, Okanagan's Finest Angus Beef is the only producer in the country raising wine-fed beef.

Lori Loree, a spokesperson for the Alberta Beef Producers, says she doesn't know of any other wine-fed beef producers.

"There are some producers up around the Edmonton area that have fed distiller's beer to diets," she says.

Freding, who also feeds brewer's mash to some cows says the only difference he's noticed from it is that it stimulates the cows' appetites.

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