May Contain Sulfites

Greg and I were chatting about sulfur’s role in the process of wine the other day, after reading this article, and he was rather disgusted that it was used at all and asked if ‘organic’ would solve this problem. Of course, if one has watched a harvest they’ll know quite well that sulfur is a necessary evil in the process of winemaking and that organic just refers to the method of growing and farming and guarantees that the farmer is committed to not using harmful pesticides, radical fertilizers, practices sustainable farming and promotes bio-diversity on the land.
Organic wine, thus, is not excluded from the use of SO2. Think about what happens when you cut an apple in half and leave for a few minutes. The flesh turns brown and it is immediately not as fresh. This is called oxidation, which ultimately spoils the fruit and begins the process of its organic break down.

As soon as the skin of a grape is broken – oxidation begins and it threatens to ruin the life of the wine. By placing grape in lug boxes, you’re immediately going to cause skins to split, and thus the more grapes you have in a harvest and the longer you have to travel to get to the crusher de-stemmer, the greater the threat of oxidation.

Over and above the threat of oxidization is the presence of yeasts and microbes. We all know that yeast facilitate fermentation, but in order to regulate the fermentation, wine makers often neutralizes any wild yeasts and microbes and then add their own, which is part of the art of wine making.

The addition of S02 solves both of the above problems, as it prevents oxidization and it neutralizes yeasts and microbes – thus adding control to the process of wine making. The only problem with sulfur comes when it is used in too large a quantity and the sulfur binds with the organic compounds in the grapes. From time to time we can detect aromas like burnt-match or burnt-rubber in wine, and this is evidence of too much sulfur.

I believe the good wine is amazing because it essentially has the same treatment as any other wine – however because of things like the difficulty of even coming to harvest, possible fluctuations in weather, necessary addition of sulfur and perhaps even social disruption like a sudden strike by the grape-pickers – when wine comes through perfect, it is really in the face of all odds.

‘Organic Wine’ often uses wild yeasts, and thus they’ll use sulfur first to make sure that the wild yeasts take effect. It’s just a reality of farming, but here’s the thing, the bigger production of wine, the more sulfur you have to use. The reason for this is, the more wine you have, the more vineyard you need. The more vineyard you need the more land you need and the longer it takes the fruit to get taken back to the production facility, increasing oxidization threat and microbe presence – and so sulfur is used more liberally.

Certain Australian wines can take over 7 hours to get from the farm back to the wine press and some of the best wines in America insofar as purity are from the Finger Lakes in New York, because it is such small production that you can get the wine to press within hours of picking. The reality of the situations is: it has nothing to do with organic and more to do with how quickly you can get the wine back into the presses and into the vats.

Once in press the wine will then have dry ice and sulfur put on top, but that is unlikely to bind. Its when the wine is in transport that it gets tricky.

A lot of people think that the use of sulfur in wine is what puts them off the product – however, the simply need to try smaller production wines that are crushed on site and they’ll be more agreeable.

The use of sulfur in wine is nothing though: if you knew about ‘flash fermentation’ which is a process that Budweiser and Miller use to get their beer to ferment in 24 hours (highly unnatural) you’d never drink those beers again, and you’d stick to micro-brewery stuff. The bottom line is: the more commercial and the higher the production, the less natural and the
more crap goes into your wine, beer or McDonalds burger. Small production = high quality and purity.

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Posted in Wine | 8 Comments »

  • Greg

    Great post… we spend so much time talking about marketing the product that we forget about what really matters, which is what’s inside the damn bottle.

    In talking to people over the past year and in my personal experience beginning the wine journey, I’ve found that there is a minority of us that actually can’t consume even moderate quantities of red wine because of the sulfites, myself possibly being one of the unfortunate ones. I had my fair share of alcohol in college, and there is no doubt that there is something in red wine that doesn’t sit well with me, and I’ve talked to others that feel the same.

    What really burns me up about this is how red wine has such incredible health benefits (see my post about the Human Elixir). Red wine not only has antioxidants, but resveratrol as well which stimulates the creation of more efficient Mitochondria.

    I’m sensing a paradox here. Red wine was created to enhance human health and spirit through health benefits and social cohesiveness and comfortability. Then, you add this foreign ingredient (sulfur), which makes mass production easier and of course more cost effective — then you slowly start to see more people not able to consume the product because the sulfites negatively interact with their chemistry.

    Thanks for the post Ruarri… I’ve wanted to get that rant out for awhile. Of course, I could be WAY off, but the intuition appears to be sound. Seems like the solution is to make the logistics systems awesome so that these smaller production wineries can get their product to market faster and not be forced to mess with it to save $$!

  • http://www.celebrate-wine.com Carol

    Interesting post. I don’t think sulfites are as evil as people make them out to be. I mean, they are natural by-products of fermentation and really only potential health hazards for people legitimately allergic to sulfur. If you’re having a hard time drinking red wine, it might actually be the histamines giving you a problem — not sulfites.

  • http://www.celebrate-wine.com Carol

    Interesting post. I don’t think sulfites are as evil as people make them out to be. I mean, they are natural by-products of fermentation and really only potential health hazards for people legitimately allergic to sulfur. If you’re having a hard time drinking red wine, it might actually be the histamines giving you a problem — not sulfites.

  • Greg

    This is really interesting. I checked into it a little more a found this article on wikipedia…
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Red_wine_headache

    Maybe it’s just a result of too much tannin in underdeveloped wine. I have been drinking a lot of cheaper stuff lately… I guess it’s time to move up a bit.

    thanks for the note

  • Lora

    Hello Wine Drinkers,

    If you are allergic to sulfur as I am…there is hope for us wine drinkers. Google NAET. This is an allergy elimination therapy..no medications, no needles and you need not to avoid the allergy culprit.This allergy method has completely changed my life. If you really want to be well…please look into this. You will really be happy you did on so many levels.

  • Lora

    Hello Wine Drinkers,

    If you are allergic to sulfur as I am…there is hope for us wine drinkers. Google NAET. This is an allergy elimination therapy..no medications, no needles and you need not to avoid the allergy culprit.This allergy method has completely changed my life. If you really want to be well…please look into this. You will really be happy you did on so many levels.

  • Linda Semancik

    I just started taking resveratrol and I came down with a whopping migraine. I’m wondering if the resveratrol has sulfites in it, since I get migraines if I drink red wine.

  • Linda Semancik

    I just started taking resveratrol and I came down with a whopping migraine. I’m wondering if the resveratrol has sulfites in it, since I get migraines if I drink red wine.

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