Since the beginning of the last century, synthetic sulfites in wine production have been used as an antioxidant preservative and stabilizer. Sulfur started to be used in winemaking in the early 1900s to stop bacteria and other yeasts from growing. It’s used to ensure stability by preventing micro organisms and oxidation from spoiling wine. Sulfur dioxide (SO2) is a natural by-product of fermentation so there will almost always be trace amounts of naturally occurring sulfites in wine, even those without any added sulfites.
- Under the USDA National Organic Program, wines labeled as Organic Wine can have no added sulfites. Only those wines can display the USDA Organic Seal.
- Sulfites in wine – limits by category:
Why is it Hard to Produce Without Sulfites in Wine?
Because sulfur is not used to prevent bacteria during production and storage, producing No Sulfites Added (NSA) wines requires great care at every step:
- Grapes are mostly hand-picked, often at night to avoid exposure to the sun and potential bacteria.
- Only the most pristine grapes can be used in production of the wine. Grapes are sorted and those with blemishes are taken out of production so there is less change of spoilage.
- Indigenous wild yeasts which do not form SO2 are used in production.
- Strict hygienic conditions must exist throughout the production process. Avoiding all contact with oxygen is imperative to avoid spoilage.
- The wines are produced and fermented in steel tanks. There are no barrel-aged NSA wines, as oxygen can seep into the barrel.
- Care must be taken in the bottling process to ensure a clean, bacteria-free environment and avoid any exposure to oxygen. A nitrogen flush is added to the wine right before placing the cap or cork.
- Stelvin screw caps or alternative corks (such as those produced with natural sugar cane biopolymers) are used as they form a tighter seal and can keep out oxygen for a longer time than cork. They preserve the aromatic freshness of the wine and allow it to age properly on the shelf.
- Under normal, proper handling conditions, NSA organic wines from Europe and other continents arrive stateside in great condition and have a shelf life similar to wines with added sulfites.
Sulfites in Wine – Often Necessary for White Wine Production
- Wines with higher sugar content tend to need added sulfur to prevent secondary fermentation of the remaining sugar.
- Red wine grapes contain additional natural preservatives-such as tannins from the grape skins-so is more stable. Red wine tannins contain high levels of polyphenols, which act as natural antioxidants.
- Because the white organic wines are less stable, importing and handling requires extra care and their shelf-life is limited.
While the jury is still out as to what in wine (and other forms of alcohol) actually causes hangovers, factors that can have a positive effect in producing hangover-free wines may include:
- Sulfite sensitivity is rare, but real for many. According to the FDA, 1 in 100 people have a sensitivity to sulfites. Sulfites are also commonly found in many processed foods such as dried fruits and potato chips.
- Minimal to no use of sulfites-
Our wines range from 10-100ppm and most are under 30ppm.
- No chemical additives-forbidden in organic and Biodynamic production.
- Lower histamine content-red wines have more histamines than white.
- Lower sugar content-drinking a whole bottle of Moscato yourself is never a good idea!
- Lower Alcohol content-or simply drink less wine!
- And remember to hydrate with water-alcohol dehydrates the body and dehydration is a very likely hangover culprit.
We are Committed to Using the Lowest Possible Amount of Sulfites in Wines
As Rachel Signer expressed in her article on VinePair “the thing about sulfur is that it can prevent wine from showing its nuances. Sulfur-laden wine is predictable—which can be a good thing. But when you try low-sulfur wine, or sulfur-free wine, the juice is surprisingly alive.” A study out of UCLA published in the Journal of Wine Economics concludes that organic wines do taste better, as measured in the scores of leading wine critics.
At Natural Merchants, we work to import wines that use the least amount of sulfites and other interventions in the winemaking process as possible. The resulting wines are the true essence of the winery’s terroir, and the purest expression of the grape.