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26 Jun '14

Sulfites in Organic vs Conventional Wines

Posted by Roy Cook in Standards, Sulfites
Sulphur dioxide (SO2 or sulfites) preserves wine from bacterial infection (turning to vinegar) and acts as an antioxidant, which keeps the wine from turning to a brown color. Without sulfites wine can easily spoil.

Whilst EU organic standards limit the amount of sulfites which can be added to organic wines to a little over half the amount which is permitted to be added to conventional wines, Sulfites are, nevertheless, added to just about all organic wines. For most wines (dryish whites and reds) the organic maximum is 140mg per litre. For sweeter organic wines up to 250mg/l is permitted. Although these are the maximum limits, unfortunately, there is no real way (without sending it away for analysis!) of knowing just how much sulfite there is in any particular bottle of wine.

Very small amounts of sulphur dioxide are created by the fermentation process itself, so you will not find any wines totally free of sulfites. There are however, some wineries (usually not organic ones) who are experimenting with creating wines without the addition of any sulphur dioxide, the so called "no sulfite added" wines. Probably the reason so few wineries are attempting to create wines without any added sulphur dioxide is because of the high-tech equipment, and high capital cost of such equipment. In addition, the grapes would need to be entirely free of Botrytis (grey mould), as it is sulphur dioxide which is used to suppress the oxidation caused by botrytis. Furthermore, low sulphite wines have to be drunk young and probably the whole bottle in one sitting, as it will not be at it's best the following day once the air has got to it. "Many so called 'natural' wines are a little "funky" and an acquired taste. Many have consistency problems, not just between different vintages but even from bottle to bottle of the same batch. Whites tend to be semi oxidised and either dark yellow or orange in colour - the producers will tell you this is intentional but it is not! It is because of a chemical relationship between the natural acidity of a wine and the low sulphite content! It is physically impossible to have a wine with good acidity without at least some sulfites in there" (http://www.goodwineonline.co.uk/acatalog/Sulphite_Free_Wine.html).

If you wished to try some of our Sedlescombe Organic/Biodynamic wines then the ones with the lowest sulfite levels are the Dry White and the Regent red wine.

But the wines with the lowest levels of added sulfite are usually bottle fermented (traditional method) sparkling wines. Since the carbon dioxide bubbles help to keep the wines fresh and reduce oxidation, there is not the necessity to add so much SO2. In addition, the grapes used to make sparkling wines have to be free of botrytis, as the bottle fermentation could be adversely affected if large amounts of sulfite were required to 'fix' the botrytis.

If you wished to try our sparkling wines we have a White and a Rose available here.

My own personal view (based solely on mine and my wife Irma's experience) is that the allergic reactions which some people attribute to sulphur-dioxide could perhaps have their cause in the chemical disease control sprays used on vines in conventional vineyards. These are invariably 'systemic' meaning they enter the sap system of the plants and have been shown to be present, albeit in very small quantities, in very many non-organic wines. 

I do hope this helps, and please let me know how you get on with any of the above suggestions, as we get a lot of enquiries along these lines so it would be useful to be able to pass on your experiences to others.

Assuring you of our best attention at all times.

by Roy Cook (Wine maker, Sedlescombe Organic Vineyard)

 



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