Tips for Carefully Adding Sulfites During Winemaking

To some consumers, “sulfites” is a four-letter word, with some who say they experience headaches or suffer other maladies when they drink a non-organic wine.

However, many wineries use sulfites in winemaking, going for a low-sulfite approach, and even certified organic wineries can use a very small amount — under 100 parts per million — which can be useful when there are flaws in the bottle that adding sulfur dioxide can seamlessly remedy.

Organic wineries largely make wine in “prevention” mode, knowing that they have limited options for “solving/fixing” a flawed product.

“Ninety percent of the time we have acclimated to using fewer sulfites and there are a lot of techniques that can lower usage rate, but when you have a problem it can be tough,” BARRA of Mendocino Winemaker Randy Meyer said. “When you need sulfur dioxide to solve problems it can get in the way of curing some ills.”

Lost Oak in Burleson, Texas is among those who unapologetically but judiciously use sulfites to make wine. President Roxanne Myers said there were elements of organic winemaking that made near complete sulfite avoidance highly difficult, so the winery uses an approach that facilitates production.

“We don’t have to age a bottle on a storage shelf, and we take great care of all our bottles, so we strive to just add what we need and no more. It’s always easier to add more than it is to take out the sulfites if you overdo it,” Myers told Vintner Magazine. “They’re effective in winemaking in combining with spoilage microbes and oxygen microbes that could lead to the deterioration of your wine. If you don’t use sulfites — and there are organic wines that are made in that way — then you have to keep your containers completely and totally full at all times.”

Wines made that way are becoming fewer and harder to find, Myers said, noting that her company works to limit its sulfite usage.

“We usually bottle our reds with about 40 parts per million of free sulfur dioxide, and with our whites, it’s about 30 parts per million,” she explained. “That’s pretty low in the sulfite world. I actually find that people get headaches from sulfites, and I get a lot of feedback that our wines don’t give anybody headaches because there are so few sulfites in them.”

In Sonoma County, California winemaker Sam Baron said Kivelstadt Cellars is another that limits its use of sulfites but carefully utilizes them to preserve their wines’ stability over time.

“They are exponentially more effective at lower pH, when there is a higher overall level of acid in the wine. This means that I as a low sulfite winemaker focus on higher naturally occuring acid in grapes and wines so I can reduce additions rates of sulfur and have wine stability. 

“I don’t see any reason to make additions prior to fermentation and malolactic conversion, but at that point there is nothing to be gained by any microbial action. For this reason, I add sulfur dioxide upon the completion of malolactic fermentation to ensure stability during aging.”

Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.