Understanding the relationship between sulfites and organic wine. This topic is one of the most popular in the wine industry today, with many people writing brilliantly and endlessly about it. I had fun doing the research, and I hope you have fun doing the reading ☺
What are sulfites?
According to wine.about.com, “Sulfur dioxide (SO2), or sulfites…, is a chemical compound that occurs naturally at low levels during the process of wine fermentation…[Sulfites are] also added by many winemakers during the fermentation stage of winemaking to protect and preserve the wine’s character, flavor and color.”
So if sulfites sound so good, why do they have such a bad reputation? This is a subject I addressed in my “Wine Sensitivities” article several years ago.
For now, I’d like to focus on the benefits of sulfites. Mike Owen, President and Founder of Crystal Basin Cellars in El Dorado County. Owen says that sulfites “kill bugs and keep other harmful organisms from spoiling wine.” Also, “If you choose a wine because…it has fewer sulfites or ‘no added sulfites’ you may be doing yourself a disservice, because that wine won’t last very long. Soon it will be vinegar.” No fun.
Is it bad to have a lot of sulfites in wine?
My favorite answer comes from Amy Atwood: “We…know that the presence of sulfites or lack thereof does not guarantee quality either way…However, I…prefer a wine that has not been beaten into submission with loads of preservatives. Moderation seems to be the key (as with many things in life).”
What is organic wine?
According to OrganicConsumers.org, for a wine to be labeled Organic and bear the USDA organic seal, it must be made from organically grown grapes and can’t have any added sulfites. It may have naturally occurring sulfites, but the total sulfite level must be less than 20 parts per million.
For a wine to be labeled Made with Organic Grapes or Made with Organically Grown Grapes, the wine must be made from organic grapes, but it can include added sulfites.
A note about organic wine grapes
If you do your best to eat organic table grapes, you will be happy to know that many wine-grape vineyards practice organic-like farming methods, even if they don’t go for the organic certification. This is because a wine-grape vineyard’s primary goal is flavor concentration. The fewer the grapes on a vine, the more concentrated the flavor. This lends itself to organic growing methods.
The bottom line
If you truly suffer from sulfite sensitivities, be on the lookout for Organic wines. If you are committed to organically labeled produce, be on the lookout for wines Made with Organic Grapes or Organically Grown Grapes. If you don’t fall into those camps, the sky is the limit. Enjoy!