The question comes up all the time lately, “does organic wine have sulfites?” The simple answer is yes. But, like with most things, there are levels of complexity to address. For instance, what are sulfites and why should you, or shouldn’t you, care about them? What is organic wine, and how do the sulfites vary within? All of these questions, and more, will be answered here. Let’s start at the beginning.
The Winemaking Process
Wine today is made in much the same way as it has always been made. Special grapes are grown for their sweetness, and farmers take into account everything from the sunshine exposure to cold exposure to the richness of the soil in which the grapes are grown.
The grapes are harvested at their ripest because all the sugar is at its highest concentration, and then the grapes are quickly crushed.
For red wine varietals, the skins and stems are left in the juices to soak up the colors and tannins. For white wines, the skins and stems are promptly removed. And for the pink wines, roses, the skins and stems will be left for a short amount of time.
Once the juice, now called must, is strained, yeast is added.
Yeast is the critical element in wine, taking it from juice to alcohol in a matter of weeks, and bringing complexity that simply did not exist before.
A naturally occurring, single celled, living organism that has been around for billions of years, yeast has always only had one job that we know of – find sugar and consume it for energy, then expel alcohol, water, and carbon dioxide as waste products.
Lucky for those of us who love wine, beer, bread, and other fermented products, yeast is prevalent across the earth, hardy, and really good at its job.
And we have long known that yeast ferments, or produces alcohol and carbon dioxide as a result of consuming sugar.
What we don’t often talk about are the hundreds of other secondary metabolites produced by yeast during fermentation, like sulfites.
What Are Sulfites?
Sulfites are a chemical compound called Sulfur Dioxide created by plants in nature to protect them against disease, yeast, and bacteria. They are naturally occurring, though they can also be manufactured in a lab.
Why Are Sulfites Added?
Sulfites are manufactured in a lab and added to foods like baked goods, cereals, and other processed foods as a preservative.
What Is Organic Wine?
Now, the thing to remember is that any organic food will not have a chemical compound added to it. The organic label lets consumers know that this food or beverage is produced through all natural means only. There will be no chemical pesticides or artificial ingredients included.
This label promise holds true for organic wine as well.
Organic wine is made with organic grapes that have never been sprayed with inorganic chemicals or genetically engineered or modified in any way. Furthermore, only organic yeast is used to ferment organic wine.
Does Organic Wine Have Sulfites?
And yes, organic wine still has sulfites. Why? Because even though they may not be added by winemakers to preserve wine, they are still naturally occurring during the fermentation process.
What happens is that while yeast is consuming all that sugar in the must, it is also in competition with a bacteria that is eagerly attempting to consume the sugar as well. In order to fight that competition, yeast produces sulfites that naturally destroy that bacteria. As a happy byproduct, the sulfites will also protect against other bacteria that would quickly oxidize wine and turn it sour and vinegary.
So, you cannot have wine without having sulfites.
Sensitivity to Sulfites
It is important to note here that the primary reason we have this conversation about sulfites is that many people have come to believe they have a sulfite sensitivity. The supposition is that sulfites give the sensitive drinker headaches and even migraines.
However, while science has shown that some people do have a sulfite sensitivity, it is a very, very small percentage of the population, and it usually shows up in people with asthma.
It is much more likely that many people who believe they have a sulfite sensitivity are actually reacting to something else. It could be the alcohol, but it could also be any one of hundreds of chemicals sprayed on or included in non-organic wine.
Thus, it would serve you well as a wine drinker to seek out organic wines and test whether they have the same effect as non-organic wines.
As a winemaker, it is always a good idea to go organic and to practice regenerative farming as a way of pleasing an increasingly discerning population interested in organic foods and practices that are good for them and good for the earth.
The worst possible thing that could happen is that you make a higher quality wine, right?
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