Zero Sulphites Wanted
The use of sulphur in wine has recently become a hot topic. Some people are avidly against its use and others are touting it as a revolutionary tool. I often see that these debates cause the two sides to become so divided that they are blind to the virtues of the other. In this article, I would like to explore the nuances of this discussion, and raise awareness about Sulphur Sensitivity.
I will never forget working my first harvest. It was an incredible experience that taught me more about winemaking than the previous four years at University combined. We were making low intervention wines with the catchphrase “Sulphur is your friend.” This powerful antioxidant and antimicrobial was used intelligently, but freely, and the wines produced were indeed superb.
However I Was running around the cellar for 16 hours a day with a permanent headache (a sign of runaway inflammation), which tripled the effort required for every action. At the time I simply did not have the understanding to make the connection between the sulphur in the air, my headache and the health implications.
In winemaking, we use the active compound Sulphur Dioxide or SO2 which is a toxic gas formed by burning elemental sulphur in air. If you have ever accidentally inhaled the fumes of a match as you light it, you know exactly what SO2 smells like. It is added to the grape juice to kill off undesirable bacteria and yeast strains before fermentation; after fermentation to prevent microbial damage; and finally just before bottling as an antioxidant to increase the ageing potential of the wine. Sulphur really is a useful tool, but is it being used responsibly or as a safeguard against lazy winemaking?
Now on the extreme side, a sulphur allergy is a serious condition, albeit fairly rare, only affecting 1/100 people. The symptoms may include:
Digestive symptoms - diarrhea, stomach cramps, vomiting, and nausea
Skin symptoms - red and itchy skin, rashes, and hives
Respiratory symptoms - wheezing, difficulty breathing, cough, chest tightness
Sensitivity on the other hand, can range from moderate allergic symptoms down to symptoms of increased inflammation (aching body and joints, brain fog, boggy sinuses and fatigue) and a dull headache.
Clearly, I am not allergic, yet every time I drink conventional wine, even with plenty of water and in moderation, I experience these same symptoms of inflammation and headache. I have had so many incredible experiences around the world were I am faced with a line up of some of the top wines from a region and after just 5 or 6 my nose begins to close up and I lose my sense of smell. A dream moment ruined.
My breakthrough realisation came in 2015 while working in the Loire Valley in France. I was in a region dominated by natural wine producers and voila! for the first time I was savouring every sip from the first bottle to the last and waking up feeling energised and ready for action. These wines were all made with zero or extremely little added sulphur and everyone in our group observed how good we felt after enjoying these wines.
The point I am making here is that the world is not black or white, allergic or not. There is every shade of sensitivity between those two and through my research and engaging with wine lovers, I have come to realise that the vast majority of people fall within this space. In the same way, one may not have Coeliacs disease (severe gluten allergy) but may still have a sensitivity to gluten, especially if it accumulates with excessive intake. Personally I don’t want my sensitivity to end my sensual exploration of this fine nectar from the Gods. It is entirely possible to craft excellent wines without any use of Sulphur; and in 2018 I set out to prove it.
For the past four years, Deep Rooted Wines has been my vehicle of exploration into premium-quality sulphur-free wines. My goal has been to appeal to everyone from the conventional wine drinker right through to the natural wine nut. Countless times I have heard people say they simply cannot drink wine anymore. It often takes quite a bit of reassurance and encouragement and the next day they are knocking at my door to order a case!
All of us just want to have our moment of pleasure, that sensual connection to ourselves and those around us. We want it to be an energising experience - hell, why not even an uplifting one? We want to wake up the next day elated and glad that we opened that second bottle because the conversation was so good and the moment was so real. So if you feel worse than you should the next day, even when drinking lots of water, I urge you to try something different. Find a bottle or two of Zero Added Sulphur wine and see how you feel the next day. You may just discover that you have had a sensitivity and you didn’t even know it.