In the Blogosphere: How Wine Sulfite Regulations Impact Winemakers

Vinted on January 20, 2008 binned in organic wine, wine health, winemaking

The wine sulfites battle rages on.

Some of you will recall that the Dude has been commenting on the topics of sulfites in wine, as well as biodynamic and organic wines.

Jason Haas over at Tablas Creek Vineyard has posted a great article on how the widely misunderstood fear of wine sulfite allergies (& “wine headaches”) has combined with overly-cautious (and poorly-constructed) U.S. wine regulations to cause winemakers unnecessary grief…

What U.S. Sulfite / Organic Regulations Mean for Winemakers
In a nutshell, it seems that the U.S. regulations regarding sulfite use for wines that are to be labeled ‘organic’ have a big negative impact on potential quality of the wine. That’s because some use of sulfites in higher quality wines is inevitable – otherwise the finished wine could be too unstable.

According to the Guidelines for Labeling: Wine with Organic References from the U.S. Dept. of Treasury – Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms:

“100% Organic” products cannot use added sulfi tes
in production. Therefore, since no add ed sulfi tes
are present in the fi nished product, the label may
not require a sulfi te statement. In these cases, a lab
analysis is necessary to verify that the wine contains
less than 10 ppm of sulfites.

Less than 10 ppm of sulfites… hmm… good luck! I wrote about the challenges of achieving such a low level of sulfites in wine before. Those winemakers that chase after the pot-o’-gold at the end of the marketing rainbow may make “organic” wines, but that will need to be done without much thought to the ultimate quality of the wine. Those winemakers that truly care about quality – well, they end up being discouraged from even trying to make wines that would be labeled “organic” by the U.S. government.

What U.S. Sulfite / Organic Regulations Mean for You
And who suffers the most – wine consumers. Because the average person is likely to a) be scared off because of the required sulfite warning labels on wines, often believing (mistakenly) that there last ‘wine headache’ was caused by sulfties, and b) assuming (mistakenly) that wines labeled as ‘organic’ are healthier and of higher quality, consumers can have a poor experience tasting a nasty unstable wine that is labeled ‘organic’ but sucks – and possibly get turned off to wine altogether because of that experience!

[WARNING: SARCASM] Gee… what’s not to love about this scenario? Besides everything, I mean… [END SARCASM]

Don’t Get Suckered into Following the ‘Organic’ Marketing Bandwagon
Unfortunately, it means that we wine lovers still need to have our wits about us when shopping for wine. Stay sharp, and don’t assume that a wine labeled as ‘organic’ is better for you or is higher quality, or contains no sulfites. Higher quality wines will contain sulfites and probably will NOT be labeled organic – but they will taste better, and in the grand scheme of things will be better for you, will provide better value for money, and will give you a better wine tasting experience!






  • James

    Great post on an often misunderstood aspect of wine. Until recently, though, I also believed that sulfites were always necessary to create a wine with the ability to age. What changed my mind was a wine chemistry class taught by Clark Smith. He poured his “Roman Syrah” (a wine made using ancient Roman techniques which meant no S02). The wine was very complex, layered, and absolutely sound. Clearly most wines need S02 during the winemaking process to keep from spoiling but it’s nice to know that great wine can still be made without it.

    • Jaimes Beam

      I grow certified organic fruit. Therefore it makes sense for me to make organic wine. I have had no problem making wine
      without sulfite. However, I am having problems getting organic wine labels approved. When making uncertified (but still organic wine; same fruit, ingredients and processes) organic wines, I was able to get the BATF/TTB to accept "Contains only naturally occurring sulfites" as a sulfite statement. However for an Organic wine, I'm being told that all organic wine needs to be tested for <10ppm sulfites, regardless of the Sulfite Statement; and the only acceptable sulfite statement is "Contains only naturally occurring sulfites" or no sulfite statement.

      Since I make many small batches of wine, lab testing is very problematic!!!


  • Joe Roberts, CSW

    Thanks, James.

    That wine sounds fascinating, and the article is intriguing (thanks for the link). I wonder how (if?) lower altitude wines would fare…

    Your photography totally rocks, by the way!

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