Good wines low in sulphites
I’m sure by now you’ve picked up that we sell good wines low in sulphites and other additives. But some of you may be asking what does this actually mean, and what difference does it make that it’s low sulphite wine?
Well, very basically wines low in sulphites and other additives are actually good for your health, taste great and won’t give you a hangover. Whereas wines high in sulphites and other chemicals are bad for your health, don’t taste great and will give you a hangover.
So what is the difference between the two?
It all starts with the grape growing. The grapes for factory produced wines tend to be cultivated on a large scale, often vineyards of hundreds of acres. They are sprayed with chemicals in the vineyard including sulphites for pest control. The vineyard itself becomes contaminated and these pesticides and herbicides damage other life in the vineyard, which in turn depletes the soil of vital nutrients. This all contributes to poorer health of the vines and poorer quality grapes.
Then these grapes are harvested by machine. Different vines will ripen at different times due to their specific location on a vineyard, after all no vineyard is completely flat! Some bunches on the same plant will also ripen later depending on leaf coverage. With machine harvesting everything gets picked together, whether fully ripe or not. The grapes are then dumped into open back trucks where they get squashed under their own weight and split so they begin oxidising straight away. To combat this they are immediately sprayed with a layer of potassium (or sodium) metabisulphite powder.
For our artisan wines, the small vineyards are farmed by hand, often organically even if the growers aren’t certified. They encourage a live ecosystem in the vineyards with other wildlife and plants to contribute to the overall health of the vineyard. When it comes to grape picking, they pick by hand into small 20kg boxes so the grapes don’t get damaged. They only pick the ripe grapes, and do a further sorting back at the winery to make sure only the good grapes are used. You’ll note there has been no mention of any sulphites yet.
For factory produced wines the grapes are fermented in huge steel tanks, often tens of thousands of litres at a time. Some are done on a truly industrial scale and it looks more like a power station than a food/beverage producer. All the grapes are used whether fully ripe or not. Once the ferment is ready, it is then “rectified” with potentially dozens of permitted additives, 80 or so are allowed for mainstream wines and 40 or so for EU certified organic wines. Sugars are needed if the grapes didn’t have enough natural sugar. Tartaric acid is added as the grapes also didn’t have enough natural acidity – that’s why cheap Sauvignon or sparkling wine can give you a serious acid reflux! The wine bcomes a cocktail of additives with some fermented grape juice in it.
For our artisan wines the grapes are fermented in small tanks, sometimes terracota amphorae. Many of our wines are produced on a tiny scale, literally just a few thousand bottles or less. The winemaker monitors everything and provides regular manual punch downs for the reds up to ten times a day, and regular battonage (stirring). The grapes have enough sugar and acidity because they were perfectly ripe so there is no tampering at this stage with dozens of additives.
Factory produced wines tend to be heavily filtered so any goodness such as natural anti oxidants are removed from the wine. A lot of sulphites are added as the wine is “naked” with no natural defenses against oxidation. Possibly it may be bottled at the winery, or for bulk wine it will be pumped into huge bladders to be shipped to the UK to be bottled here. In that case, because these bladders are porous, huges doses of sulphites are added yet again to protect the wine. You can see how many times they’ve been added in this whole process.
For our artisan wines, they are bottled on the premises. Normally they will only undergo a light filtering if any so the natural anti oxidants remain in the wine. Some of our producers will add a very small amount of sulphites at this stage to protect the wine as it does have to travel to the UK. But these amounts are very low, nothing like the mass produced brands found in the supermarkets and on the high street.
The two end products – quality natural wine and mass produced wine may look identical on the shelf but the contents could not be more different to each other. Try some natural wines, you will be amazed how much better they make you feel!