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What are sulphites and do organic wines contain sulphites?

Sulphites are preservatives and antioxidants. They are commonly used in wine to prevent unwanted bacteria spoiling the wine. Sulphites play a very important role in preventing oxidation and maintaining a wines freshness and beautiful fruity flavours. Given that it is often difficult to control the wine’s storage conditions from the time it leaves the winery to the time it has been consumed, it’s hard these days to omit sulphites all together. We do however have an amazing Winemaker who this year, has created our first ever Preservative Free + Organic Sauvignon Blanc. A fruity wine, with gorgeous floral notes that’s now available from our online shop!

Sulphites are generally harmless unless you have an allergy to them or your body does not have the correct enzymes to break them down. You’ll find that if you do have an allergy, you’ll notice it in foods before wine as foods generally have a high sulphur content. If you find you only react to wine, then it could be something else in the wine and not the sulphur. It’s also important to understand that a sulphur allergy may develop over time, so just because you were fine 5 years ago, doesn’t mean that you won’t have a reaction to it now.

With regards to wine, any wine that contains more than 10 parts per million, must be labelled “contains sulphites.” Just a quick tip, if you’re travelling to the US, organic wines must not contain added sulphites. If they do, they are labelled as “made from organically grown grapes.” Australia, Canada and Europe do not have this rule and wines are simply labelled as “organic.”

We often hear people say to us that they can’t drink wine because the sulphur gives them a headache. It doesn’t necessarily mean the sulphur is giving them a headache as wine also contains other compounds such as histamines and tannins which are most likely connected to the headaches. A lot of dried food has 10 times more sulphur than wine, so if you can consume dried fruits without a headache, then it’s likely that the wine won’t cause a headache. 

This is also true for red wine. We hear this all the time, that people can’t drink red wine because it gives them a headache. Red wine contains less sulphites than white wine, so it’s most likely the tannins in the red wine that are affecting you. Tannins are a stabilising agent so less sulphur is required to protect the wine during the winemaking and maturation processes. 

One important thing to remember, is that sulphites are a natural by-product of the yeast during fermentation, so even if you do not add them to the wine, the wine will still contain a low level.