What Sulfur Doesn’t Do

Traveling around France i’ve met a good number of natural winemakers with very strong opinions on the topic of adding sulfur to wines. There’s a number of reasons that they reached this opinion, from the basic “our wines are better without sulfur” or “sulfur bothers my stomach.” Others take a more philosophical stance on sulfur, thinking that the addition will take out a lot of the terroir and vintage characteristics even if the wine is not “perfect.”These reasons make sense, and these are often the low sulfur wines that come across the cleanest and most honest.

And there are those who start to give sulfur more credit than it’s worth. Hungover? Wouldn’t happen without the addition of sulfur. 2 drinks get you tipsy? You can drink 12 bottles of unsulfured wine. These are ideas that come from the idea that additives are the enemy, and natural can’t possibly be bad. Misguided and perhaps a bit dangerous.

And then, in the cave of a winemaker living in the smallest town in the middle of nowhere, we hear one that has kept us laughing for weeks. The winemaker is going through the regular points about sulfur and why she refrains from using them. We nod our heads and continue tasting and then the punchline comes.

“You can’t get a DUI if you drink unsulfured wines.”

Guilhaume’s eyes go dinner plate and he nearly spits out his wine.

“Sulfur is what makes alcohol attach to your blood” she continues “This is how they bust you”

We’re incredulous at this point. She can’t really be telling us this, can she? Where the fuck is MADD when you need them? We don’t even know where to begin arguing.

Somewhere in the south of France there’s an accident waiting to happen.

(Fear not. i did not test this theory, and hope my readers are smart enough to do the same.)


~ by Cory Cartwright on April 14, 2010.

6 Responses to “What Sulfur Doesn’t Do”

  1. Cornelissen has been an advocate of the “can’t get a hangover” argument, based on what he claimed was personal experience. I wonder if he still believes that. I know I’m not getting in a car with him — especially in Sicily — if he’s inclined to test the theory.

    But I do like this. As you know, I’ve a predilection for slightly nutty winemakers.

  2. That’s classic!

  3. How much sulfur is threr in vodka? I think peolpe get hangovers from Vodka, No?

  4. “Guilhaume’s eyes go dinner plate” – rofl!

  5. Hi, I’ve been making “natural” wine for about 6 years now, and I’ve had a very interesting relationship with sulphur over that time. At first I was radically against using it, and I didn’t, not even in the vineyard. But I came to realize that that attitude is too extreme and in fact down right risky (both to your grapes and to your wines). Now I only use it when I consider it necessary, ie after a summer storm in the vineyard, or just prior to bottling a shipment that I know is going to be transported or drunk much later.
    I used to believe that sulphur was a ‘chemical’ in the sense of a synthetic industrially produced chemical, but now I know that it’s a natural element that is present in the soil. (As I’m sure you all know, your wine will have some sulphur in it even if the winemaker doesn’t actually add any him/herself.)
    Like anything else, sulphur can be abused (as well as used). It is especially abused by volume producers who use low-quality grapes, ie that are over-ripe, mechanically harvested, piled into open trailers, infected, etc, etc.
    I don’t believe the ‘sulphur gives you a headache’ theory myself. Maybe if you drink a lot of really cheap, nasty wine, you might get a headache from the alcohol (obviously) but also from other additives, including sulphur, as there will be lots, and up to the legal limits, in that kind of wine.

  6. Dried fruit (unless of course it is unsulfured) can legally have up to 2000ppm SO2 added. Most wine at bottling has less than 40ppm. Do you get a hangover from dried apricots? While I do enjoy wines that are made without added sulfur, I do recognize its utility. One thing that sulfur does is bind aldehyde that masks the fruit.

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