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Sulfite-Free Wine
A closer look at sulfite-free wines from Derek Gray of Graybull Organic Wines.


This letter about non sulfite wines came from from Derek Gray, owner of Graybull Organic Wines, an Indiana distributor specializing primarily in "organic" wines with no sulfites added (NSA) and wines made with organically grown grapes. He takes issue with my battery acid comment and I think he has a point. I wrote the first version of my sulfite article 10 years ago and at the time I had never had a sulfite-free wine that didn't taste like sherry or battery acid.

Since then I have had a number of very passable NSA wines. And, while I still worry about their shelf life Derek tells me he has had a couple reds with very heavy tannins that can age for 3-5 years, but those are rare. Most reds are fruit forward and meant to be drunk within 3 months to 2 years of bottling and NSA whites should be drunk within 18 months of bottling.

I really do enjoy this column and feel it does a nice service for your customers. I do take exception to the sentence "There are “organic” “sulfite-free” wines out there that use other products like citric acids to make wine but I have yet to taste one that doesn’t taste like battery acid or sherry. (If you find one that doesn’t, let me know.)”

I do feel I need to point out that I have presented a couple of NSA wines over the last couple years that were rated 86-88 points – I did not mention the no sulfite thing as it does carry a negative connotation. You nearly did purchase one of them but didn’t have space for that varietal. I have one winery (Cooper Mountain out of Oregon) that received a 90 point rating by Wine Advocate for their sulfite free Pinot Noir (yes the winery tested and it had zero residual sulfites after bottling). Unfortunately, they sold out of the wine prior to getting it into distribution channels.

When you first wrote this article nearly 10 years ago, there were very few decent tasting NSA wines on the market. The technology is catching up very quickly. I’m even amazed in the seven years I’ve been in the business the improvement in quality year after year. Wineries quick freeze grapes upon harvesting killing the bio-load, they use more aggressive yeasts, cold ferment, they use inert gasses to blanket the tanks and nitrogen dosing during bottling and of course use screwcaps all to limit oxygen exposure. I will be the first to admit there are a LOT of bad wines (both with and without sulfites) on the market. I would suggest that now (in 2013) your sentence above is not as accurate as was 10 years ago. I do have a biased business perspective on this as my #2 brand is a No Sulfite Brand – but it is a rapidly growing winery (approaching 100,000 cases/year) and now has to allocate their product between EU and US due to demand. If it tasted like battery acid they would not be seeing this growth.

I hope I haven’t offended you – I really do feel education is a huge part of this business so hope you can appreciate my perspective on this controversial subject. I promise I won’t bring any wines to you that do taste like battery acid (with or without sulfites)…

President, Graybull Wines

Read more about sulfites here.