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Ed Draves

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Is there such thing as a preservative free wine?

by Ed Draves » Thu Jul 06, 2006 7:46 am

I had a customer tell me that a certain group of wines is being touted as "Preservative free". Can a product containing alcohol in it be legally labeled as such? Perhaps she meant "sulfite free"?
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Robin Garr

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Re: Is there such thing as a preservative free wine?

by Robin Garr » Thu Jul 06, 2006 9:02 am

Ed Draves wrote:Can a product containing alcohol in it be legally labeled as such? Perhaps she meant "sulfite free"?


I would guess you're on target here, Ed. I don't know for certain, but when it comes to labeling, generally speaking the rule "that which is not permitted is forbidden" would apply, and given the uproar over health and nutrition claims on wine labels, I don't see the authorities allowing a broad "preservative-free" label. Even "sulfite-free" is iffy, since the most any maker can truly claim is "no sulfites added" or, under recent regulatory language, "organic sulfite-free."

My recent Wine Advisor article, No sulfites added touches on some of these points ... feel free to print out a copy for her. (Click for print-friendly version.)

It would also be helpful if she recalls anything about the wine label, producer, etc., so we could look it up.
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Re: Is there such thing as a preservative free wine?

by Dave Erickson » Thu Jul 06, 2006 9:40 am

I enjoyed reading "No Sulfites Added" and would add that a possible reason for the seeming lack of consequences from wine drinking in Europe is that visitors are probably most often drinking wine as part of a meal, not on its own, and that meal is likely to take twice as long as the one consumed at home. Hail the two-hour lunch!

One other note: We sell Frey Organic White which is labeled "no detectable sulfites." Which bugs me no end, since if sulfites are not detectable, they must have been removed, which in turn makes me wonder how the wine can possibly be labeled "organic" since it is no longer in its original state.
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Re: Is there such thing as a preservative free wine?

by Robin Garr » Thu Jul 06, 2006 11:02 am

Dave Erickson wrote:We sell Frey Organic White which is labeled "no detectable sulfites." Which bugs me no end, since if sulfites are not detectable, they must have been removed, which in turn makes me wonder how the wine can possibly be labeled "organic" since it is no longer in its original state.


I don't think that follows exactly, Dave. "No sulfites added" means just that ... they didn't add any sulfites to the wine ... although of course they hope people won't ask about naturally occurring sulfites. As I understand it, they may not use the "none added" label if natural sulfites in the wine exceed the minimum (10 ppm?) set by regulation.

Personally, I would get on them for a different matter: Making a wine without preservatives that's likely to go bad in the bottle, creating the impression that this is a positive thing by pandering to the hysteria created by the warning label.
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Re: Is there such thing as a preservative free wine?

by Bob Ross » Thu Jul 06, 2006 1:18 pm

Robin, I've read that in Australia at least there are "preservative free" wines where fermentation is stopped by pasteurization. Any insights?

Thanks.
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Re: Is there such thing as a preservative free wine?

by Isaac » Thu Jul 06, 2006 2:26 pm

Robin, I might be mistaken, but I think Dave's objection is to "No detectable sulfites", not "No sulfites added". Since, as you say, sulfites are natural, then it follows that, if sulfites are undetectable, then the naturally occurring sulfites have to have been removed.
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Re: Is there such thing as a preservative free wine?

by Thomas » Thu Jul 06, 2006 4:21 pm

"No detectable" is likely sematics for "you can't find it, but it's there."

After fermentation, and if no sulfites are added, it's possible for a wine to contain sulfites at levels that are under the govt established theshold and therefore is exempt from the warning on the label.

Since sulfites are one of the natural results of vegetative decay, is it possible that sulfites are organic?

Incidentally, I believe "organic" on a label applies to the vineyard not to the wine, but these things get so confused I could be wrong about that by five minutes past this post.
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Re: Is there such thing as a preservative free wine?

by Robin Garr » Thu Jul 06, 2006 5:33 pm

Isaac wrote:Robin, I might be mistaken, but I think Dave's objection is to "No detectable sulfites", not "No sulfites added". Since, as you say, sulfites are natural, then it follows that, if sulfites are undetectable, then the naturally occurring sulfites have to have been removed.


Thomas covered the ground that I would have, Isaac. I believe the winery is using the recent organic labeling regs, creatively but legally, to communicate an impression that's not quite correct. "No sulfites added, and no natural sulfites in excess of federal requirements" would be more accurate. I would defy them to claim that no sulfites could be detected by gas chromatography or other precise analytical processes, though.

And, as I said above, the more they've whittled down the sulfites, detectable or otherwise, the less stable the wine is likely to be in the bottle. All in the service of an allergy that's found in fewer than 1 in every 1 million individuals but that looms large because of warning-labelphobia.
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Re: Is there such thing as a preservative free wine?

by Robin Garr » Thu Jul 06, 2006 5:39 pm

Bob Ross wrote:Robin, I've read that in Australia at least there are "preservative free" wines where fermentation is stopped by pasteurization. Any insights?


Bob, I think that's really two questions. First, in Australia, the legal term of art for sulfites as a wine preservative is the mysterious "preservative (220)", so "preservative free" presumably refers to the same preservative that we in the US label as "sulfites."

Second, pasteurization is a peculiar thing to do to wine. Kosher wine producers do the equivalent to make "mevushal" wines that can be handled by unbelievers in service without rendering the wine unclean (as I understand it).

In standard wine production, some irresponsible producers have been known to "flash pasteurize" wine at bottling, which has the equivalent of "cooking" the wine, creating a fruit-forward blast when the young wine is opened, but dramatically shortening its cellarworthiness (if any).

I'm puzzled in the context you raise, though. Unless the wine is sweet, why would they want to stop fermentation? Table wines are normally fermented dry, and the classic fermentation-stopper for sweet wines is fortification, not heat. I can't understand why they would want to do that, but maybe someone can enlighten us both.
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Re: Is there such thing as a preservative free wine?

by Robin Garr » Thu Jul 06, 2006 5:41 pm

Thomas wrote:Incidentally, I believe "organic" on a label applies to the vineyard not to the wine, but these things get so confused I could be wrong about that by five minutes past this post.


Probably. ;-)

More seriously - I touched on this in a recent <I>Wine Advisor</I> article - recent regulations allow "produced from organically grown grapes" on the label of wines made from organic grapes but using sulfites in wine-making. The term "Organic sulfite free" is permitted on wines made from organic grapes and without added sulfites. This regulation, either through ignorance or intent, ignores the presence of natural sulfites below 10ppm.
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Re: Is there such thing as a preservative free wine?

by Dave Erickson » Thu Jul 06, 2006 5:47 pm

[img]http://www.spirithaus.com/images/bn/160/9449.jpg[/img]

I apologize for the lousy image, but if you squint you'll see it reads "no detectable sulfites." That is different from "no sulfites added" and since sulfites naturally occur in winemaking, it seems logical to conclude that sulfites were removed. Suggesting that the sulfite content is too low to detect seems disingenuous to me, especially since the Feds, as Robin points out, set the sulfite content bar especially low for wines. And, if sulfites were removed, then the wine has been manipulated, which to my thinking makes "organic" less than accurate, also.

I didn't mean to make such a big deal about this, but I'm a little surprised that you all seem ready to be so accommodating to Frey. What they're doing may not be illegal, but to my mind it sure isn't right.
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Re: Is there such thing as a preservative free wine?

by Robin Garr » Thu Jul 06, 2006 5:53 pm

Dave Erickson wrote:I didn't mean to make such a big deal about this


It's okay ... that's what we <i>do</i> here! ;-)

but I'm a little surprised that you all seem ready to be so accommodating to Frey. What they're doing may not be illegal, but to my mind it sure isn't right.


Maybe I've been too subtle, but I think I've at least hinted through this thread at what I'll now say explicitly: I think it's more than a little sleazy of a few producers to (1) hype low-sulfite wines, knowing that most of the resistance to sulfites is based on ignorance and hysteria generated by the warning label, and (2) make low-sulfite wines, knowing that they'll be inherently unstable in the bottle.

Let's go back to a couple of specifics, though, because they bear repeating, not in the interest of defending Frey but simply to set things straight:

since sulfites naturally occur in winemaking, it seems logical to conclude that sulfites were removed.


Again, in fairness, this does not follow. No sulfites were added, and none were removed. The naturally occuring sulfites (a small amount) remain in the wine.

And, if sulfites were removed, then the wine has been manipulated, which to my thinking makes "organic" less than accurate, also.


As Thomas said, "organic" refers to vineyard practice, not winery processes. (With the subtle exception that the term "organic sulfite free" is now permitted on the labels of wines made from organically grown grapes and made without added sulfites.)
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Re: Is there such thing as a preservative free wine?

by Dave Erickson » Thu Jul 06, 2006 6:00 pm

I know what "organic" means, and I also know what it implies. I still think it's sleazy.

Regarding the removal of sulfites: This will require research on my part. I am deeply skeptical that Frey somehow manages to keep sulfites below a "detectable" level. If there were not some manipulation going on, wouldn't every quality winemaker (i.e., winemaker that doesn't add sulfites) be able to claim "no detectable sulfites"??

Anybody got a pipeline into Frey?
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Re: Is there such thing as a preservative free wine?

by Hoke » Thu Jul 06, 2006 6:20 pm

Dave Erickson wrote:I know what "organic" means, and I also know what it implies. I still think it's sleazy.

Regarding the removal of sulfites: This will require research on my part. I am deeply skeptical that Frey somehow manages to keep sulfites below a "detectable" level. If there were not some manipulation going on, wouldn't every quality winemaker (i.e., winemaker that doesn't add sulfites) be able to claim "no detectable sulfites"??

Anybody got a pipeline into Frey?


Hey, all they have to do is keep the sulfites down to less than 10ppm and they can call it "Organic Sulfite Free" (assuming the fruit was grown and certified organic that is). Not impossible. Means you have to do things way different though, since the commonly used agent for cleaning out all your receptacles, tanks, hoses, floors...virtually anything that comes in contact with the must and wine...is sulphuring agents! But it can be done.

At Bonterra (Disclosure: I work for the company that owns Bonterra), which is labeled "Organically Grown Grapes", but is NOT labeled "Organic Sulfite Free" because the winemaker doesn't believe in doing it that way, and where the winemaking is "traditional" (i.e., using sulfites, but carefully), the wines generally come in at 25-35ppm sulfites. In contrast, it's possible for some wines to vary between 100 and 300+ppm. By American regs, Bonterra does not qualify as "Organic Sulfite Free" (nor does it want to)----but in the UK, where the bar is higher (100ppm) Bonterra can be sold as "Organic".

Regardless, Bonterra doesn't make that claim; it claims only that the wine is made from organically grown grapes. As Robin said, the whole sulfite thing is a phantom menace.
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Re: Is there such thing as a preservative free wine?

by Thomas » Thu Jul 06, 2006 6:30 pm

No pipeline into Frey Dave, but my suspicion is that they are using a loophole, and yes, it is sleazy marketing to the unsuspecting who gladly take the word of mouth approach to information--wine and food labeling don't h\elp either, since few consumers know the regulations and the myriad ways to bs us.

If a producer has not added sulfites why in the name of Dionysus would he go to whatever trouble it might be to remove the minuscule levels of sulfites that remain after fermentation. I am not even sure sulfites can be removed. But I've been out of that loop for a few years; maybe someone else knows.

There are two types of sulfites in wine, the bound and the free. As you add SO2, some of it binds, a portion of it remains free. That issue alone is confusing to those who cite the regs--is the govt warning bar 10ppm bound or is it 10ppm free? Perhaps the "no detectable" is playing on a loophole there.

It is the free SO2 (airborne) that makes asthmatics react, and I have no idea how that would be removed other than letting the SO2 dissipate by way of oxygenation, which would really be stupid. And, the levels in wine after fermentation generally wouldn't even register on an asthmatic.

As for the pasteurization, Bob, I don't think that has anything to do with slowing oxidation. While sulfites help in arresting microbial activity, their real purpose is to slow down oxidation and they do their work dependent on the wine's pH (and relative acidity).

Let me redo the pasteurization portion of the post--what I meant was simply that SO2 is better at the job because it does not cook the wine and, in my opinion, ruin the stuff.
Last edited by Thomas on Thu Jul 06, 2006 6:58 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Is there such thing as a preservative free wine?

by Robin Garr » Thu Jul 06, 2006 6:33 pm

Dave Erickson wrote:Regarding the removal of sulfites: This will require research on my part. I am deeply skeptical that Frey somehow manages to keep sulfites below a "detectable" level. If there were not some manipulation going on, wouldn't every quality winemaker (i.e., winemaker that doesn't add sulfites) be able to claim "no detectable sulfites"??


Dave, to repeat it, by "detectable," Frey (apparently) means "below the federally regulated level of 10 ppm." That's not hard to do, if NO sulfites are added in the process, although as Hoke points out, the decision not to use sulfites requires great attention to sanitation in production (and as I've pointed out, it risks bottling an unstable wine). But honestly, taking naturally sulfites out of the wine is a non-starter. There would be no point in that, and I'm not aware of any commonly practiced method to do it. There would be no need, because naturally occurring sulfites in wine won't normally come anywhere close to 10ppm anyway.

Anybody got a pipeline into Frey?


Not I.
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Re: Is there such thing as a preservative free wine?

by Thomas » Thu Jul 06, 2006 7:00 pm

[quote="Robin Garr"]There would be no need, because naturally occurring sulfites in wine won't normally come anywhere close to 10ppm anyway.

[quote]

Which is why the "no detectable" is being used. It's such a low level that nothing on the market for consumers will detect it...and probably not even an asthmatic.

Gee, why didn't my quotes come up in the gray box??? This, after you remove the "for dummies" forum ;)
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Re: Is there such thing as a preservative free wine?

by Bob Ross » Thu Jul 06, 2006 7:07 pm

You know, I think Frey has a pretty fair description of this issue, including the "no detectable" claim, on their website. Maybe I'm being too generous, but they certainly are making any false claims that I can see. What do you think?

Are Sulfites Added to Frey Wines?
No, but they may occur naturally in small amounts. See below.

What are sulfites?
Public attention recently has been directed to the use of sulfites as a food preservative. For many years it was a common practice to add sulfites to wine as a protection against oxidation and bacterial spoilage. In addition, small amounts of sulfites can be naturally present in wine and other foods, since the abundant element of sulfur takes many forms as a part of all living things. When used in winemaking, manufactured sulfites are added as sulfur salts or sulfur dioxide solutions to the juice before fermentation until bottling. Unfortunately, winemakers can be excessive in their use of sulfites, which has the effect of masking delicate flavors, assaulting the nose, and causing headaches and allergic reactions to those especially sensitive. However, modern winemaking equipment and sanitation make it possible to produce sound wines without such additives.

What happens when sulfites are added to wine?
Due to its reactive nature, most of the sulfite molecule joins with other substances in the wine. This part of the sulfite is called "bound" sulfite, and since it is bound up it usually can't be tasted or smelled, except at high levels. A smaller part of the sulfite molecule can't find anything to join and wanders freely through the wine, ready to bond with traces of air or other substances or organisms which can cause wine to go stale or spoil. It is this "free" sulfite which has a strong preservative effect in the wine and can be more easily smelled and tasted or cause a sulfite reaction.

How are sulfites measured?
For most measurements, the bound and free sulfite fractions are added together to get what is called the "total" sulfite level in the wine. Since sulfites are a powerful preservative, they are added to wine in small amounts and are measured in " parts per million", abbreviated "ppm". Although the legal limit in wine is 350 ppm, most wines with added sulfites contain less, generally 25-150 ppm. According to federal law, if a wine contains 10 ppm or more of total sulfites, the label must state "contains sulfites".

What about naturally occurring sulfites in Frey Wines?
Many foods, including wine, may contain small amounts of naturally occurring sulfites, almost always in the bound form. For example, an egg tested at an independent wine laboratory showed 6 ppm total sulfites. Our experience has shown that naturally occurring sulfites are present in some of our wines in small amounts, but in some cases no sulfites were detected. In making wines without added sulfites, we've found that red wines and older white wines contain the lowest levels of naturally occurring sulfites (none detected or under 5 ppm), while young white wines may occasionally show levels from 5 to 15 ppm.

What are Organic Wines?
Under the new USDA National Organic Program, Frey wines are Organic Wines because they are made from certified organic grapes and contain no additives, such as sulfites or tartaric acid. Wineries that use organic grapes, but add sulfites or other additives can only be labeled “Made with organically grown grapes.”

http://www.freywine.com/freywine/no-sulfites-added.html
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Re: Is there such thing as a preservative free wine?

by Ed Draves » Thu Jul 06, 2006 7:25 pm

thanks to all for the replies. Unfortunatly since we had nothing marked "presevative free" she didn't purchase anything. If she returns I'll share the info with her.
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Re: Is there such thing as a preservative free wine?

by Oliver McCrum » Thu Jul 06, 2006 7:39 pm

Thomas wrote:No pipeline into Frey Dave, but my suspicion is that they are using a loophole, and yes, it is sleazy marketing to the unsuspecting who gladly take the word of mouth approach to information--wine and food labeling don't h\elp either, since few consumers know the regulations and the myriad ways to bs us.

If a producer has not added sulfites why in the name of Dionysus would he go to whatever trouble it might be to remove the minuscule levels of sulfites that remain after fermentation. I am not even sure sulfites can be removed. But I've been out of that loop for a few years; maybe someone else knows.

There are two types of sulfites in wine, the bound and the free. As you add SO2, some of it binds, a portion of it remains free. That issue alone is confusing to those who cite the regs--is the govt warning bar 10ppm bound or is it 10ppm free? Perhaps the "no detectable" is playing on a loophole there.

It is the free SO2 (airborne) that makes asthmatics react, and I have no idea how that would be removed other than letting the SO2 dissipate by way of oxygenation, which would really be stupid. And, the levels in wine after fermentation generally wouldn't even register on an asthmatic.

As for the pasteurization, Bob, I don't think that has anything to do with slowing oxidation. While sulfites help in arresting microbial activity, their real purpose is to slow down oxidation and they do their work dependent on the wine's pH (and relative acidity).

Let me redo the pasteurization portion of the post--what I meant was simply that SO2 is better at the job because it does not cook the wine and, in my opinion, ruin the stuff.


SO2 can be removed by the addition of hydrogen peroxide, but as you point out, why would you want to? Maybe drinkable red wines can be made without added SO2, but I doubt very much that this is possible with white wines. I have had problems with 15-20ppm free before, let alone <10ppm (problems with oxidation, although presumably there would be a risk of MLF in the bottle if the wine wasn't full-ML).
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Re: Is there such thing as a preservative free wine?

by Thomas » Thu Jul 06, 2006 10:19 pm

Oliver,

I had forgotten about that. Removing SO2 with Hydrogen Peroxide alters pH and it could be quite a stupid move for both taste and stability. I know it is used (or used to be used) to bleach color in Champagne.

The French used to measure wine acidity by sulfuric acid: Hydrogen Peroxide (H2O2) added to Sulfur Dioxide (SO2) equals H2SO4, corosive sulfuric acid.

The risk of ML also has to do with pH--if it is below 3.3, ml has a hard time getting started. Optimum, I believe, is 3.3-3.5. Beyond that, well, need I go into those New World concoctions...
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Re: Is there such thing as a preservative free wine?

by Dave Erickson » Fri Jul 07, 2006 10:36 am

This part of the Frey website solves the issue to my satisfaction, anyway:

"Our experience has shown that naturally occurring sulfites are present in some of our wines in small amounts, but in some cases no sulfites were detected. In making wines without added sulfites, we've found that red wines and older white wines contain the lowest levels of naturally occurring sulfites (none detected or under 5 ppm), while young white wines may occasionally show levels from 5 to 15 ppm."

So in fact they can produce no-detectable-sulfite wines without manipulation--all they have to do is select from their no-sulfite tanks, so to speak. As far as I'm concerned, that's legit.
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Re: Is there such thing as a preservative free wine?

by Thomas » Fri Jul 07, 2006 12:04 pm

Ok, it's legit, but "no detectable" doesn't mean "no sulfites."
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Re: Is there such thing as a preservative free wine?

by Dave Erickson » Fri Jul 07, 2006 6:29 pm

Thomas wrote:Ok, it's legit, but "no detectable" doesn't mean "no sulfites."


Yer dern tootin'!!

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