Contains Sulfites

Contains Sulfites (February 2024)

Who hasn’t surmised that the red wine headache comes from sulfites because the bottle of the wines say, “Contains Sulfites,” so that has to be it, right?

This little discussion will be about why bottles of wines say, “Contains Sulfites” and why, if you believe that is the cause of the pervasive headaches, how that came to be, why sulfites are in wines, and what our bodies do with sulfites and if there are any additional foods with sulfites and anything else I can come up with about the subject of sulfites.

Our best cleaning solution in the winery, how we sanitize equipment and hoses is a natural solution which I create. And that natural solution, if I do it right, causes me to instantly lose my breath. Hint, it “contains sulfites!”

We take super-hot water, add citric acid and potassium metabisulfite, which creates free sulfur dioxide. If I, you, or anyone else breathes the vapors from that solution, we immediately cease breathing. And this happens to me every single week!

And I feel fine.

Ever breathe into a glass of wine and you lose your breath? Never.

Ever smell peaches, grapes, oranges, green peppers, tomatoes, apples, broccoli, asparagus, kale, green beans, (what other fruit or vegetable can I type?) watermelon, red peppers….and so forth and so on? And lose your breath? Nope.

How about dried apricots? To this day, I don’t know why dried apricots don’t have “contains sulfites” on them because I have heard from very reliable sources that they contain more sulfites than wine.

I digress for a second.

The 1970’s gave us plenty of new and exciting gifts to the world. Disco is still great. Everyone still sings along to Neil Diamond songs, Rock and Roll really took off and TV dinners were born. I’m just having fun typing!! And salad bars were created.

Sulfur dioxide is an antioxidant and exists in plants naturally. Nearly every single fruit and vegetable we consume “contains sulfites” as the roots pull sulfur out of the ground and deposit in the plant tissues we consume. Our digestive system loves sulfur. As does our cardiovascular system. Sulfur to humans is essential to our lives.

In the 1970’s salad bars were created. Ever notice that soon after you cut an apple the inner fruit starts to brown? What is occurring is oxidation of malic acid (among other oxidative issues).

Are you interested in going up to a salad bar and enjoying browned apples and other fruits and vegetable looking past their prime? I think not. Someone came up with the idea of sprinkling sulfites onto the salad thereby preserving the fresh and tasty visual of the foods on the salad bar.

The difference between my cleaning solution and the fruits and vegetables I mentioned and wine is the sulfur in my cleaning solution is free and in the dried apricots, wine and fruits and vegetables, it is bound in solution.

When sulfur is free, it can and will agitate our respiratory system so much that we stop breathing. If the sulfur is bound, it cannot and will not negatively affect our respiratory system.

Our bodies have learned to positively use sulfur throughout our bodies because we have been consuming sulfur in our food since the beginning of time.

The salad bar, much like my cleaning solution, would have free sulfur dioxide because it would essentially be hard to bind it in solution by spraying it on the salads.

Guess what happens if you put free sulfur dioxide in your mouth which is part of your respiratory system? Guess what happens if you are the slightest bit asthmatic? Could that be a good thing? I think not!

In a knee jerk reaction, our government stepped in and said no to salad bar use (hooray) and that any product adding sulfites had to list the sulfites on the label (how the dried fruit industry gets away without having to label is beyond the scope of this article).

We use sulfur dioxide in winemaking to reduce bacterial spoilage and to reduce oxidative stress on the wines, a good thing. Sulfur has been added to wine since at least the Roman days, at minimum. When we add it, we know what we are doing and 100% of it binds in solution, just like the fruits and vegetables. When we consume wine and natural foods with sulfur our bodies say hooray and use the sulfur in positive ways throughout our entire body.

Again, in its free form, like my cleaning solution which we want it to be both free and bound so we know we have enough to work microbially. It binds first and any excess sulfur becomes free which then restricts my airway when I blend it for cleaning. I step away and I get my breath back. Easy, simple, next…

When we use it in wine it binds to the wine, reduces oxidative and bacterial stress, thereby allowing the wine to age gracefully over many years. If you can smell sulfur in wine, the winemaker should be fired as they are way over the legal limit. You have to be a really sloppy winemaker to make this mistake. Like, really sloppy.

Since the Roman times and through today, if you want to manage your empty barrels, you always, always, always burn sulfur wicks in the barrels to preserve them. This is one method in which sulfur is introduced into wine – the filling of barrels.

The wine industry got caught in the crosshairs of the sulfur conversation and today in the US, we have to label our wines with “contains sulfites” even if the winery does not add sulfites because sulfites will exist in the grapes naturally.

Because the sulfur is bound in solution I know of no known health issues with the sulfur, only benefits.

We do strongly believe that the headaches, stuffy noses, flush skin, watery eyes, have everything to do with a histamine reaction, with the histamines either created by the body through an allergen added to the wine or by histamines added to the wine. Either health problem is not intentional, it’s just that if one doesn’t know there is a health problem with an additive, how would the winemaker know since the well over 100 additives have been deemed safe and effective for their purpose.

We do believe the health maladies from wine come from protein based fining agents in white wines and sometimes in red wines, added tannins which could contain a heavy dosage of added histamines since grape skins do indeed contain histamines or from coloring agents, either derived from insects (yes, I typed that) or from concentrated grape skins. All of these could cause our bodies to create histamines (like a bee sting causes our bodies to create histamines), or from the added products.

But certainly not from the sulfites.



No Sugar Added

Sugar is killing us in so many ways, isn’t it? However, to have a winery without sweet wines is not feasible. Two questions emerge. Why do certain people prefer sweet wines and how can a winemaker provide sweet wines that do not compromise the health of the consumer? For some quick science, many people prefer sweeter wines due primarily to the number of taste buds on their tongues. So how do most American wineries make sweet wine? The industry standard for American wineries is to back-sweeten dry wines with sugar and or juice or juice concentrate. Following this method, the wine’s residual sugar becomes half glucose and half fructose since sucrose breaks down in acidic solutions into its two component parts, glucose, and fructose. And glucose is the problem. Our body needs glucose but our body’s requirement is considerably lower than what the typical American consumes daily. The overconsumption of glucose is linked to the vast majority of body diseases (think type 2 diabetes, inflammation, cancer’s food source). Additionally, the consumption of glucose and alcohol is disruptive to the Kreb’s Cycle, and, simply put, glucose and alcohol consumed together via disruption in the Kreb’s Cycle, we believe, is a strong attributor to hangovers.

At Turtle Run and most European wineries, sweet wine is obtained via arrested fermentation, a process in which we carefully monitor fermentation and filter the wines right when the residual sugar is where we want the taste to be. From 2009-2012, we conducted breakthrough research using an independent lab and discovered “sequential fermentation.” Yeasts convert sugars into heat, alcohol, and carbon dioxide but, as we learned, they do it in a unique order. If sugar is added, they will split the sugar molecule into one part glucose and one part fructose. Sugar, by the way, is not as an energy source for our bodies as sugar. It needs to be split by the body into one part glucose and one part fructose. In an analogy, think of glucose as a nice t-bone steak and fructose as over¬-cooked broccoli, broccoli with that nasty artificial orange cheese stuff further mushing up what once was a good veggie. Begrudgingly, I’ll eat the broccoli but the juicy steak looks more inviting, doesn’t it? In this analogy, think of the steak as glucose and the now nasty broccoli as fructose. I’m hungry so I’ll eat the broccoli (fructose) but I’ll eat it last. First, I’ll chow down on the steak (glucose), right? That is sequential fermentation. Yeast ferment fructose, which is how we get to dry wines, but they will always ferment glucose first. My “wild-ass theory” turned to the hypothesis is quite simple as to why yeasts ferment glucose before fructose – bang for the buck! As it turns out, fructose has 3 calories per gram and glucose 4 calories per gram. Think about that. If wineries simply monitor their fermentations closely and then chill and filter the wines when the residual sugar gets to the winemaker’s liking instead of taking dry wine and adding sugar, the consumer automatically enjoys wine with 25% fewer calories. Bingo! But wait, there’s more to this story

Fructose, as it turns out, is 2.2 times sweeter than glucose and 1.72 times sweeter than sugar (sucrose). Another calorie savings! At the same sweetness level as fructose, a winery would need to add 1.72 times the amount of sugar. For some very simplified math, our sweetest wine has about 3.5% residual sugar. Therefore, if a winery relies solely on back-sweetening with sugar, they would need to add 7% sugar, which is a more than doubling of the sugar calories in the wine.
But wait! Want to see how we can still find yet another source of sugar calories in most American wines? Let’s look at alcohol concentration and the perceptiveness of bitterness and bitter suppression by fructose, glucose and sucrose.

Alcohol is a bitter and for a certain segment of the population, they will do anything to avoid bitters. Sweetness and salt suppress bitterness. We conducted another exhaustive study between 2009 and 2012 to see what percent of alcohol in solution, tied to acid levels, could certain folks experience the bitter taste in alcohol. You bet we know that number. And the variants of that alcohol percentage due to someone’s perceptiveness of bitters.

Suffice it to say, wines that ferment to dryness with sugar back-added to sweeten them have more alcohol than controlled fermentation wines. Look at the alcohol percentage variation between Italian Moscato wine and American Moscato wines.

Well, we did the math. And about 500 folks participating in the study to keep our standard deviation in check. If a wine has 9.5% alcohol and 3.5% natural fructose via arrested fermentation, a wine with 12% alcohol needs, spot on, 12% added sugar to attain the same sweetness as the 9.5% alc / 3.5% RS (residual sugar) of an arrested fermentation wine. I could have some math fun right now – 3 calories per gram versus 4, plus 2.2 / 1.72 times sweeter, and 3.5% versus 12% in solution. Whew!

Finally, the arrested fermentation wines simply taste better than sugar-added wines. Fructose, to human taste is clean, refreshing and leaves behind no sugary, syrupy aftertaste. Glucose and sucrose, via the glucose, leaves that “sugary film” on the tongue. You know that sugar sensation. You finish something and you’re left with a “sugar coating” on your tongue. Fructose does not do that. High fructose corn syrup does, but that’s another discussion. Please don’t confuse fructose with nasty high fructose corn syrup.