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No sulfite-added wine

Midlife Nov 27, 2013 11:33 AM

Every month or so I get a customer, in the wine shop where I work, looking for "sulfite free" wine because they believe sulfites cause a negative reaction for them. I'm pretty well up on this subject but haven't asked around lately for info on wines that would meet the criteria.

Here in CA I think the most available is Frei, but I hear pretty bad things about their wines. I've sold and enjoyed Coturri, but they're pricier and have limited distribution.

Any recommendations for non or minimal sulfite-added wine that is at least reasonably available?

  1. Robert Lauriston Dec 5, 2013 10:26 AM

    "Organic" in the USA was as meaningless as "natural" before the Organic Foods Production Act of 1990 and the USDA National Organic Program regulations implementing it in 2000, but it's quite specific now.

    The USDA accredits certification agencies. The rules a winery has to follow to put the word "organic" on a label are scattered in various places. Here's a summary, including the details regarding sulfites:

    http://www.ams.usda.gov/AMSv1.0/getfi...

    1. Robert Lauriston Dec 4, 2013 05:22 PM

      You might look at the EcoVine Wine Club site, they seem to have done a lot of the research:

      http://www.ecovinewine.com

      1. Robert Lauriston Dec 3, 2013 05:05 PM

        Certified organic wines can't have added sulfites (though wines labeled "made with organic grapes" can).

        6 Replies
        1. re: Robert Lauriston
          Midlife Dec 3, 2013 06:10 PM

          Are you aware of what organization certifies truly organic wines for sale in the US? This is critical in the search. A quick google for "certified organic WINE" took me to wineries who use organically grown grapes. I'm just saying that as of 5 years ago (when I was actively researching this) there were VERY few wineries making real organic wine.

          1. re: Midlife
            Robert Lauriston Dec 3, 2013 06:24 PM

            Oh yeah, still rare.

            http://www.demeter-usa.org/stellar-ce...

            1. re: Robert Lauriston
              Midlife Dec 4, 2013 11:48 AM

              Finally tracked this issue to the FDA "certified organic" program and downloaded a very convoluted listing of companies certified. Buried in the data appear to be "winemakers" interspersed among growers. Of course, not all truly organic wines go for certification but this should be worth some effort. I'm obviously bulldogging the subject right now

              During all this I'm struck by how very loosely wineries, retailers, distributors, and writers use the word 'organic'.

              1. re: Midlife
                z
                zin1953 Dec 4, 2013 05:11 PM

                >>> During all this I'm struck by how very loosely wineries, retailers, distributors, and writers use the word 'organic'. <<<

                Well, there has never been a "standardized" definition, and so it's left to its own devices, so to speak.

                / / / / /

                Thread drift, with a (probably) very obvious observation . . .

                Personally, I would *never* way to certify my hypothetical vineyard nor my wine(ry) as "organic," UNLESS I was specifically marketing ONLY to health food stores and that particular market segment.

                To begin with, "Organic"/"No Sulfite Added" wines have been horrible for far too long for that to be of any benefit in selling wines to the broad market as a whole. Indeed, it's still a "turn-off," rather than a "turn-on."

                More importantly, let's return to my post of a few days ago regarding the French organic winegrower in Burgundy being prosecuted for refusing to spray his vineyards. (http://www.decanter.com/news/wine-new...) Then, substitute the Napa Valley and the glassy-winged sharpshooter (GWSS).

                There is no doubt that this pest is a vector for Pierce's Disease, a potentially devastating pathogen to grapevines. To be certified as "organic," a vineyard must be pesticide- and chemical-free for what -- three? five years? The French grower (see above) is refusing to spray, thereby leaving his vineyard to be a haven for this pest and theoretically putting every other grower in Burgundy -- or, at least, those in his "neighborhood" -- at risk. But by spraying, he can't be "organic" for 5 years . . .

                Personally, I'm all for using little to no chemicals, sprays, artificial fertilizers, etc., etc. But if something like the GWSS is threatening my vineyard and those of my neighbors? I'm spraying! IPM, biodynamism, organic methods -- all that is great, and I encourage and support its use . . . but not at the expense of my vineyard and my livelihood.

                Just me. YMMV.

                1. re: zin1953
                  Midlife Dec 4, 2013 05:44 PM

                  No standardization? The USDA seems pretty clear on what are organically grown grapes and what is organically made wine: http://www.ams.usda.gov/AMSv1.0/getfile?dDocName=STELDEV3004446

                  http://www.ttb.gov/alfd/alfd_organic....

                  So...... Is there just a lack of enforcement?

                  BTW, that view of why a good winery won't use irganic labeling is, as I've said, exactly what Tony Coturri told me.

                  1. re: Midlife
                    z
                    zin1953 Dec 5, 2013 07:33 AM

                    I am not being argumentative, but first of all, that's just a brochure ---> look at WHEN the actual regulations were finally adopted, compared to how long wineries have labeled their wines (or grapes) as "organic."

                    Secondly, realize that brochure is from the USDA. The US Department of Agriculture (GENERALLY -- see below) has nothing to do with the making, labeling, and marketing of wine. That's the job of the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau of the US Department of the Treasury. (Why that's abbreviated as "TTB" rather than "ATTB" is beyond me; the "A" went over to Justice and Homeland Security as the ATF, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives. Apparently things that go "boom" don't get an initial.)

                    The labeling of wine (and other alcoholic beverages) is governed by Title 27 of the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR). Wine, specifically, is regulated under 27 CFR, Chapter 1, Subchapter A, Part 4. See: http://www.ecfr.gov/cgi-bin/text-idx?SID=aac75fbd805503e5d50f0057ed93a3b8&c=ecfr&tpl=/ecfrbrowse/Title27/27cfrv1_02.tpl

                    More to the point, Part 4, Subpart K, Section 4.101 reads, in its entirety:
                    __________
                    Title 27: Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms
                    PART 4—LABELING AND ADVERTISING OF WINE
                    Subpart K—Use of the Term “Organic”

                    §4.101 Use of the term “organic.”
                    (a) Use of the term “organic” is optional and is treated as “additional information on labels” under §4.38(f).

                    (b) Any use of the term “organic” on a wine label or in advertising of wine must comply with the United States Department of Agriculture's (USDA) National Organic Program rules (7 CFR part 205) as interpreted by the USDA.

                    (c) This section applies to labels and advertising that use the term “organic” on and after October 21, 2002.
                    __________

                    So the TTB didn't enact any applicable regulations until 2002, and even then, they "punted" by saying, in essence, "Yeah, whatever the USDA says." Except that the USDA has no regulations specifically designed for wine, as it's not their "turf," so to speak. Grape growing, yes; winemaking, no.

                    Reading Federal regs is not the most stimulating read I can recommend, but I did try to get through Title 7, Part 205 and couldn't find "wine" mentioned anywhere. (Doesn't mean it's not there, merely that I looked for 15 minutes and gave up.)

                    For Title 7: Agriculture, Part 205 (National Organic Program), see http://www.ecfr.gov/cgi-bin/text-idx?...

        2. Robert Lauriston Dec 2, 2013 05:58 PM

          The distributor Farm Wine has a lot of them.

          Natural Process Alliance, Salinia, Dirty & Rowdy

          4 Replies
          1. re: Robert Lauriston
            Midlife Dec 2, 2013 10:03 PM

            Thanks for the references. I don't pretend to be knowledgeable enough to interpret what their sites say with regard to whether or not sulfites are added in every wine. With reference to the health issues discussed in my OP, that's the main issue. From what I could find, though some of the wines may have minimal sulfites added, but none that I found have NONE ( as I believe is the case with Coturri).

            1. re: Midlife
              Robert Lauriston Dec 3, 2013 10:22 AM

              The "natural" wineries generally add no sulfites. There are hundreds of such wines available in California these days. A lot of those winemakers talk about it like it was rat poison, which is maybe why they don't put it on the label. "Contains no added rat poison."

              The distributors who specialize in those wines can tell you all about that. Besides Farm Wine there's Selection Massale, Jose Pastor Selections / Vinos & Gourmet, Amy Atwood Selections, and Jenny & Francois, among others.

              1. re: Robert Lauriston
                Midlife Dec 3, 2013 04:50 PM

                Thanks. I emailed Amy Atwood for info on the sulfite specifics because the individual winery sites are sketchy at best on that subject.

                Tony Coturri did not need "contains sulfites" labels but also will not label the opposite. Best answer he gave me was he didn't want to be mistaken for the pretty bad non-sulfite added wine available then. I should check what he's doing now.

            2. re: Robert Lauriston
              p
              plaidbowtie Dec 3, 2013 02:57 AM

              worth noting that Farm Wine in SF is mainly the Louis/Dressner book, and that NPA and Salinia are the same winemaker (company?).

            3. o
              olasek Nov 30, 2013 04:28 PM

              I think in the US all wines labeled 'organic' by definition won't have any added sulfites. For curiosity I once bought an organic wine and was surprised how bad it tasted.

              8 Replies
              1. re: olasek
                Midlife Nov 30, 2013 06:24 PM

                True. But just to be clear, for those who need to know for health reasons, the wine must be CERTIFIED organic for a consumer to go by the labeling. Re my earlier post, Coturri adds no sulfites but is NOT certified. The wine is under the ppm minimum, so it doesn't have to say it contains sulfites, but the winery isn't certified. The only reason I've heard is so that it isn't pre-conceived as 'bad'.

                1. re: olasek
                  OCEllen Dec 1, 2013 01:01 PM

                  Patianna sauvignon blanc is a drinkable organic wine.

                  1. re: OCEllen
                    Midlife Dec 1, 2013 08:09 PM

                    I may be either overly OCD on this, or have been misinformed, so bear with me here:

                    I'm pretty sure there is a difference between organically grown grapes and organically made wine. With the OP trying to avoid added sulfites in winemaking, the difference is critical. I'm familiar with Parianna and know their grapes are organically farmed, but I'm pretty sure they add sulfites in the winemaking. Hope I'm wrong, but don't think so.

                    1. re: Midlife
                      z
                      zin1953 Dec 2, 2013 07:26 AM

                      Yes, there is.

                      Back in the 1980s, I did a newspaper article on organics.

                      Jonathan Frey told me their vineyard was (one of? the?) first vineyards in California to be certified as organic by the COOF. When I asked about his winemaking, and whether he used (for example) wild or cultured yeasts, he said they used potassium metabisulfite to kill off the wild yeasts and then added a cultured strain for fermentation.

                      Tony Coturri told me that all their winemaking was completely organic. When I asked how the grapes were grown, and whether pesticides or chemical fertilizers were used, he said he didn't know -- they bought all their grapes from various growers.

                      1. re: zin1953
                        Midlife Dec 2, 2013 05:02 PM

                        That's an interesting note about Coturri. I know his brother groves organic vegetables for restaurants and thought some of their grapes were grown there too. For Tony, though, it's all about the winemaking.

                        1. re: Midlife
                          z
                          zin1953 Dec 2, 2013 06:30 PM

                          And -- to be fair -- things may be different now. The article I wrote was approx. 30 years ago.

                          1. re: zin1953
                            Midlife Dec 2, 2013 09:46 PM

                            30 years ago? My interaction with Tony was in 2006-2008.

                            1. re: Midlife
                              Midlife Dec 2, 2013 09:55 PM

                              Oops. Wrong place.

                2. z
                  zin1953 Nov 27, 2013 06:52 PM

                  It's FREY . . . Frei is a label owned by Gallo.

                  3 Replies
                  1. re: zin1953
                    Midlife Nov 27, 2013 08:53 PM

                    Thanks Jason. I think we figured that out. The question is still about a no sulfite added wine that is of reasonably decent quality. I personally enjoy Coturri but it is in limited distribution and pricier than many people find comfortable.

                    1. re: Midlife
                      z
                      zin1953 Nov 28, 2013 07:44 AM

                      I understand you figured out that it was Frey . . . but was unaware you figured out that it was Gallo. (Hard to be psychic, but I try.) ;^)

                      I've yet to really find a "No Sulfite Added" wine that I'd buy again, given their QPR, or lack thereof.

                      1. re: zin1953
                        Midlife Nov 28, 2013 08:48 AM

                        Wow! I was hesitant to make that statement and now I'm sure of why.

                        It seemed to me that the Gallo part was not of much relevance unless it somehow carried the intrinsic message that Frei would not be very good. Too broad an indictment in my opinion.

                        Happy Thanksgiving anyway.

                  2. a
                    Alan408 Nov 27, 2013 12:25 PM

                    I worked in a liquor store in the 80s, Frey (not Frei) was a pioneer in those days. Most of the customers were repeat buyers.

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: Alan408
                      Midlife Nov 27, 2013 03:24 PM

                      Thanks for the correction. There IS a Frei too but not sulfite free. Only problem was I thought Frey's wines were pretty un drinkable. IMHO

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