While hosting a recent tasting a discerning taster asked me, whether our “wines contain Sulphur?”. As tasters become more knowledgeable and health-conscious, questions like these are becoming more common. This is an important topic and I’d like to take some time to explain the Avondale approach to managing Sulphur.

Firstly, we need to understand what Sulphur is. Sulphur is a natural chemical substance. It is found in its natural form in nature. It appears on the periodic table at atomic number 16 with the chemical element symbol S.

Secondly, we need to understand why Sulphur is important in the winemaking process. Sulphur occurs naturally on the grape skin at a ratio of 10 parts / million (p/m). Without this naturally occurring Sulphur, there will not be an enzymatic relation (amino acids). Sulphur is a critical catalyst at the start of the winemaking process.

Thirdly we need to understand the benefits of Sulphur in the winemaking process. Sulphur is a natural preservative. It is critical in preventing bacteria from growing. It also preserves wines preventing them from oxidizing. These benefits notwithstanding there is no reason to use Sulphur injudiciously throughout the winemaking process.

Fourthly we need to understand the registered legal guidelines for using Sulphur. The guidelines are as follows:
• A winemaker is allowed to add a total of 200-350 p/m depending on if it is a white or red wine.
• The organic standard is much lower at approximately 100 p/m for both white and red.
• At Avondale, we add between 30 – 60 p/m depending on the wine.

Fifthly we need to understand how Sulphur is used in the winemaking process.

The process being:

• Harvest
• Press
• Ferment
• Age
• Bottle.

In some instances, a winemaker might add Sulphur at each stage of the process.

At Avondale, we add Sulphur as follows: when the wine is extracted from the barrel, tank, qvevri or amphora. The reason for this is that at this point the wine is most vulnerable as it is susceptible to oxygen exposure. At every other stage, we rely on the naturally occurring bacteria to protect the wine.

Given the above, is it fair to conclude that wines with added Sulphur tend to create a bigger headache in the morning than others, and if so, why?

There are many and varied reasons we get headaches. Sensitivity to Sulphur is but one of them. Here are a few others to consider.
Wine is a complex combination of elements including:
– Enzymes in the wine result in an increase in histamines being produced in the body
– The chemical residue left over from the farming processes create enzymatic relations (these chemicals are leftover from the grape production, organic phosphates, and glycosides)
– And of course, the alcohol

So how can one reduce the chances of getting a headache? Firstly, switch to organic wine. The reason we at Avondale recommend this is because:

– Avondale doesn’t use enzymes in the winemaking process as it follows natural fermentation so there are no heightened histamines in the body.
– There are no chemicals used in the farming process. At Avondale, only organic and bio-dynamic farming practices are used.
– The winemaking process at Avondale only uses 1/3 of the sulfur recommended by the organic standard which is already 1/3 of the standard bottle of wine. So Avondale would have about 30-60 p/m and a conventional wine would have approximately 300p/m

I trust this explanation has made the use of Sulphur at Avondale clearer. We will continue to take every effort to ensure you can enjoy your glass of wine comforted in the knowledge that our winemaking practices mitigate as far as possible the effect Sulphur additives will have on you.