Sulfites in your Wine?

Sulfites: What are they and do you need them?

(a supplement to The Complete Illustrated Guide to Homemade Wine)


Sulfites are found on onions, grapes, garlic, and many other vegetable and fruit plants.  They are a naturally occurring compound that nature uses to prevent microbial growth.

No wine can ever be “sulfite free”, since they come with the grapes.  So  you will have sulfites in your wine no matter what.

Why Add Sulfites to Wine?

Winemakers have been adding additional sulfites to wines for thousands of years. The Greeks and Romans used sulfur candles to sterilize their wine barrels and amphorae.

Sulfur protects damage to the wine by oxygen, and helps prevent organisms from growing in the wine. This allows the wine to “last longer” too, which lets it age and develop all of those complex flavors we all love and enjoy so much. If you didn’t add sulfites, the wine would turn into vinegar in a matter of months.

Sources of Sulfites

There are basically 2 sources that you can get online or at a local wine/brew shop.  One is potassium metabisulfate and the other is the easy one:  Campden Tablets.

How Much Sulfite to Add?

Most wine recipes call for adding sulfites BEFORE you add the yeast.  The idea is to completely sterilize your must and kill any bacteria or other things that may have a chance to take hold and start growing during the fermentation process.  Most recipes call for 1 campden tablet for each gallon of wine at
each racking.

I have tried this over and over and using this type of concentration, you will have wine that has a BAD sulfurous taste.  This is one of the BIGGEST MISTAKES that home winemakers make.  It usually results in pouring out the batch because it tastes so bad.  The amount needed to actually protect the wine while staying below the TASTE threshold is a fine line.  I use ½ campden tablet per gallon and have never had a problem so I recommend the same.

What to do if you use Too Much Sulfite

This is an easy fix that I discovered recently.  Since the reason you put sulfites in wine is to protect the wine from growing things and oxidation (exposure to oxygen), then, it follows, that if you expose the wine to oxygen, some of the sulfites will evaporate.

All you have to do is Rack the wine into another clean container but splash it all over the place while doing so.  Let it sit for a few days and then rack it back, again, splashing the wine all over the place instead of “quietly” racking it.  A few times back and forth, splashing as you go, should get rid of a lot of the sulfites and make your wine taste as good as ever!

You will discover TONS of information like this in the Winemaker Secrets Inner Circle.  Hop on over there and take a peek now.