The Stinky Stuff, or More Than You Ever Wanted to Know About SO2

(Above: One of the nifty graphics that designer Michael Austin did to illustrate some of the ways that SO2 is used in winemaking. Overall, I think the Chronicle did a terrific job with the layout–Nice work, guys!)

A bit of shameless self-promotion, but I have a feature in today’s Wine section of the San Francisco Chronicle. A long, lengthy discussion of sulfur dioxide and sulfites in wine in general. And as always, the comment trolls at the SFGate website are out in force. But whatever.

Feel free to hit the comments section here with any questions about the article/subject, or to start up a discussion.

(Go here to read the article)

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5 thoughts on “The Stinky Stuff, or More Than You Ever Wanted to Know About SO2

  1. Great piece, Wolfgang. I’m generally in favor of any trend that means less intervention and closer attention to viticulture. Restrained use of sulfur included. Too bad more winemakers don’t feel like Schoener (“I don’t feel dogmatic about SO{-2}”). I’ve had more than a few of the Louis/Dressner, Jenny & Francois, etc, natural wines (usually French) that were little more than cultures for brettanomyces. And you kind of have to assume that the Nicolas Joly bottle lottery — Will this one be a good one? — has something to do with his feeling dogmatic in his anti-sulfur approach after 2003. Seems like a little sulfur can go a long way.

    Cheers from the Lab!

  2. Thanks for the comment, and compliments. SO2 is a tricky subject and, in the process of talking to several people and reading, something about which, ultimately, there’s little actually known. We only suspect how it actually works during and after fermentation. The only thing that’s truly known is, how Schoener puts it in this article, that SO2 is an extremely powerful and versatile tool. And to think, in the old days winemakers accessed it by buring a wick; today, it’s compressed gas. In either case, it’s deceptively simple.

    – wolfgang

  3. Thanks for the link to the article. I’m a novice home winemaker, and this is an area I never fully understood before. I was aware that many (most?) commerical winemakers used SO2 to reduce spoilage, but was unaware that there was a movement towards moving away from this addition. I’ve never knowingly had a sulfide-free commercial wine before, but now I know to look!

    I would be very interested in tasting a vintage both with and without SO2… other than making my own, do you have any suggestions how a normal guy not from the industry to give this a try?

    • Thanks for the comment! It depends on where you live, but if you’ve got access to a good wine shop, I’d head over there and ask to try wines made with minimally added sulfur. Another way to pose this question is to ask about ‘natural wines’ — wines that can be grouped under this hazy term are by definition made with minimal additives.

      One Beaujolais produver, Marcel Lapierre comes to mind. His importer, Kermit Lynch, brings in both the minimally sulfured cuvee (the Morgon with the white label) and then the cuvee made with added sulfur (though not much). The label is a shade of green, and you can tell from the lot number on the back that it’s the sulfured cuvee (look for the ‘S’). You can order these wines from Kermit Lynch, and also Arlequin Wine Merchant in San Francisco — just check your state’s shipping requirements first.

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