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Sulfiting Your Wine

Sulfites and Wine

The Tale of Sulphiting

Winemaking is fun, relaxing, and very rewarding. When you uncork that first bottle of the strawberry wine you made several months ago, the excitement and long anticipated reward for your efforts are now about to fulfilled. This is the moment of truth. As you pour the first few ounces in the glass, you see the color is a pretty pinkish-red. You take a sniff and find it alive with the aroma of the strawberries you carefully prepared several months ago. With the first sip, you sit back and with a glowing sense of pride, you smile knowing that THIS is what winemaking is all about.

When you consistently apply the proper techniques for making wine from fresh fruit or from kits, every batch will be a highly rewarding experience. When we opened the Brewing Station, our first winemaking supply store in 1991, we found that a good understanding of using sulfite in making wine was as important as selecting the right kind of yeast.

Why should I sulfite?

The important thing to understand about sulfite is that it acts as both a preservative and an antioxidant. The preservative property inhibits the wild yeasts and molds that would otherwise cause your wine to spoil. Wines that have oxidized turn a brownish color and the more they oxidize the more the wine takes on an old, wet cardboard taste and smell.

What should I use to sulfite?

Potassium metabisulfite is used to sulfiting your wine and for sanitizing your equipment, corks, and wine bottles. This comes in two forms; powder and as Campden Tablets. To properly use the powder, you will need an accurate scale to measure the amount you need. A more convenient form is the Campden tablets. Each tablet puts 12 parts per million (ppm) of sulfite in 5 gallons of wine. Campden tablets must be crushed before and dissolved in water prior to adding to your must of wine.

Sodium metabisulfite has a harsh taste and should only be used to sanitize your equipment. To prepare a sanitizing solution with sodium metabisulfite, dissolve 3 tablespoons of sulfite powder in about a quart of warm water. Shake vigorously and top off with cool water for a total volume of 1 gallon of a very effective sulfite sanitizing solution. When sanitizing with this solution, it must stay in contact with the surface for several minutes and be thoroughly rinsed with water. Do not use this solution to sanitize stainless steel tanks because it can spot the tanks.

While you are making your wine, there are three times that you will need to be concerned about having the right amount of sulfite.

1 - Add to the crushed fruit or grapes (before adding yeast): Because fresh crushed fruit and grapes have wild yeast, mold, and other microbial organisms, you need to inhibit them with sulfite. You can assume the crushed fruit or grapes have very little or no sulfite. Plan on adding around 75ppm of sulfite and allow to set for several yours in order to allow the sulfite time to sanitize your must. That works out to 6 Campden tablets for 5 gallons of must. (1 Campden tablet imparts 60ppm of sulfite per gallon). While cultured wine yeasts are sulfite tolerant, if you put too much in your must, it will inhibit the yeast.

2 - During racking: It is a good idea to supplement the sulfite lost during fermentation and rackings. Every time you rack your wine, use a CHEMetrics Titret to measure the current level of sulfite in your wine and adjust as necessary.

3 - Prior to bottling: While maintaining proper levels of sulfite is important, this last addition ensures your wine will be properly preserved and protected from oxidation. Not enough sulfite will lead to spoilage and oxidation. Too much will affect the aroma and taste. Just before bottling, use a CHEMetrics Titret to check your sulfite level. If it is between 25-50ppm, you’re ready to bottle!

The chemistry of sulfites is pretty complex, unless you have a chemistry degree. The basics of sulfiting in this article should enable you to manage your sulfite additions with confidence. As long as you stay within the recommended ranges of sulfite, you wines will surely be worth the time and effort you put into them!