Cousin John and his Spanish grape cutterIf you are a long-time reader of this blog, you’ve no doubt read about our vejus adventures here and here. And you are aware of the influence of Cousin John, our ultra natural friend, who convinced us to embark on this enterprise. That would be Cousin John who is so natural he makes wine out of road kill. Despite the fact that we are farming organically and biodynamically, the one point where we are butting heads with Cousin John is on the question of sulfites. Cousin John, of course, is adamantly opposed to them. We, on the other hand, laugh at his aversion and proffer these facts.

1. Sulfites are naturally occuring compounds on the skins of grapes. So anyone who tells you their wine is “sulfite free” is lying. Any wine, by nature, includes sulfites.

2. One of the most heavily sulfited products is orange juice. So if you regularly ingest a glass of OJ in the morning, you’ve already taken in more sulfite than your evening glass of Pinot Noir. In another instance, two ounces of dried apricots contain ten times more sulfite than a glass of wine.

3. People who scream about their sensitivity to sulfites would be advised to know that most humans cannot detect sulfites at a concentration of less than 150 to 200 parts per million. Most organic wines or fine wines, for that matter, do not add more than 100 parts per million to their wines. Usually considerably less. Our wines are typically 50 ppm.

4. Sulfites are naturally occurring compounds that have been used since ancient Roman and Greek times to preserve wine. They do nothing more dangerous than retard the development of mold, bacteria and fermentation.

But try to tell that to Mr. Natural. Cousin John insisted that we separate the verjus into two separate carboys — one that we could sulfite and one that we would not. Luckily, the sulfited one contained most of the verjus. Because that was the one that lasted.

fermenting verjus

This is Cousin John's carboy of unsulfited verjus. It is fermenting madly. This is not a good thing.

In our carboy, on the other hand, we added a soupçon of sulfite. Sulfite, that I might remind you, is a naturally occurring compound used since ancient Roman and Greek times. Yes, such a small amount that even the Princess who was disturbed by the pea could not detect this amount of sulfite.

Sulfite Tester

This is an incredibly sophisticated piece of equipment called a Sulfite Tester. It tests sulfite. Our sulfited verjus has 11 ppm of sulfite. Remember that the vast majority of humans can't detect anything lower than about 200 ppm.

So, folks and Cousin John, we are talking about a tiny amount of sulfite. But an amount that allowed our verjus not to ferment. May I elaborate: it allowed our verjus to stay preserved, pristine and usable. Unlike the non-sulfited verjus which will probably have to be tipped down the drain.

The moral of the story here: go natural, but go with common sense. If something is a natural compound that has been used in the processing of said foodstuff for several millennia, well, no matter what the food allergy du jour happens to be, it’s probably safe.

Yes, friends, do not fear the sulfite. Sulfite, at least in the realm of wine and verjus, is your friend.

Addendum: I just came across this Verjus Blog, which has some great ideas for using verjus. Including making a verjus cordial!