testing specific gravity on wineFrequent readers of this blog may have noticed I’ve been absent, although in the thick of wine harvest and crush is usually when I’m blogging daily. I’ve been laid low by an occupational hazard of winemaking: a massive overdose of metabisulfite. Yes, I know, you’ve heard me rail on that so-called allergies to “the sulfites in wine” is largely fictitious. I’ll state my case again: First and foremost, there are naturally occurring sulfites in the skins of grapes. So no wine, even that labeled such, is “sulfite free”. Secondly, most humans can’t detect sulfite levels less than 100 parts per million. Most fine wine is processed with less than 60-80 parts per million. The final test: there is a much greater use of sulfites in the processing of orange juice and dried apricots. So if you can consume either of those products without problems, a good glass of wine is not going to bother you.

That said, this whole sulfite argument goes out the window when you are talking about the sulfites, not that go INTO the wine, but that are used all around the crush pad for killing unwanted yeasts and contaminants. Usually crush time has me mixing a bucket or two of sulfite solution (two teaspoons citric acid and one teaspoon metabisulfite per five gallons) per week. It’s used for cleanup, it’s used to sterilize any instruments I have to stick in the wine: punchdown tools and stirrers, thermometers, beakers, Specific Gravity meters, my hands…

throwing the yeast

Cousin John "throwing the yeast" onto the crushed Grenache. The yeast was "proofed" by being rehydrated with warm water, allowed to stand and given a sip of the Grenache just to get it ready. Oh, and everything in this picture was washed down with sulfite beforehand.

Yes, I did say one teaspoon of metabisulfite. And that doesn’t sound like much. It’s just that metabisulfite comes in in an extremely fine, powdery form. You reach in to get a teaspoon and you release loads of it into the air. You do that enough times in the processing shed we call Dr. FrankenWine’s Lab and you’ve got a build up that would choke a winemaker. In fact it did. Think of it as the winemaking equivalent of blowing up your meth lab. Except the lab stays put and the winemaker goes down. Down with the mother of all suflite reactions. Think you get a “red wine headache”? Imagine that a thousand times over.

The first time it hit was after we’d crushed the Grenache and Cinsault. Andy had been mixing up the chemicals while I’d been out on the crushpad. Then he locked the lab up tight. The result, when I opened the lab, after a day or two, was a massive toxic cloud of metabisulfite right in my face. Or I imagine that was what it was, because within five minutes, I had the most massive migraine like headache imaginable. A headache so bad I performed the first reading of the grapes completely without seeing since my eyes were suddenly completely light-sensitive. (It’s amazing how much sense memory is in my fingers as I took temperatures and SG readings with my eyes completely closed.)

cousin john siphoning off rose

Even Uber Natural Cousin John bows to the god of sulfite in winemaking -- at least for cleaning all equipment put into the wine.

I did have the presence of mind to open the lab completely — window and door — before I stumbled down the hill. After hours in a darkened room, it was time to take more readings. Up I stumbled and got a second dose (although smaller). So that’s been my week. Recovering from sulfite overdose sufficiently to climb back up the hill again and get another dose. Times that by three daily punchdowns and you can see why I haven’t been blogging.

After nearly a week, I think I’ve got the place aired out enough that I don’t become incapacitated every time I walk in. But I’m still feeling fragile and sensitive to noise and light.

Which, things going as they are with this harvest, meant it was time for something to show up and set the terriers into non-stop barking frenzies. I’m not sure what it is that suddenly has the terriers in a complete lather, but judging by the size and fur content of the scat it left over by the garage, I’d say it was a rather large meat-eater. Considerably larger than a terrier.

cougar from Explore Colorado Blog

Something large and meat-eating is lurking behind the garage. Is it Joaquin our resident mountain lion?


Or is it Wiley, Wilma or one of their three kids?

I think whoever it is wasn’t just passing through, but is actually lurking around the compost pile (which has been the recipient of the residue of my recent canning and is no doubt attracting a rodent hoedown.) Behind the garage/workroom and the compost pile, the land drops down steeply into the state park lands. That’s where coyotes and the mountain lion live. Oscar’s been standing on the rise and barking hysterically down the hill. He’s brave enough to bark, but always wise enough to wait for me to show up as reinforcements before taking a more aggressive stand. I foolishly went over to see what he was barking at, and when he saw me, he ran down the forest path to a clump of dense brush. I thought I heard a low growl and instantly one terrified terrier came streaking back up the path. So whoever is lurking, was probably right there ten feet from me. But since no blood was shed, it appears my mountain lion detente still holds: I don’t walk around in his hunting ground at night and he doesn’t come out and kill me in the day. It’s an arrangement that seems to be working for everyone.

So back to that sulfite, I guess I should come up with new labeling since, while Two Terrier Wines won’t be exactly sulfite-free, they are now in an entirely new category. Can you have a label that says, “Sulfites removed by winemaker.” Because I’ve inhaled the sulfites so you don’t have to imbibe them.

All part of the unique service here at Two Terrier Vineyards.

Mountain Lion image from coloradoblogging.com. Coyote image from Pittsburg Post-Gazette.