So sorry to hear that you have allergies from the sulfites in wine. Sulfites are a natural, organic preservative that humans have been using in wine and other foods for thousands of years. Sulfites are a natural byproduct of the fermentation process. Sulfur dioxide in wine inhibits the growth of molds and bacteria, and also stops oxidation (browning) and preserves the wine's natural flavor.
Fermenting yeasts found on grape skins generate naturally occurring sulfites in amounts ranging from 6 to 40 parts per million (ppm). In the U.S., wines can legally contain up to 350ppm of sulfites. Organic winemaking standards, as adopted in 2001 by the USDA, limit the use of sulfites to 100ppm. Most organic wines contain less than 40ppm of sulfites.
Imported and domestic wines, beers and spirits exceeding 10 parts per million of sulfites must mention "Contains Sulfites" on their label. Wines that contain less than 10 ppm sulfites are not required to put "Contains Sulfites" on their labels; however as we have explained, this does not mean the wine is "sulfite-free".
Winemakers do need to make a consistently stable wine and therefore most add some sulfites. A handful of winemakers use no added sulfites and it is those bottles that you should be able to enjoy without the headaches (unless of course you consume the whole bottle!) To start, look for wineries using organic fruit. Many wineries that use organic fruit may not show it on their labels. You will need to ask.
Frog's Leap Winery is one to seek out in Napa along with Beringer and the very fancy Rubicon Estate. Further north in Mendocino County you can find Frey who specializes in organic and low sulfite wines. In Sonoma, Benziger, Cline, Porter Creek, Marimar Torres and even Kenwood will have some or all of their wines low in sulfites.
For more information on this subject see the Ask the Winemaker Column.
When we designed this website we added a powerful Advanced Search feature to allow users to hunt out wineries with specific features, wine types and yes, ones using organic fruit. Click on the link in the right hand corner of this page or you can click here.
Enjoy your trip and you can leave the aspirin at home.