Winemaking - Preservatives


The most common preservative used in winemaking is sulfur dioxide, normally added in one of the following forms: liquid sulfur dioxide, sodium or potassium metabisulphite. Another useful preservative is potassium sorbate.

Sulfur dioxide has two primary actions, firstly it is an anti microbial agent and secondly an anti oxidant. In the making of white wine it can be added prior to fermentation and immediately after alcoholic fermentation is complete. If added after alcoholic ferment it will have the effect of preventing or stopping malolactic fermentation, bacterial spoilage and help protect against the damaging effects of oxygen. Additions of up to 100 mg per liter (of sulfur dioxide) can be added, but the available or free sulfur dioxide should be measured by the aspiration method and adjusted to 30 mg per liter. Available sulfur dioxide should be maintained at this level until bottling. For rose wines smaller additions should be made and the available level should be no more than 30 mg per liter.

In the making of red wine, sulfur dioxide may be used at high levels (100 mg per liter) prior to ferment to assist in color stabilization. Otherwise, it is used at the end of malolactic ferment and performs the same functions as in white wine. However, small additions (say 20 mg per liter) should be used to avoid bleaching red pigments and the maintenance level should be about 20 mg per liter. Furthermore, small additions (say 20 mg per liter) may be made to red wine after alcoholic ferment and before malolactic ferment to overcome minor oxidation and prevent the growth of acetic acid bacteria.

Without the use of sulfur dioxide, wines can readily suffer bacterial spoilage no matter how hygienic the winemaking practice.

Potassium sorbate is effective for the control of fungal growth, including yeast, especially for sweet wines in bottle. However, one potential hazard is the metabolism of sorbate to geraniol which is a potent and unpleasant by-product. The production of geraniol occurs only if sorbic acid is present during malo-lactic fermentation. To avoid this, either the wine must be sterile bottled or contain enough sulfur dioxide to inhibit the growth of bacteria. Sterile bottling includes the use of filtration.

Some winemakers practice natural wine making where no preservative is added. Once the wine is bottled and corked, the bottles are put into refrigeration with temperatures near 5°C.

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