Rathfinny Wine Estate

Contains Sulphites – how to avoid a headache?

Last week I was at a dinner sitting next to a nutritionist, when I offered to pour her a glass of red wine she said, “Oh no I don’t drink red wine it give me a headache.” Why is that I asked? “I think it’s because of the Sulphites.”

So I thought I’d use our blog to explain why winemakers use sulphites and why it is unlikely to be the cause of your headache after drinking that bottle of cheap Chilean red last night.

Coincidentally, as I was clearing out my office (she who must be obeyed’s new edict) I came across a scribbled note about sulphites in my Plumpton College notes and how it’s often histamines, rather than sulphites, that cause headaches.

So what is a sulphite and why is it in wine? Sulphur dioxide (SO2) is used as an anti-oxidant in wine. If you cut an apple and leave it for any length of time the exposed flesh will turn brown, this is oxidation. When grapes are first pressed the exposed juice (or must) can quickly turn brown in colour unless you protect it from the oxygen in the air. Winemakers protect the juice in several ways; in most wineries you rapidly chill the grape juice (or must) after pressing and in most wineries you add SO2 in the form of Potassium metabisulphite or PMBS. I can still hear Tony Milanowski, our lecturer at Plumpton College, shouting, “It’s not Sulphur”. It’s called a sulphite because it’s a compound of sulphur.  Just for the record SO2 is also an anti-microbial and can prevent or stop fermentation.

So SO2 is used at various stages in the wine making process, including in many organic wines to stop wine from spoiling, however, its use is restricted and all wines sold in the UK have SO2 levels tested prior to sale.  Legal limits for wines vary – in white and rosé wine it is 180mg/l and in red it’s 150mg/l.  The World Health Organisation guideline is that we consume no more that 700mg/kg of body weight, so you’d have to drink a lot of wine to get above that level!  However, it’s also used as a preservative in many other products from meat to vegetables and soft drinks so cumulatively it can all add up.


Generally wines contain between 50-100mg/l of SO2, it helps preserve the quality of wine, and will have very little effect on your health and probably won’t be responsible for your headache, so don’t worry about it unless you are especially sensitive or have a specific allergy to sulphites.

However, many foods and drinks that are fermented or aged, like old cheese and wine will contain histamines. Spinach and tomatoes also contain histamines, as does beer.  Generally red wine will have more histamine levels but these vary from as low as 3 micrograms per litre in some white wines, to 3800 micrograms /l in some red wines.

High concentrations of histamines in wine, above 2000micrograms/l are seen as dangerous to health and can cause headaches, migranes and other allergic reactions, but winemakers don’t need to declare on the side of the bottle that a wine ‘Contains Histamines’.

So how’s it caused?   (Now you can skip over this bit if you wish and jump to the next paragraph on ‘how to avoid a headache’). It’s created by the presence of histidine decarboxylase in some lactic acid bacteria (LAB) and can be created by various strains of LAB, which may occur naturally in the wine or be used to induce what’s called malolatic fermentation. However, certain strains of LAB produce significantly less histamine that others. So it can be controlled, to a certain extent, by the winemaker.

So how do I avoid the hangover? Well unfortunately, or fortunately, it’s a question of trial and error. Buy better quality wine because generally it’s better made – my experience is that cheap red wines give you a bigger headache.  As red wine has higher concentrations of histamines try and stick to a producer you have tried before and had no problems with or drink white and sparkling wine as they have lower histamine levels. And drink water.

So the message is drink less, but better quality, well made wine and drink water as well.

My old English teacher Jack Tarr, as well as reciting poetry whilst doing a headstand on his desk, would always tell us to have a pint of water before going to bed. At my age that causes problems. So drink a Sussex Sparkling because it’s less likely to cause a headache!

Mark Driver


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End of Season

Another season draws to a close for the vineyard.

The vineyard is winding down, we had our first frost this morning, giving everyone a bit of a shock considering what a warm autumn we’ve had.

The fruit has been harvested, and its juice is now slowly bubbling away in the winery, and I’ve never seen Jonathan happier. Finally he has a chance to be in his element doing what he’s here to do.

All the development blocks are now finished with posts and wire, the guys in the vineyard can finally do something else!


It’s a quite time of year for the vineyard, doing all those jobs that we’ve been too busy to do through out the year, catching up on much needed maintenance, cleaning the barns out, and generally getting things in order before winter sets in proper.

Given the temperature’s we’ve been having we’re madly trying to get as much grass seed in before we loose the opportunity. Its always a battle in Autumn to get as much of the vineyard grassed down as possible before A) it gets too cold, and/or B) it gets too wet. We’re right at the end of the weather window at the moment, we just need a few more dry days…

Cameron Roucher – Vineyard Manager

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Hijacking Rathfinny blog

For those of you who regularly read our blog, you may have noticed a distinct absence of news from me. It is not because I have been doing nothing, but rather that I have been doing a lot and I am shamelessly hijacking our Rathfinny blog to tell you about it!

Many of you will know that I have been actively involved in the world of dyslexia for many years now, that our Trust is part of the national Dyslexia SpLD Trust and that I have lobbied hard to change the way teachers are trained in this country.  It is estimated that 10% of the population are dyslexic,  that’s 3 children on average in every class.

The Fish in the Tree report http://driveryouthtrust.com/index.php/reports/  that we published last year, showed that 74% of teachers didn’t feel that they’d been trained with the skills necessary to teach those with dyslexia, yet 84% thought it was important that they had this training.

The problem isn’t just about dyslexia – it’s about teachers having the skills to teach any child who struggles with literacy.  The national statistics show we have a problem:

  • 1 in 4 children fail to master the basics of writing in primary school.
  • 1 in 9 children fail to master the basics of reading in primary school.
  • A third of pupils did not reach a grade C in English GCSE last year.
  • We have 6 million functionally illiterate adults in the UK, unable to read a tin of baked beans!

Over the past 5 years I’ve been working with Ark schools to put in place a literacy programme that addresses this.  It’s called Drive for Literacy. None of it is rocket science but what makes it different is that it addresses the problem from a whole school perspective, from senior leadership recognising the need for their teachers to understand that some children have literacy problems like dyslexia and that there is merit in addressing this.  Teachers are trained, children are screened, interventions are put in place and parents are consulted.  So far, it’s had really encouraging results, with these children with a SEN (special educational need) achieving almost as well as other children without issues do nationally on their phonics test, and over twice as well as other children with SEN in our country.

Today, we’ve launched a website www.driveforliteracy.co.uk that details Drive for Literacy and offers easy to access, free resources for teachers, parents and dyslexic pupils.  There’s a series of short films, the most poignant I think is ‘What it feels like to be dyslexic’ – and you may recognise some of the participants!!

Why am I telling you this?  I need your help to spread the word to schools and teachers you know, parents of dyslexics and other dyslexics.


Join the campaign:

The #YouKnowADyslexic campaign includes a video endorsement from Eddie Izzard, who is himself dyslexic: Win a sausage (and learn about dyslexia) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7O2nXuMYuzI&sns=tw

The Trust is encouraging everyone to support the campaign:

·       Tweet using the hashtag #YouKnowADyslexic – take a picture!

·       Follow @DriverTrust on twitter

·       Download free resources from www.driveforliteracy.co.uk

Tell all your friends and especially any teachers and parents with children with dyslexia about this free resource.

Thank you

Sarah Driver

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