Talkin’ SO2 Blues -or- “Minimum Effective Sulfur” Explained With Sumi-e

7 lines of text.

7 lettered lines of text.

Thus went Ridge into Ingredient Labeling.


Letter G.

That’s the line.

If there is one line of text that has engendered more conversation, and more controversy, than the Letter G Line, I don’t know what it is.

Here it is:

G) Smallest SO2 addition needed to maintain vineyard character in a wine

For those of you not familiar with the natural vs. not-natural debate in the world of wine, this is an IMPORTANT statement.

SO2 (Sulfur Dioxide), I believe it is safe to say, is officially anathema to the “natural wine” movement.

I won’t try to get into why that is here, in this post, nor will I try to defend or excoriate the movement, or its stances. Rather, in the interest of proceeding, let’s just accept this to be the case; that SO2 is a no-no if you want to make “natural” wine, and accordingly, the use of SO2 has become the veritable dividing line in the dirt betwixt the oeno-Hatfields, and the eno-McCoys.

There are many of course who are not even familiar with this debate. Or at least, not particularly engaged by it.

But even these folks too have responded to The G Line.


Because, as a very good friend of Ridge recently put it, it seems “dead wrong.”

How can adding something  –particularly a chemical– preserve character?

If the idea, as we at Ridge often say, is to try to authentically capture, translate, and present the true character of a vineyard in every vineyard-designate wine, then how does the addition of SO2 accomplish that? Doesn’t it seem as if the opposite should be the case, that the only way to truly represent the authentic character of a vineyard would be to NOT add anything, would be to NOT interfere, impose, or intervene?

I’ve worked this whole problem over and over in my mind, and I’m now going to hazard an extended metaphor to try to explain this as best as I can.

So, you’re an artist. You’re a visual artist. And you work in the Sumi-e style, the ancient Eastern tradition of ink painting that prizes simplicity, and allows for no corrections, no going back, no editing. Like jazz, like haiku, it is about being in the moment. It is about capturing a moment in time, and it is about capturing the essence of a subject or a scene with the barest minimum of strokes. It is after purity.

So you’re an artist, and this is the style you work in. And now you’re getting successful. Now you’ve received a commission to create a work, and now you’ve created the work, and now you’ve sold it. And now it’s time to deliver this most simple, soulful, pure, natural, and tradition-minded work to its new owner. You made it the real way. You used only black ink, you only worked forward, you never edited or corrected, and you used only the bare minimum number of strokes necessary to capture the true soul, the true character of your subject. This is a true work of art, and you’re now delivering it to its new owner.

But it’s raining outside at the time you’re to make the delivery. So you cover your work of art. You cover it, to keep it safe. Then you go outside. But the wind comes up. The wind blows your cover off. You protect the work with your body. The work remains safe. But then, as you move the work from the protection of your body, to the safety of the back seat of your car, one lone raindrop slips through. It slips through, and it lands on your painting. One drop. Just one drop. But it’s there. It’s right there on the paper. A big drop.

What do you do?

Perhaps the truly Zen would simply accept the drop of water on the paper as an in-the-moment occurrence. Perhaps the truly Zen would say, let go of your attachment to the painting as it was, and accept it as it now is.

But ask yourself, does this paper now, with its water stain, really reflect the true character of the painting?

If you think so, then perhaps you’re a natural wine person.

But if you’re the buyer of the painting, and you appreciate very much that the artist was quick-thinking enough to immediately dab the water off with a handkerchief before it could make a stain, then perhaps you’re the sort who can accept, even embrace, the deployment of “minimum effective sulfur” in the service of preserving vineyard character.

Because after all, you didn’t pay good money for a picture of a raindrop stain obscuring a beautiful painting. You paid for the painting.

And to have that painting as you believe it was meant to be, as the artist meant it to be, in all its in-the-moment purity, you’re willing to accept that momentary dab of the handkerchief, that brief but impactful gesture, even though that intervention, that imposition, was utterly anathema to the principles of Sumi-e.

In the end, it is the in-the-moment relationship between the ink, the pen, the paper, the subject, and the artist, that is the true origin-essence of the art. If it takes the retroactive dab of a handkerchief to preserve that, then so be it.


For more about ingredient labeling on our website (including explanatory text, a letter from Paul Draper, and an informational video), please click here.

And to read a previous post on the subject, on this blog, please click here.

Categories: Business of Wine, History, Ingredient Labeling, Oeno Econ, Paul Draper, Vineyards, Viticultural Salmagundi, Wine & Art, Wine & Philosophy, Wine Quotes, Winemaking

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1 reply

  1. I love this analogy. Good read, thanks!

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