An experimental batch of Petit Verdot turned out to be a pioneering piece of art for Stellenzicht Winemaker, Guy Webber, who has recently introduced Stellenzicht’s first ‘no added sulphur’ wines – a Petit Verdot 2008 and Chardonnay 2009.

To classify as a low sulphite wine, the free SO2 count should not exceed ten parts per million – which can prove to be quite a challenge, since wine yeasts naturally produce sulphur during fermentation. Guy has been experimenting with low sulphur wines for several vintages and explains that these wines are kept in the bottle for six to nine months before they are released – “just to make sure that they’ve made it.”

The Petit Verdot boasts with a particularly interesting story. The wine spent a year on the skins, which is unheard of in conventional winemaking. “Petit Verdot is known for its intense colour and impressive tannin structure, but this wine has turned out to be surprisingly soft and velvety, “ explains Guy.

Sulphur acts as an anti-oxidant in wine, a role that is also fulfilled by tannins. The Petit Verdot was fermented in old 500L barrels that have been transformed into mini rototanks at Stellenzicht. “These barrels are ideal vessels to ferment and mature small batches of wine. We have more than 20 at the moment and also use them for Shiraz.”

The Chardonnay literally went from tank to bottle to avoid exposure to oxygen and was not cold stabilised. Guy adds that the bottling process was done with particular caution, to avoid oxygen exposure or microbial contamination.

This has indeed been worthwhile, with the Chardonnay developing a remarkably complex flavour spectrum of melons, pineapples and citrus, while the palate is surprisingly rich and buttery.

The newest addition to the low sulphur range is most likely to be a Pinotage, which has already been bottled and is now spending time in the bottle to monitor its development. This would be the first commercial low sulphur Pinotage in the world.

Edo Heyns is a winemaker, turned wine journalist working for WineLand magazine.