My dear sister-in-law loves red wine but can rarely drink it because it triggers migraines. Consequently, she had been resigned to a life of enjoying only white wine, until my husband and I visited Sonoma a few years ago.
In September 2008, we visited a winery in the Kenwood region of Sonoma called Deerfield Ranch. They had just built a new tasting room in their caves and were open for tours and tastings. The wines that we tasted on that visit were fantastic. They age their wines for considerably longer than most wineries leading to smooth, balanced wines ready to drink as soon as they are released. Our visit was truly a great experience and we joined the wine club the same day.
We also learned that the wife of the winemaker suffers from red wine triggered migraines. As a result, all Deerfield Ranch wines are made to prevent this reaction, which is related to the histamine levels in red wines.
Histamines are a function of the “cleanliness” of the processing of the grapes. They are produced when non-edible materials, like stems and leaves, are crushed along with the grapes. Histamines aren’t really good for anyone, but only trigger an allergic reaction in some people. The presence of histamines could be a reason many people feel badly after drinking cheap mass produced wine.
Deerfield spends considerable resources when sorting their grapes to ensure that only good fruit ends up in the wine. From the winemaker’s blog: “…because removing everything but just the grapes keeps the resulting wine low in histamines. When the yeast encounters a foreign body that it does not recognize it produces histamines to protect itself similarly to the human body. It has been shown that histamines can provoke allergic reactions which may cause the headache that some people associate with red wine. Because of the careful attention we put into production people who typically suffer from migraines can enjoy world-class red wine that they otherwise would never be able to.”
There may also be a connection between the level of sulfites in the wine and an allergic reaction. Sulfites are used to prevent the wine from oxidizing while aging in the barrels. Deerfield states that they use minimal levels of sulfites to start fermentation, and do not release any wines until the sulfite levels are deemed non-reactive. Again, really cheap mass produced wines may pile on the sulfites causing reactions even in non-migraine sufferers.
Regardless of whether it is sulfites or histamines, my sister-in-law has been able to enjoy all of the red wines from Deerfield without any reaction. My husband and I are fortunate enough not to suffer from reactions to red wine, yet enjoy Deerfield Ranch wines regularly and consider it one of the best wineries that we are fortunate enough to be members of.