Glyoxylic acid is a tartaric acid degradation product formed in model wine solutions containing iron and its production is greatly increased by exposure to UV–visible light. In this study, the combined effect of sulfur dioxide, caffeic acid, pH and temperature on the light-induced (⩾300 nm) production of glyoxylic acid in model wine containing tartaric acid and iron was investigated using a Box-Behnken experimental design and response surface methodology (RSM). Glyoxylic acid produced in the irradiated model wine was present in free and hydrogen sulfite adduct forms and the measured total, free and percentage free glyoxylic acid values were modeled using RSM. Sulfur dioxide significantly decreased the total amount of glyoxylic acid produced, but could not prevent its production, while caffeic acid showed no significant impact. The interaction between pH and temperature was significant, with low pH values and low temperatures giving rise to higher levels of total glyoxylic acid.