Chaptalization

Winemaking Talk - Winemaking Forum

Help Support Winemaking Talk - Winemaking Forum:

This site may earn a commission from merchant affiliate links, including eBay, Amazon, and others.

vinny

Mildly Amused
Supporting Member
Joined
Jan 19, 2022
Messages
2,649
Reaction score
7,071
Location
Central Alberta
I often pick up things, see their value, and take it for exactly that. The face value of chaptalization is that when you add sugar to your must you can increase SG/brix, and thus ABV in your final product. Simple, and all you really need to know.

Well, today I did some reading, and I learned a thing or two. Many of you likely know this, but for those that don't...

Previous to around 1777 a wine was just what you got from the grapes available. It was a crap shoot, really. Weather and all the other variables involved dictated your final alcohol percentage. In 1777, the French chemist Pierre Macquer discovered that adding sugar directly affected the alcohol percentage, not sweetness. It wasn't until later, 1801, that Jean-Antoine Chaptal began advocating for its use to fortify and preserve wine, however, he was the original and main proponent of it.

So long story short, why do we use such a strange term to increase SG with sugar to bump our ABV? Well, cause Chaptal said so, and if you want a higher ABV you will have to chaptalize your must.

It is also illegal in some areas... CRAZY!

Argentina, Australia, California, Italy, Portugal, Spain and South Africa all prohibit it, and there are stipulations surrounding its use in many regions.

ZoneAllowable increase[2]Maximum ABV from chaptalization[2]
A3% ABV (24 g/L)[10]11.5% (white), 12% (red)[11]
B2% ABV (16 g/L)12% (white), 12.5% (red)
C1.5% ABV (12 g/L)
Zero in Italy, Greece, Spain, Portugal, Cyprus, and regions of southern France
12.5%–13.5% depending on region

Some areas require it to be noted on the label if the ABV is not 'natural'. It seems so strange to me to take the control out of the process, and the need to note it? Who cares how the ABV got there? 😄

In warmer climates where over ripening is a concern watering down and increasing acid may be required to balance the must to the sugar levels, but don't you even think about adding sugar to balance it in the other direction. That is absolutely criminal.

Anyway, that is what I learned in school today.
 
Last edited:
It is also illegal in some areas... CRAZY!

The "logic" is based from Vinifera grape regions, in that Vinifera grapes when grown in their correct area will consistently reach sufficient Brix (or Brix-Acidity combo), and do not need added sugar. And that some varieties should be grown in different areas to get the best wine. Some wine regions of Europe also have laws regulating the types of grapes the region can grow for this reason. So it was a quality control issue as well. And thus one should not grow grapes elsewhere as those areas may be better suited for other more appropriate forms of agriculture. Which, actually, is very eco-friendly.

But then everyone wanted to get into making wine.... Because.... money was to be made.... So....

If one does grow grapes in areas that do not ripen fully, the idea was those "other" areas should not compete on "equal" basis with areas that do -- ergo either labeling laws (so the consumer can decide -- fair enough) or regional prohibition to preserve cultural wine making area, or to simply, again because money was to be made, to limit wine production areas to keep the price high... :)

Hope this helps.

Side note: In my area nearly 2000 year old wine region, chaptalization is not forbidden, but regulated and limited (one can only add grape must concentrate to increase sugar for example). I have never needed to add sugar. But I also do not grow red wines (expect Pinot noir and Turan), because most reds do not ripen here -- the Turan often struggles. So the regional idea seems to work.

Oh, and vineyards in many parts of Europe can not be irrigated either. Not allowed.... If the wines can not survive by rain fall alone, then not a place to grow vines.... :)
 
Last edited:
The "logic" is based from Vinifera grape regions, in that Vinifera grapes when grown in their correct area will consistently reach sufficient Brix (or Brix-Acidity combo), and do not need added sugar.
I've read this logic in other places, and have no doubt that it's actually used as a rationale for not chaptalizing, especially in warmer areas. Folks with the best vineyards want protection from competition by those with lesser situated vineyards.

However, chaptalization is both legal and expected in Champagne, as it's a colder region. Several sources state that chaptalization is legal in Burgundy, Alsace, Champagne, and Bordeaux but none mentioned Rhone, which is farther south and considerably warmer. While not conclusive, this leads me to consider that it's not legal in Rhone.
 
True. But when discussing "rules" like chaptalzation, "real" Champagne comes with its own set of very rigid and fixed set of rules. So six of one, half a dozen of the other rule wise.... :)
True, although in this thread we're specifically discussing chaptalization.

The laws regarding chaptalization are not necessarily clear cut -- in California chaptalization with sugar is illegal, but it's ok to add grape concentrate. Apparently this is also legal in other counties, although I didn't spot a list.

The EU is a mix -- in Italy, Greece, Spain, Portugal, Cyprus, and regions of southern France, chaptalization is illegal. However, more northerly regions can chaptalize a limited amount up to the specific ABV limit by red or white grape.

I believe I'll stick to being an amateur.
 
While I knew the above, it's nice to have it listed in one place.

Making sense out of the winemaking laws of different regions will drive one insane. I'm happy to not be bound by such things!
This prohibition of practice in some countries reminds me of the German purity law. Written by Bavarian noblemen in the year 1516, the law says only water, barley and hops may be used to brew beer. Yeast was added to the list, known as the beer purity law or Reinheitsgebot, when scientists discovered the fermenting agent centuries later.
 
This has all been very interesting and I wonder if there's more of a back-story for the chaptalization rules/laws.

I was reading "A Treatise On Family Wine Making" written in 1814 in England and it mentions that foreign wines are "perniciously doctored" by wine makers and merchants. I have to admit I had to look up the definition of "pernicious" and one is "tending to cause death or serious injury". Perhaps the origin of chaptalization laws were part of an attempt at quality control and guaranteeing the authenticity of a product.
 
I was reading "A Treatise On Family Wine Making" written in 1814 in England and it mentions that foreign wines are "perniciously doctored" by wine makers and merchants. I have to admit I had to look up the definition of "pernicious" and one is "tending to cause death or serious injury". Perhaps the origin of chaptalization laws were part of an attempt at quality control and guaranteeing the authenticity of a product.
It's also possible the author was writing to protect local wine production, by making "foreign" wines appear poisonous.
 
It's also possible the author was writing to protect local wine production, by making "foreign" wines appear poisonous.
A valid point but the author was advocating making wine at home with local fruit because his countrymen were making counterfeit French wine which was the most expensive in the world. It always seems to be about money.

Most of the French rules came about for the 1855 Paris Exhibition, covering what could be planted ( as mentioned earlier) and even how many vines per acre could be planted.
 
I wonder if there is a deeper back story as to why my lifetime Sirius subscription cuts out more now that I have ten times the bandwidth.
I noticed the same thing. It would be pretty cool if it involved continuous espionage involving state actors or various Bond villains, details withheld for our own good. But more likely the people who know how things work are retiring.
 
I noticed the same thing. It would be pretty cool if it involved continuous espionage involving state actors or various Bond villains, details withheld for our own good. But more likely the people who know how things work are retiring.
Hanlon's Razor: Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity.
 
And Occam's Razor can be used for support - the simplest explanation is often the correct explanation. Lord knows there's no shortage of stupidity.
I was an IT consultant for nearly 30 years, and worked at over 30 client sites. The number of times someone retired, left, or died (had that happen twice) without any knowledge transfer is honestly stunning. It's amazing how few managers think about stuff like that.

That's among the reasons why I write posts on my site -- it preserves what I know and makes it available for others. I think back to my first years, where I found recipes in the newspaper and fumbled my way through things. It wasn't until I met other winemakers and purchased my first book that I honestly started learning.

The average beginner coming to this forum can learn more in a day than I learned in 3 years. We do good work!
 
True, although in this thread we're specifically discussing chaptalization.

A thread title, and a thread original post content can be different. The post content can allow more latitude.

Ergo, I replied to a subset in the original comment about how some wine making issues are "illegal". So the topic thread was about chaptalization, but the topic comment section was potentially far broader. And I took that view that generic legal issues in general were fair game to help explain the issue, and help explain other issues like why things are different for... example... Champaign. So your post was simply an extension of that legal complexity I was trying to describe.

But... and otherwise... I will leave it only to the OP to correct me for any transgression off topic. And if so corrected, will give a proper mea culpa. But only if and when to the OP. Others should not correct others off handly based on self opinion (but may justifiably get gleeful, proper, enormous, self satisfaction and many personal ego points if the OP corrects me -- if so well done). :cool:
 

Latest posts

Back
Top