Hello there! I'm Dr. Vinifera, but you can call me Vinny. Ask me your toughest wine questions, from the fine points of etiquette to the science of winemaking. And don't worry, I'm no wine snob—you can also ask me those "dumb questions" you're too embarrased to ask your wine geek friends! I hope you find my answers educational, empowering and even amusing. And don't forget to check out my most asked questions and my full archives for all my Q&A classics.
Dear Dr. Vinny,
Do California winemakers ever add sugar to their wine? Is that legal?
—Hugh, Susanville, Calif.
The process of adding sugar to must (unfermented grape juice), is known as chaptalization. Even though it sounds like something a winemaker might do to make a wine sweeter, the purpose is actually to facilitate the fermentation process, to make sure there’s enough sugar for the yeast to convert into alcohol. That’s why the sugar is added before fermentation, not afterward.
It’s illegal to chaptalize in California, but cooler regions in the U.S. and Europe, like New York, Oregon, Bordeaux, and Burgundy can allow it, and it can come in handy in a cool year when the grapes don’t get as ripe as they would to easily make wine. In Champagne, chaptalization is not only legal, but many consider it essential.
California vintners are allowed to add grape concentrate, and some feel that can both tame aggressive acidity and make a wine’s body lusher and fuller.