How to Chaptalize Must / Wine
What is chaptalization?
| Why is it important to chaptalize?
Hints for chaptalization | Conclusion
Ask any experienced winemaker about factors that can come into
play to make each year's harvest unique, and there's a good chance
mention will be made to the local growing conditions or climate.
Some years, the fruit will be fully ripe and bursting with flavor
- while in other years (especially during poor growing conditions),
the fruit seems like it takes forever to ripen and the harvestable
quantity is diminished.
It doesn't take a genius to figure out that wine made from two
diverse growing seasons requires different must adjustments in order
to make good wine year in and year out. If you've ever made blackberry
wine according to your grandfather's old recipe and wondered why
one year's wine is great but the next one isn't, one possible explanation
is that the sugar content of the blackberry must varied widely from
one year to the next.
To get consistent results, vintners test the raw fruit juice to
determine the must's quality - and based on the results of these
tests, make the necessary chemical adjustments to ensure a well-balanced
This winemaking article will focus on one aspect of creating a
well-balanced wine - controlling the alcoholic content of your wine.
The amount of alcohol that is in your finished wine is directly
proportional to the amount of sugar found in the raw fruit juice,
or must. This makes sense, since we know that wine yeast converts
the sugar to alcohol and carbon dioxide. The more sugar you have,
the more alcohol you'll get. This article does not go into any great
detail to discuss other methods of adjusting your must, such as
adjusting your acidity and pH.
This article is intended for home winemakers who make their own
wine from scratch (from fresh grapes or fruit). If you make wines
from kits, you will certainly benefit from this knowledge, but you
won't have to worry about chaptalization since modern wine kits
are already chemically balanced for consistency.
What is chaptalization?
Simply put, chaptalization (also known as "sugaring")
is the procedure of adding sugar to grape juice or must prior to
or during fermentation. As you have already surmised, winemakers
chaptalize must to compensate for poor growing seasons, or if they're
located in areas of the world that experience cooler climates.
By boosting the sugar content to appropriate levels, you can help
ensure your wine is well-balanced... but be careful - adding too
much sugar is just as bad as not having enough!
Why is it important to chaptalize?
The main reason it is desirable to chaptalize your wine is that
your wine will have the proper alcoholic content to help ensure
a well-balanced wine.
There are three aspects of must you should measure and adjust (if
necessary) prior to pitching the yeast. They are acidity, pH, and
the amount of sugar. These three aspects of wine work together to
create the taste of the wine. If only one of these readings is out
of whack, the wine that is made from that particular batch of must
is said to be "out of balance" and the overall taste of
the wine will suffer. If the wine is too acidic, it will taste like
battery acid; if it doesn't contain enough alcohol, the wine will
taste thin. Properly balanced wines have the right amount of pH,
acids, and alcohol and taste great. As previously noted, we will
concern ourselves solely with the adjustment of sugar in this article.
While we're on the subject, here are some other benefits of chaptalization:
- Your wine will be less susceptible to spoilage. The lower the
alcoholic content, the greater the possibility that your wine
could fall victim to harmful mold or bacteria. By keeping your
wine at or above 10% alcohol by volume, this type of spoilage
is largely prevented.
- The physical process of chaptalizing involves stirring the must;
stirring provides an intangible benefit to your wine, since it
helps ensure your must is well mixed and ready to accept the yeast.
- It forces you to take a close look at your sugar levels; recording
your starting specific gravity is a good habit to get into, and
can help you reproduce a great wine year after year.
Hints for chaptalization
In a nutshell, here are the processes you would go through to chaptalize
- Create the must by getting the juice from your grapes or other
- Take a hydrometer reading
- Compare the hydrometer reading to your desired specific gravity
- Make appropriate sugar additions to must
- Pitch yeast to start fermentation
We will visit each of these points in the paragraphs that follow.
The first thing to do is to generate the must. Mostly, this involves
squeezing the fruit to get the juice flowing! Once your must is
in the fermentation vessel (for most home winemakers making small
batches, the fermentation vessel at this point is a food-grade plastic
bucket), take a specific gravity reading with your hydrometer.
Note: A hydrometer is a simple, inexpensive piece of testing
equipment used by winemakers to determine the amount of sugar available
in the must. If you're not familiar with its use, please check out
a complementary article entitled "How
to Use a Hydrometer" before going any further.
Take the specific gravity reading and see where it falls in the
|Sugar in One
Gallon of Must
||0 lb.14 oz.
||1 lb. 0 oz.
||1 lb. 2 oz.
||1 lb. 3 oz.
||1 lb. 5 oz.
||1 lb. 7 oz.
||1 lb. 8 oz.
||1 lb. 10 oz.
||1 lb. 11 oz.
||1 lb. 14 oz.
||2 lb. 0 oz.
||2 lb. 1 oz.
||2 lb. 3 oz.
||2 lb. 5 oz.
For white wines, your target specific gravity should probably be
in the 1.085 to 1.090 range. If allowed to ferment to dryness, this
would equate to a wine that contains about 11.5% to 12% alcohol.
For red wines, your desired starting specific gravity would be around
1.090 or 1.095.
For the sake of illustration, let's say you've prepared 6 US gallons
of must and took a hydrometer reading. After making corrections
to the reading based on the temperature of the must (most hydrometers
are calibrated at 60 degrees Fahrenheit), you discover that your
red wine's starting specific gravity is 1.070. Since we're making
a red wine, our desired starting specific gravity is 1.090.
So how much sugar should we add? Not only that, but what kind of
sugar should be used?
Luckily, just plain old white granulated sugar - the kind you buy
in the grocery store - is the sugar of choice. It doesn't matter
if it came from sugar beets, sugar cane, or whatever. Just don't
use brown sugar, since it contains molasses and will really throw
off your taste.
We can tell from the chart that must with an SG (specific gravity)
reading of 1.070 contains one pound and a half of sugar per gallon.
To discover how much sugar is present in the raw must, then, we
would simply multiply one and a half pounds by 6. We do this since
(at least in this example) we're dealing with 6 gallons of must:
1.5 lbs. per gallon X 6 gallons = 9 lbs
Our desired starting SG is 1.090, which is equivalent to 2 pounds
of sugar per US gallon:
2.0 lbs per gallon X 6 gallons = 12 lbs.
The difference between the two, then, is the amount of sugar to
add to bring our must to the desired starting SG:
12 lbs. - 9 lbs. = 3 lbs. of sugar
Our math tells us we need to add 3 pounds of sugar to bring the
must up to standard. This is a good original estimate to start with,
but I would suggest you err on the side of caution, and add a bit
less than this - at least initially until you get some verification
from your follow-up hydrometer readings. Why? Well, you can always
add more sugar if you need to, but you cannot take it out once it's
been put in!
As my personal rule of thumb, I only add 85% of the calculated
sugar to my must the first time around. I figure I can always add
sugar more later, if my subsequent hydrometer reading tells me so.
Most hydrometers, besides telling you the specific gravity of your
must, will also offer a scale which tells you how many ounces of
sugar (per US gallon) are contained in your sample. You could alternatively
calculate the amount of sugar to add using this scale and applying
some simple math.
Using a similar starting SG of 1.070, my own trusty hydrometer
tells me that I would need to add about 7 ounces of sugar per gallon
to get to my desired SG of 1.090 for my six gallon batch. When I
do the math, 6 times 7 oz. equals 42 ounces of sugar to add. This
is 6 ounces less than the amount of sugar I determined from
the first calculation. After doing the calculation this way, it's
easy to see why I always err on the side of caution, and add 15%
less sugar than is initially called for by the chart shown, until
I am sure what the resulting SG will be.
All right, now it's time to add the sugar to your must. DO NOT
simply dump the sugar in your must; my experience is that sugar
does not always fully dissolve as fast as you want it to, especially
if the liquid you're mixing it with is only at room temperature.
If you're impatient and try to chaptalize too quickly, you will
accidentally add too much sugar since some of it won't dissolve
into solution until after you've gone away.
I recommend removing a bit of strained must (no solids) and warming
it slightly in a sanitized saucepan on the stovetop. Do not allow
the mixture to smoke or boil. Add sugar slowly, and stir with a
sanitized spoon until it is completely dissolved. Once the liquid
is cooled, you can re-introduce the sugared must to the rest of
the batch. Then stir like crazy to ensure proper mixing.
Finally, treat your must for other issues (pH, acidity), add some
food for your yeast, then rehydrate
and pitch your yeast to kick off fermentation.
Other factors to consider during chaptalization
Besides simply adjusting the amount of sugar in your must, there
are other things you should consider. Among them:
- When you add sugar to must, the overall volume of the liquid
will also increase. Be careful you don't overflow your carboy
at the first racking!
- Be sure all your testing equipment (hydrometers, test jars,
spoons, etc.) are properly sanitized before coming into contact
with the must. Learn more about winemaking
- Do not simply dump the sugar in your must. Introduce it in the
manner specified to prevent shocking your wine yeast.
- In the case where sugar is added to the must because the fruit
is slightly underripe, pay particular attention to the acid level
in your must. Fruit that is not ripe has a higher acid content
than fully ripe fruit, so you will likely need to adjust the acidity
of your must to an appropriate level before you pitch the yeast.
- If you mess up and add too much sugar during chaptalization,
you increase the chances of a stuck fermentation; most wine yeasts
can't support further fermentation if the alcoholic percentage
is too high. Read our accompanying article about how
to prevent or cure a stuck fermentation.
If you're making a wine from scratch, checking the must's specific
gravity - which provides an indication of sugar content - before
you pitch the yeast is one of the best first steps to ensure a well-balanced
wine. If your must doesn't contain the requisite amount of sugars
from the start, the alcoholic content of your wine will be lower
than you expected - and the wine may taste "off".
Should your hydrometer readings indicate that the starting specific
gravity isn't high enough to produce a balanced wine, you should
add sugar (chaptalize) to the must and build up the sugar content
according to the methods described in this article.
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