Chaptalization

Definition - What does Chaptalization mean?

Chaptalizing is the process of introducing sugar to grape juice before fermentation in order to increase the alcohol content of the finished wine. Yeast requires sugar in order to produce alcohol; When sugar is added to yeast before or during fermentation, the yeast along with the added sugar will yield into a higher alcohol by volume percentage in the finished wine, rather than to make the wine sweeter. Once the sugar has been added to the grape juice, the naturally occurring enzyme converts the sucrose molecules naturally found in sugar into glucose and fructose. Glucose and fructose are then processed by the added yeast during the winemaking process, which ferments the elements, producing alcohol and carbon dioxide. This term is named after Jean-Antoine-Claude Chaptal, the developer of this process.

WineFrog explains Chaptalization

Although the Chaptalizing technique is credited to the French, some state it was developed when the Romans added honey as a sweetening agent, without realizing its chemical component, Roman winemakers were able to identify the benefit of added body to the wine. The technique was widely practice in France for many years until 1907 when the wine industry began to protest, because cheap wine hit the market. These cheap wines were produced by merely adding sugar to increase the alcohol level, plummeting the wine prices, and they were labelled as "artificial wines.” The protest eventually became so chaotic an army intervention was needed, and the French government took action. They passed a law limiting the amount of added sugar in a wine and increased taxes on sugar. This paved way for regulations on chaptalization.

Today, many countries have strict control over chaptalization. Many argue that it gives an unfair advantage to wine makers in warmer climate to manipulate the end product and achieve desirable sugar levels. However, it is legal in many parts of France, Germany, and other Northern European countries and few regions in the United States due to their cooler climate; chaptalization in these areas compensate for the lack sunshine that cuts down ripening time, but diminish traditions of wine production. Still, the European Union has been aggressive in controlling the usage of sugar in the process of wine production.

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