A Call for Chaptalization in CA to be Made Legal - Featuring Mr. Lee

Interesting blog post on WS - featuring none other than Adam Lee . . .


No, Adam does not say that he has done this, but states that it would make sense in really cool harvests with later ripening varieties such as Syrah.

Have at it . . . champagne.gif

Sure, as long as they state it on the label

(let the fun begin)

It appears to me that he says he has… at least according to the lead of the article:

“We have chaptalized. We have done in it California, on rare occasions, but we have, and we’ve done it in wines from Oregon, again on fairly rare occasions.” That’s probably not something you’d expect to hear from any veteran winemaker, much less Adam Lee, co-owner of Siduri and Novy Family…"

Adding sugar makes more sense to me than concentrate.

Can anyone make a good argument for why it should be illegal?

The romantic view, at least for east coast apartment dwellers, is that the sturdy peasant walks the vineyards, lovingly caring for them and at harvest gently takes the grapes into the winery where they’re gently pressed and magically turn into wine. It’s hands-off winemaking and that’s what real wine comes from. Chaptalization is unnatural and wrong, except in Burgundy.

Personally, I don’t really care. I guess it’s a little more interventionist than micro-ox, but I don’t have a problem with that either. Both can help make good wine.

OTOH, I don’t want to hear about how that wine reflects its terroir, unless we’re including the terroir of the sugar beets from Michigan or the cane from Cuba. The terroir indicates that you can’t get your grapes ripe. So shouldn’t that be what the wine reflects?

Frankly, I’d rather have a good bottle of wine than one that is unripe or something worse. Just leave off the discussion about terroir and I’m OK.

I thought it was on WB where someone told the story of a winery visit and discussing the virtues of natural wine making by a winemaker to the audience.

From the top of a palate of grapefruit juice.


I think the original idea is that if you add acid, and water, then if you add sugar as well, how many grapes would you need?

Big producers would abuse this as a way to make cheaper cheap wine that is no longer primarily from grapes.

I think there needs to be a line somewhere. Not sure where it should be, but…

Can anyone make a good argument for why it should be legal, cause I don’t see it?

There needs to be an argument made for why something should be legal?

Greg and Andrew make some points about why some people don’t like chaptalization, which I can certainly understand, but I hope (probably in vain in the year 2013) that we haven’t arrived at the point in this country where something should be illegal just because others don’t like it or think it a good idea. My question wasn’t what’s the downside or negatives of chaptalization, but why it should be illegal. It’s not dangerous. It doesn’t hurt anybody. Wine drinkers in California can and do drink wines from places like Oregon and Burgundy which sometimes chaptalize.

Wasn’t Adam just saying in the additives/ labeling thread that he does this? I even asked in that thread if it were legal but got no answer.

I can sure think of better things for the police to get involved in, but has anyone ever had a wine and said, “This would be really good if only it had more alcohol”?

I think the rationale in other countries for this and related laws, is that the government is somehow protecting quality/reputation, and by extension, trade.

All the time Keith, that’s why I keep a bottle of grain alcohol just outside the cellar door. [wink.gif]

A few disparate points:

  1. Effectively chaptalazation is legal in California…but only if it is added in the form of grape juice concentrate. As just sugar it is not legal. Concentrate adds both flavor and sugar while sugar add, well, just sugar.
  2. To say that I do this is, in most cases, a huge stretch. It simply is unnecessary in 99.5% of the cases.
  3. I would have to agree with Keith…I’ve never had a wine where I can recall saying, “this wine would be better with more alcohol.” But I would also say that, when I recall the greatest wines of my life, if you asked me “would this be as good with less alcohol?” I would have to say “I doubt it.” – And, fwiw, some of the greatest wines I have ever had have been chaptalized.

Adam Lee
Siduri Wines

It would be interesting to hear some examples if you can.


That’s an easy one. Because if you taste it blind against another wine from the plot next door, maybe it will taste better.


I am in Las Vegas for my nephew’s bachelor party so will have to do so off the top of my head…but many of the wines that Porcheret made in Burgundy. DRC did when necessary (may still…not sure about that). I remember that Antonio Galloni wrote in his report on 2010 Burgundy that many producers lightly chaptalized (which surprised me a bit). The list is pretty long.

Adam Lee
Siduri Wines

Of course I have never thought that any of the greatest wines of my life would have been better with less alcohol, either. It is axiomatic that those are wines that can’t possibly be improved upon. However, I have had LOTS of wines which weren’t quite at that level but might have been if only the alcohol had been a little lower.

Concentrate is nasty stuff its not just sugar but color and flavor as well. If ever I was in need to chaptalize sugar would be the way to go, beet for reds, cane for whites. I don’t understand why CA decided to legalize concentrate only. If you add concentrate you can not legally label as Estate either.

In Anderson Valley I was able to still get PN mid 13’s to 14% alcohol even in 2010 and 2011. I doubt I will ever have to resort to boosting brix if we were able to ripen PN in those cool vintages.

Sounds dubious to me. What’s the winemaker going to do, empty every single one of a thousand bottles of grapefruit juice? Seems very much more likely that they’d just buy it in tank.

And I’m thinking that they’d be doing it more for the acid more than the sugar.

Could be true, though.