Monday, September 03, 2007

One Lump or Two? Bordeaux Green-lights Chaptalisation

The news from the 2007 Bordeaux harvest continues to be less than promising. Today, Decanter magazine reported that the area's wine officials are likely to allow chaptalisation of the wine because grapes have not achieved a desirable level of ripeness during this year's difficult growing season. (image from

What is chaptalisation (or chaptalization, if you spell things the American way)? It's the technical term that refers to the practice of adding of sugar to wine during fermentation. This process, which was developed in the 18th century, raises the alcohol level, and in Bordeaux they impose a standard limit on how much sugar a winemaker can add. Bordelaise winemakers can only raise the alcohol levels by 1% by adding sugar. So the sugar isn't going in to the wine to make it sweeter--it's going in the wine to give them more alcohol and more body. Though some wines in past Bordeaux vintages, and other wines in other areas, have been watered down in order to lower the alcohol levels, signs are that the 2007 Bordeaux harvest will be requiring just the opposite.

The European Union is looking into chaptalisation and may ban the process in future years. It is likely that winemakers would still be able to add concentrated must (unfermented grape juice) to wine to raise sugar levels, but not sugar. Already, however, Bordeaux officials have agreed that sugar can be added to 2007 sauvignon blanc grapes. At a time when many wine buyers are looking for the least manipulated wines they can find, and lower alcohol wines to boot, one has to wonder how this development will effect the sale of 2007 Bordeaux futures.


Jeff said...

Good post, Dr. Debs.

Certainly calls into the question the Kool-aid notion of California wine. That picture looks exactly like me making some tropical punch kool-aid as a youth.

Methinks that '07 futures will still be experiencing a hangover from '06, irrespective of the chap issue. People are tiring of the way pricing is set.

I'm, yawn, over the French and the futures issues when at the same time the French are distilling wine for alternate uses.


Dr. Debs said...

It does look like Kool-aid, especially with that giant bag of sugar. This is certainly another black eye for Bordeaux, and it will be interesting to see how--and if--they respond.