A spoonful of sugar
Chaptalisation is the name given to sugar addition to grape juice or must before and/or during fermentation. It takes its name from Jean-Antoine Chaptal, the French minister of agriculture who authorised its use in that country. In the EU the practice is known as “enrichment” and permission is based on the EU climate zone, according to The Oxford Companion to Wine, which explains:
“It is permitted in Zone A, which includes the UK and northern Germany, but it is not permitted in Zone C IIIb, which includes southern Italy. A country’s own regulations may also forbid the practice, as throughout Italy.”
Addition to wine in this country is regulated by the Australian and New Zealand Food Standards Code which permits the unlimited addition of grape juice and grape products or sucrose (cane or beet sugar) to wine. That may sound a bit permissive but, to me at least, it suggests a “let the market decide” approach rather than a “we know what’s best for you” attitude. Chaptalisation is not a health issue. It can be abused but the resulting wine is likely to be sub-standard.
Most local wine is now exported, which means that it must comply with the chaptalisation rules of the receiving country. The US is pretty much in line with the EU, which according to a local winemaker allows the addition of sugar and/or concentrate before fermentation with a 2% potential alcohol maximum. After fermentation winemakers can’t use sucrose as a sweetener but they can use New Zealand grape concentrate.
According to The Oxford Companion to Wine pinot noir producers in Burgundy, but also in Oregon and elsewhere, often add sugar during fermentation to improve the wine’s flavour and texture. I asked several local winemakers if they followed a similar practice and, although they acknowledged that sugar addition might boost pinot noir flavour and texture they pointed out that it also boosts alcohol and “we’ve got quite enough of that already.”