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Sweetness can be a great attribute of wine when it is in balance to the other components. Without it, the wine can lack oomph, being tired and thin. In proportion, sweetness, whether it manifests itself as pleasantly surprising residual sugar on the tip of the tongue from a sip of nicely biting Riesling, or the expected sweetness from a Port, especially in contrast to a salty blue cheese, this can be a favorable trait to cultivate.

Sugars develop naturally in grapes, like all fruit, as a consequence of converting energy from the suns beaming rays into the plant via photosynthesis (simplified). But what happens when the grapes do not achieve their desired ripeness?

In areas of the old world (Bordeaux, Burgundy and Champagne) and a handful in the new (Oregon and the East Coast), the sun is not as prevalent as it is in our backyard of Los Angeles, the grapes do not always attain an adequate saturation of sunlight. This results in a shortage of sugars. The sugars lost, translates to wine that will not have a lot of alcohol, and alcohol in wine is tantamount to body/weight on the palate.

Winemakers cope with less-than-stellar conditions by using chapitalization—or more commonly dubbed amelioration in the states—a technique that calls for the addition of sugar to the wine, increasing the alcohol. This is a winemaker’s weapon, one of a larger arsenal, to deploy when the grapes’ sugars do not completely develop on the vine. The sugars can be added, in addition to other grape related products, to grape must, boosting body.

Chapitalization is named in honor of a Gallic chemist and Napolean’s Minister of the Interior Jean-Antoine Chaptal, the first person to support this technique outright though it was historically in application prior to his existence. He was an adamant advocate of the practice, favoring grape products to be added to enhance wine because he recognized that it was a necessary procedure in areas that do not get sufficient amounts of sunlight.

Though it is looked at with disdain, or at least frowned upon in areas where it is not required, there is a place for this body boosting method. There are also restrictive measures in place for the countries and viticulture areas that institute it—curtailing wild amounts of additives and protecting the consumers. Chapitalization, amelioration or enrichment, whatever one calls it, the technique’s application may be necessary when Mother Nature is feeling especially puckish, where she withholds optimum conditions.

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