Double The Sugar To Sweeten The Wine… Wrong!

Potassium Sorbate With Sugar CubesMost of my “fresh fruit” wines are dry. I was talking with a gentleman who also makes his own wines. He told me to double up on the sugar to sweeten my batches. Right now I have a batch of wine (brewing since mid-May). It needs to be racked again. If I add sugar to this batch now, will it start fermentation all over?
Hello Marlene,
The short answer to your question is, “yes.” Continuing to add more sugar to your wine must while it is still fermenting will contribute to more fermentation and alcohol content, not to the wine’s sweetness. When first learning how to make your own wine this can be a great area of confusion for many.
If you keep adding more and more sugar you be raising the alcohol level of the wine, but will eventually come to a point where the wine yeast can no longer ferment more alcohol.  Where that point is is something that varies greatly from one batch to the next based on a whole host of conditions. Factors such as temperature, available nutrients, the type of wine yeast, and many, many others. All of these factors sum up to either contribute or hinder the wine must’s ability to ferment.
Some factors such as available oxygen and temperature can even change over the coarse of the fermentation. This means that the fermentation can stop at some point and then start up again. For example, if the fermentation gets cooled down by weather, then warms up again. You could have a fermentation the temporarily stops for a few days.
Fortunately, there is another way to approach making a sweet wine beside adding a bunch of sugar and hoping for the best. One that is more predictable, more controlled and easy to accomplish. This is also the method that any of the wine making books you read will suggest.
The first step is to accept the fact that any sugar you add before fermentation is to contribute to the alcohol content of the wine and not its sweetness. You can follow your wine recipes suggested amount, or you can use a wine hydrometer to tell you how much sugar to add. Shoot for an alcohol range of 10% and 13% alcohol. Any wine yeast can achieve this amount under reasonable conditions.Buy a Hydrometer from the shop
The second step is wait until the wine’s ready to bottle before worrying about sweetness. Once the wine has fermented, cleared and ready to bottle, you can then add sugar to taste. Once you get the wine’s sweetness to where you like it, you will then add potassium sorbate. This is a wine stabilizer that will hinder the residual yeast’s ability to recolonize and support a re-fermentation.
Don’t confuse potassium sorbate with Campden tablets or sodium metabisulfite. These work differently and can not completely eliminate a chance of re-fermentation. They should be added regardless if potassium sorbate is added to the wine or not.
By going about sweetening your wine in this way you are taking charge of the wine’s sweetness and no longer are at the mercies of a wine must’s ability to ferment or not ferment. If you’d like, you can also think about it as taking control or your wine’s alcohol content – particularly if you are using a wine hydrometer to help you target an finished alcohol level.
Happy Wine Making,
Ed Kraus
Ed Kraus is a 3rd generation home brewer/winemaker and has been an owner of E. C. Kraus since 1999. He has been helping individuals make better wine and beer for over 25 years.

0 thoughts on “Double The Sugar To Sweeten The Wine… Wrong!

  1. Paul, wine does not get sweeter while in the bottle, but what it does do is become less harsh or smoother. Some will say more mellow. This is due to the aging process a wine goes through. This will often give the impression that the wine is become sweeter, when in fact, it is becoming less harsh.

  2. You made a comment in the article above ‘Double the sugar——” about adding potassium sorbate and sodium metabisulfite to the finished wine at bottling. I am a sweet wine person and have used wine conditioner in almost all my wine (400 gal. over 7 years). Should I have been adding sodium metabisulfite at bottling also, and for what purpose?
    AS a request, wine conditioner in a 1000 ML bottle would be a help on cost. It is only available in 500 ML bottles as far as I know.

  3. You recommend adding Campden tablets or metabisulfites to wine at bottling time to help preserve color and to protect the wine from oxidation! Do you still add Ascorbic Acid or do you use one or the other since this does the same thing?

    • Ed, The effects of ascorbic acid are stronger and longer lasting when used in combination with either Metabisulfites or Campden Tablets. For this reason it is recommended that one of these be added at the same time, just before bottling. –

  4. When using your wine making receipies using my own fruit is there still reason to do an acid test of the must and if so when would this be done? Would anything change the longer the pulp stays in the straining bag towards the end of the 5 to 7 days it calls to soak the bag in all the ingredients as you get more juice out of the pulp?

    • Ed, if you have a solid, proven recipe, which our recipes are, then it is possible to get by without monitoring your juice’s acidity. Just add the ingredients to your juice as called for in the recipe. These recipes, will usually put your acidity in the correct range for a sound fermentation. A final tweaking of acidity can be done at bottling time either by taste or by testing. If you leave the fruit pulp in too long it could add too much tannin to the wine causing it to have a bitter taste.

  5. I have 5gal of cherry and 5gal of Concord grape fermenting! I have never used oak chips before and would like to try them on these wines! I know its not an easy question because of peoples taste in wine but what are you thoughts on maybe which of the types you offer that i could try and what i might end up with?

  6. Can you use just campden tables to stop fermentation and clear up the wine and how many times should you use campden tablets to clear the wine

    • Jerry, unfortunately, adding campden tablets to stop a fermentation is no guarantee. While it is true that Campden Tablets can bring a fermentation to its knees for a period of time, it is also true that these fermentations will usually gather themselves back up and eventually overcome the effects of the tablets. This could happen after the wine is bottled. The article posted below will discuss this further.
      What Campden Tablets Can And Can’t Do

  7. If i want to bulk age a wine in a 5 gal carboy and i want to back sweeten do i sweeten first then age or sweeten when i”m ready to bottle?

  8. I clear my wines with Bentonite and follow with Sparkloid and that works great but after sitting in the bottle for a time i get what i call a light ” dust” in the bottom of the bottle! If i were to filter with your # 2 polishing pads would that take the “dust” out ? Thanks for all the helpful information on you site!!!!

  9. Once again thanks for all the great tips! I make a lot of fruit wines and i use your receipies! My question is if i want to use Bentonite do i wait and add it in the carboy during the secondary fermentation or is it added during primary fermentation with the pulp in the straining bag ?

    • Ed, bentonite is a wine clarifying agent that helps clear the wine, is not added until after the fermentation is complete.

      • if you want to filter your homemade wines do you add the sulfites and backsweeten before or after you filter? I am thinking about filtering but not sure what order to do this before bottling!

        • Ed, you want to back-sweeten and prepare for bottling after you filter the wine. The sugar will cause the filter pads to clog.