Are You Sweetening A Wine Before Bottling? Then Read This…

Man Sweetening A Wine Before BottlingThis is my first time making apple wine. So far it is racked into it’s secondary. Once ready to bottle, do I add a campden tablet to kill any remaining yeast and then add some sugar to make a sweeter apple wine? I have tried to do some research, but have found myself more confused.

Name: Matt
State: Virginia
Hello Matt,

First, thank you for such the great question. Sweetening a wine before bottling is a subject that causes great confusion among many novice winemakers.

Most of the confusion surrounds the thought that Campden tablets will kill yeast. For the most part this is true. Campden tablets will kill yeast… so long as it’s a wild yeast! But, if you use a domesticated wine yeast to make your wine – just like everybody does in this century – it’s a completely different story.

Domesticated wine yeast, such as that produced by Lalvin or Red Star, have been acclimated to the active ingredient in Campden tablets, sulfite. In other words, these domesticate yeast strains have been bred to become somewhat immune to effects of sulfite.

This does not mean that using Campden tablets will not kill some of the wine yeast. In fact, it will kill some or even a significant part of the yeast colony, depending on how many tablets you use, but it will not kill all of the wine yeast. This is where the problem comes in for the home winemaker sweetening a wine before bottling.

Shop Campden TabletsIf you are sweetening a wine before bottling it is essential that the wine yeast be dealt with so that it cannot start re-growing a colony again. Campden tablets will not do this. It may put a momentary dent in the yeasts’ ability to ferment, but it does not take away their ability to propagate and grow back into numbers that can cause a winemaker some grief in the form of a rejuvenated fermentation.

If only Campden tablets are used when sweetening a wine before bottling, then there is a decent chance that a fermentation will occur in the wine bottle. The result is a buildup of pressure from the CO2 gas, and eventually one of two things will happen: either the corks will start popping out, or the wine bottles will fail. Neither one is a good thing.

So Matt, I imagine by this time you are wondering, what are you supposed to do when sweetening a wine before bottling? It’s really pretty straight forward. And, you almost had the right idea.

Sweeten The wine To Taste:
Most home winemakers will use cane sugar as a sweetener, but you can try sweetening the wine with honey, corn sugar, beet sugar, etc. There is room for experimentation. Just realize that regardless of whatever you use, it needs to be completely dissolved and evenly blended into the wine. Don’t skimp on the stirring.

Add Campden Tablets To The Wine:
For sure, you want to add sulfites such as Campden tablets. You can also use potassium metabisulfite or sodium metabisulfite, instead. Both of these work in the same way as Campden tablets. The only difference is that they are in a granulated form. If using Campden tablets, add one per gallon. If you are using either potassium metabisulfite or sodium metabisulfite, add 1/16 of a teaspoon per gallon.Shop Potassium Bisulfite

Add Potassium Sorbate To The Wine:
Up to now I have not mentioned potassium sorbate, (aka, wine stabilizer) but it is the real key to sweetening a wine before bottling. Potassium sorbate does not kill or destroy yeast, wild or domestic, but instead, it stops them from reproducing.

Any yeast fermentation thrives on the fact that a single yeast cell can reproduce itself several times before it dies. It does so through a process called budding. A little bud will emerge from the yeast’s cell wall. The bud will eventually separate and become its own yeast cell. This is how a yeast colony propagates throughout a fermentation. If the yeast cannot reproduce, then the fermentation cannot sustain itself.

This is where potassium sorbate comes in. Potassium sorbate interrupts the reproductive process by coating the yeasts’ outer cell outer wall, making budding impossible. If the yeast cannot bud, the colony will not flourish.

The recommended dosage for potassium sorbate is 1/2 teaspoon per gallons.

Additional Thoughts:
One thing you can do to insure the success when sweetening a wine before bottling is to give the wine plenty of time so that it is can drop out as much yeast as possible. Yeast will fall to the bottom when they run out of sugar to feed on, but it takes time for these very fine particles to fall completely out through gravity. To help speed up the process you can treat the wine with bentonite then follow it up with a polish fining agent such as isinglass or Kitosol 40.Shop Potassium Sorbate

Also realize that Campden tablets and potassium sorbate will have little if any effect on an active fermentation, so do not try to use these ingredients to stop a fermentation in progress. Domesticated wine yeast are too immune to sulfites, and the amount of potassium sorbate it would take to coat such a large number of active yeast cells makes the dosage required unreasonable.

That’s pretty much the ins-and-outs of sweetening a wine before bottling. To summarize quickly, you give the wine plenty of wine to drop out the the excessive yeast cells. Even use a wine clarifier. Then sweeten the wine to taste, and then add the Campden tablets, then the potassium sorbate.

Happy Winemaking!

63 thoughts on “Are You Sweetening A Wine Before Bottling? Then Read This…

  1. I really like your sight.]
    I am learning as much as i can about making wine. thank you

  2. I put the Campden tablets in every time I rack my carboys. I use 1 Campden tablet per gallon of wine. When I bottle my wine I put in a wine stabilizer so it doesn’t start to re-ferment. After I let it sit for a couple of days then I sweeten it up to taste. When you use the stabilizer the chances are slim that it starts to re-ferment in the bottle.

  3. I am in the process of making pear wine, organic from our trees, spring water and just Red Star yeast. Our little store in wine making near us went ape because I didn’t use Potassium Metabisulphite -3 tablespoons for 5 gallon jug. So the next two batches I did as she instructed. Waited one day for one caldron and two for the next. NOTHING….no yeast activity at all. Can I save my pear wine?? Or just forget it and start more? I have no idea why this happened even tho I am trying to read everything I can get my hands on…including all your great write ups!! Thank you for any help!

    • Cindy, it sounds like you may have added way to much potassium metabisulfite to the juice and this is why the yeast is not working. The normal dosage for our metabisulfite is 1/16 teaspoon for each gallon of juice. The article below will tell you what you need to do to help get the sulfites to leave the juice.

      Too Much Sulfite

  4. My redcurrant wine has been sitting in a 1-gallon carboy since November and I would like to back-sweeten it before bottling. It is looking clear but presumably there must be a thin layer of fine ‘bits’ that have sunk to the bottom of the carboy… Should I rack the clear wine off this and into a new carboy before adding the potassium sorbate and sugar, and giving it a stir? And, if I were to rack it into a new carboy, should I add an additional campden tablet for that racking? (and again another one when I bottle it?).

    At the moment, my plan of action would be the following. Is this correct?
    1. rack into new carboy with a campden tablet
    2. add potassium sorbate and sugar
    3. add another campden tablet and bottle.

    On a different note, for wine that isn’t clearing, at which stage would you recommend adding bentonite?
    Many thanks for your help and blog posts – they are so much appreciated.

    • Hannah, yes you do need to rack the wine away from the sediment before sweetening. If you plan to bottle the wine immediately after transferring the wine once you sweeten it, you only need to add the one campden tablet. If you plan to leave it sit a while before you actually bottle it, you would need to add another campden tablet at bottling time.

  5. Hi Ed

    I recently made some wine from fruit tea bags and apple juice but when I added the Campden tablet and 1/2 tsp of potassium sorbate prior to sweetening the wine instantly changed colour from a lovely clear pink yo a murky yellow. Also the taste appears to have changed becoming very acidic almost chemical. Have you got any advice to avoid this and how can I salvage the wine that formerly seemed quite good. Thanks

    • Richard, we have heard on rare occasions when adding potassium sorbate or campden tablets that the color may change temporarily but it should change back. However, neither of those ingredients will add more acidity to the wine.

  6. Why is there no mention of wine conditioner in this discussion? Does wine conditioner stop fermentation and sweeten the wine?

    • Phil, Wine Conditioner contains potassium sorbate/wine stabilizer, the stabilizer in the wine conditioner will not stop a fermentation. There are no wine making products you can use that will safely do so. The wine stabilizer in the wine conditioner will only stop a fermentation from re-occurring. The following article will discuss this in more detail.

      Does Wine Conditioner Stop Fermentation

  7. Hi
    Love your tips. I’m new at wine making. Have two apple trees that really produce.
    Also have access to Mature Minnesota pear tree. Have blended apple & pear juice,
    Have eighteen gallons in glass carbon with air locks at sixty degrees. How long till I bottle.

    • Bob, your wine is ready to bottle when the fermentation is complete and the wine is clear. The fermentation is complete when the specific gravity reading on the hydrometer reaches .998 or less. You say that the temperature of the juice is at 60 degrees. Most wine yeast like to ferment between 70-75 degrees. Anything cooler that that and you might have a stuck fermentation. For more information about when your wine is ready to bottle, please take a look at the article listed below.

      When Is My Wine Ready To Bottle

  8. Could you please clarify this comment: “The recommended dosage for potassium sorbate is 1/2 teaspoon per gallons.”. It’s that per gallon or per 5 gallons?

  9. Very good point on each. 1. Campden Tablets. 2. Potassium Sorbate. 3. Wine Conditioner/Sugar. 4. Hydrometer. 5. Cleaning/Sanitizing all equipment. 6. Good Fruit. —- Top factors in making good home made wine.
    Life’s Good!

  10. I think I may have ruined my mulberry wine. I set it to ferment the 30th of May. I reracked it on June 3 and added a campden tablet. It fermented the second time and had finished on July 7 so I sweetened it (I like sweet wine!) and added a campden tablet. But I did not bottle it. I thought I had to let it set to clear first so it has been setting already sweetened and clearing. It has not started to re ferment since I added the sugar and it smells ok but I am afraid it may not be good. How can I tell? I am very new at this and look so forward to your teaching and at 82 I guess I can make a mistake but would like to not make any more!

    • Colleen, Letting it sit before bottling is not an issue as long as you add sulfites to preserve the wine. However, you do not mention adding potassium sorbate when you back-sweetened the wine. That is what keeps it from fermenting the newly added sugar. If you bottle it now it could start to re-ferment and the corks could pop or even worse the bottles could explode.I would not say that it is ruined, but you need to let it ferment out the added sugar until the gravity reaches .998 or less. Then you can add potassium sorbate and sweeten the wine again before bottling.

      • I keep seeing mention of letting the wine reach below .998 on a hydrometer. I’m new to wine makings, but I was under the impression that a lower reading indicated drier wines, while a 1.025 and above were for sweeter wines?
        The hydrometer is a very confusing topic for me because so many places say that it’s not ready until it reads under an amount, but so many places also say higher is sweeter.

  11. Be cognitive of the fact that the addition of campden tablets can cause discoloration of your wine. I have never found any information regarding the effects of campden tablets on wine color. I made some beautiful colored red Muscadine wine, sweetened it, added campden tablets (1 per gallon), and potassium sorbate and then the wine changed from red to orange/brown. I ran a bench trail on my next batch to determine if the potassium sorbate or the campden tablets was the root cause of the color change. The culprit was campden tablets. A year later the wine is still orange/red in color but the taste was not impacted.

    • I’m SO GLAD to see your comment! This has happened to my 1st batch of muscadine wine. Was red and after adding potassium sorbate and potassium metabusulfite it has lightened to the color of kinda dark urine. 😳 I had some friends come over for tasting for back sweetening and it tastes ok. That color though! Doesn’t look anything like purple muscadines.

  12. ok so I am understanding that there is no way to stop a fermentation,, my last batch I made was watermelon wine, I was checking the SG every day near the end, and taste, when it got to SG=1.030, wow it really tasted good, the flavor was out of this world GREAT, so I thought I had done good, but then I let it continue to finish fermenting, to SG= 0.995, another wow but bad wow, it lost much of the flavor, it still has a small flavor taste, so I was thinking to myself that the next batch, I would stop it at the point where it tasted good, and not worry about ABV, now you shot me down. WHAT can I do to accomplish this???

    • James, it is true that there is no successful way to guarantee that you can permanently stop a fermentation before it completes. You need to let the fermentation complete. It is also true that the wine is dry when the fermentation completes and this does cause the wine to lose some of the fruit flavor. A way to regain the fruit flavor is to back-sweeten the wine before bottling. The article posted below will discuss this further. If you want the wine to have a lower alcohol content, you would reduce the amount of sugar added. You can use your hydrometer to determine how much to add.

      Bring Back Fruit Flavors
      Lowering The Alcohol Content

  13. I bottled my wine before allowing it to stop fermenting. Several corks popped. However, the corks that did not pop since I bottled the batch nine months ago. The wine was fine. And no sugar was left on the bottom of the bottles. -This year I will wait for the fermenting to stop for about 3 months in the carboy. This is my 3rd year making wine from my back yard grape vine. This is a great web site for info. Thank You

  14. Thanks for the guides.

    Please on the dosage of potassium sorbate ibread 1/2 teaspoon per gallon. Gallon of how many litres?there are many sizes of gallon. Kindly indicate the intended size.

    Thanks so much

    • Elizabeth, one US gallon is 3.79 liters. So for every 3.79 liters, you would need 1/2 teaspoon of potassium sorbate.

  15. Finished my second fermentation, re-racked, added the proper amount of potassium metabisulfite. Now I’m guessing I’m at the bulk aging stage. Two questions: 1) is it still recommend to add sorbate even if I didnt back sweeten? I will still add another dose of potassium metabisulfite right before racking and bottling. 2) if I use a clearing agent, what is recommend, how long before I bottle, but most important will it strip flavor and color? I’ve read some articles that if I just let it sit long enough like I am doing through the bulk aging, it will clear almost perfect anyway with no loss. P.s. ive been following your site n blog and your patience is tremendous. Myself included, you answer alot of the same questions over and over as if it was a new question even though the answers are there with a little looking. Hats off, thank you.

    • Thanks Mark for the kind words. As for the potassium sorbate, there is no reason to add it to a wine that has not been back-sweetened. If the yeast have no sugar available to them, they will simply become dormant and settle to the bottom. As for fining agents, most wines will clear up sufficiently on their own if given enough time. Every so often there can be a troublesome wine that will have difficulties clearing but this is not the norm. Since you are bulk-aging your wine, you’ll have time to find out where your wine stands. You can add a fining agent later if necessary. In general fining agents will not remove the better qualities of a wine. They tend to strip out excessive tannins and other proteins that contribute to harsher flavors. Again, an acceptable amount of these proteins will precipitate out of the wine on their own if given some time. As for color, you may notice a very minor lightening of the wine’s color with some fining agents. This is because some color pigment is taken out, but some will fall out anyway with time, so the net result is about the same.

  16. If your wine has reached peak alcohol level you can sweeten during bottling and not worry about the yeast starting to brew again as most yeasts die around 19-21% alcohol I. Used this process with my Mead for years and never had a problem I do however rack my wine 3 to four times over about a year or 2 bulk aging in 6 gallon carboys before bottling

    • Michael, You just need to make sure that you add the potassium sorbate at the same time you add the sugar to sweeten the wine or before. The campden tablets should be at right before bottling.

  17. My wine is not as thick of a peach taste as I would like. Due to the issues of back sweetening.. can I add peach schnapps to the batch before botteling,

  18. How long after adding the Potassium Sorbate and Campden pills do I have to wait to sweeten it? This is my 4th year of making wine but the first time I’ve had to sweeten it. Thank-you.

    • Melody, you can sweeten the wine anytime after adding potassium sorbate, you do not need to wait. The campden tablets need to be added at bottling time.

  19. great info but have ? how much cane sugar if i use to sweeten red wine is recomened to a gallon of wine before bottling.
    not realy sure how much to use. I know you said a 1/8 teaspoon of potassium metabisulphite which i will use to i’ m new at wine making have read your blogs and its my go to for good info on winemaking
    thanks john

    • John, unfortunately, because everyone’s perception of sweetness is different, there is no way to tell you how much sugar to add. What we recommend, is taking out a measured amount, keeping track of how much it took to get to the sweetness level that you like, then multiply that amount by the rest of the batch to help avoid over-sweetening the entire batch.

  20. Thank You!
    I was wondering why my banana wine restarted fermenting. I waited until it stopped, and after tasting it, I decided it needed sweetening so added some sugar. Now I know why.

  21. I haven’t made a lot of wine yet. Most of the things I’m trying are things I learned from my grandfather who started making wine during prohibition. Most of his wines were made from berries, root crops, and weeds. His wines were very sweet but his process was to freeze the wine and skim the ice off the top. He said it raised the alcohol content and left more of the flavor. Is freezing a decent way to kill yeast? I’ve tried back sweetening some of the wine I’ve made that way and haven’t had a problem with fermentation starting again so I’m wondering if the freezing is what made the difference.

    • Will, unfortunately, there is no guarantee that freezing the wine will prevent fermentation. There is still a possibility that some viable yeast is left and it could start to ferment again.

  22. Want to make strawberry wine. So when my hydrometer drops to below.998 , I rack off after it settles awhile. If I want to back sweeten I add sugar and then sorbate . When would I add the bentonite and the kitosol?

  23. My specific gravity started at 1.116 and now is .990. My fermentation still seems to be active as my airlock keeps bubbling. Am I safe to bottle?

    • Jules, if your hydrometer reading is accurate, the fermentation is complete. It could still be releasing CO2 from the fermentation. You will want the wine degassed before bottling. For more on degassing wine, please see the article link posted below.

      Degassing Homemade Wine

  24. Hi, I may have made a mistake in my red raspberry wine. I have racked it a few times and this time I got a nice clear wine and decided to stabilize and back sweeten. My mistake is that I did not wait after stabilizing to add the sugar and incremented juice. Did I ruined my wine?

    • Nora, you did not ruin your wine at all. You do not need to wait after adding potassium sorbate to sweeten the wine. You can add the potassium sorbate and the sugar to sweeten at the same time.

  25. I don’t understand why lots of people say you shouldn’t shake the carboy to degas it. If I add stabilizer and let it sit for a week, I assume that the headspace is entirely CO2 by that time. So if I’m shaking the wine (and slightly releasing the top to periodically let it out – how could that get oxygen into the wine?

    Assuming I’m right, too, does the degassing all have to be done on the same day? Surely it would be fine to shake the carboy for a few minutes each day, instead of 30 minutes (workout!) on one day? Obviously more time would be needed to let the wine settle, but could anything else be a problem?

    Thx for all the very clear explanations, btw!

  26. Could you tell me if it is not recommended to use malolactic bacteria with wine you plan to back sweeten wine? The grapes we grow and have processed to make wine tend to make a somewhat acidic wine and we thought the malolactic bacteria would counter that issue, but we read that if you use malolactic bacteria, you should not then use potassium sorbate when back sweetening the wine. Is this true?

    • Cindi, if you plan to introduce a malolactic fermentation, you do not want to add sulfites or potassium sorbate before doing so because it will interfere with the fermentation. You can still add it after it completes and sweeten the wine.

  27. I split a batch of peach wine and back sweetened part with honey and part with sugar and the bottled them. The wine with sugar is clear. The wine with honey was cloudy and you could see something floating around. Now it has settled on the bottom. Did I not mix it enough? Is there any way to mix it in better without emptying all the bottles? Thanks.

    • It is possible that you did not stir the honey enough. But it is possible that there is some kind of coagulation going on with the proteins in the honey combining with the proteins in the peach. If this is the case, it is not something that is foreseeable. Other than to say, peach has more proteins that your average fruit, and honey definitely has more proteins that can sugar. It created a perfect storm, so to speak. My be guess is that it will settle out either way. It that point you may have some rebottling options.

  28. Hi, I’m a bit confused. My wine is ready to bottle and I’m going to sweeten it first. Do I just add the stabiliser, add the sugar and then add the Camden tablet and bottle on the same day or do I need to spread this out? Any info would be great. Also, what does racking mean? Complete newbie!

    • Christopher, You do not need to spread it out. It can all be done on the same day if you want. However, you can add the stabilizer and sweetener prior to bottling. You do want to bottle immediately after adding the campden tablets.

  29. I added sugar and bottled my wine. Today, it looks like there’s a bit of sediment at the bottom of the bottles, it’s whiteish in colour. Could I have not mixed the sugar well enough? Can my wine be saved? Can I re bottle and filter it or something? Please help!

    • Christooher, I suppose that is a possibility. However, did you add potassium sorbate before you back sweetened your wine. That is what keeps it from re-fermenting the newly added sugar. If you did not, the wine fermenting in the bottles and that is the source of the sediment. It could also be from acid precipitation or perhaps you bottled the wine too soon. For more information, please take a look at the article link posted below.

      Sediment In Bottles

  30. Great information. When sweetening with sugar do I need to boil a syrup or can I add straight granular sugar?

    • John, It is best to dissolve the sugar in warm warm, let it cool and then add it to the wine when back-sweetening. Doing it this way, will assure that the sure mixes thoroughly into the wine.

  31. My wine was crystal clear and I sweetened it two days ago. Used recommended amounts of potassium sorbate and Camden tablets. It’s fermenting again to the point the air lock is bubbling. Do I wait it out or add more sorbate?

  32. I obviously did not add enough potassium sorbate, as 4 of my bottles popped their corks. I was storing them in a cold stairwell- and now that stairwell has warmed up some. (only about 72 in there but was much colder this past winter) Is there any way to salvage the remaining bottles? If the other corks do not pop, will the wine be ok? If I cool the bottles, will that help- or should I just empty the 20+ remaining bottles and cut my losses? UGH! 1st time it’s happened to me!
    thanks for any help you can throw my way!

  33. Hi there, I am currently brewing my second batch of wine, a pinot grigio. The fermenting stage is over and I have racked it into a new carboy to see if any further sediment will drop. It looks really good and I was ready to bottle but had a taste first, and I would like to sweeten it with dextrose as I find it rather dry. From what I gather, I need to mix the dextrose in warm water so the sugar dissolves completely, then add a package of potassium sorbate to ensure no refermenting. Will adding the sugar with water dim down the alcohol content?

  34. don’t know where you get the idea that so2 will kill wild yeast, it won’t unless you put in so much the wine would be undrinkable. it may kill some of them and stun some others but it won’t kill them all. bottle bombs could be the result depending on other factors.

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