Sweetening Homemade Wine

January 22, 2008 at 10:31 pm (Wine Recipes, Winemaking, Winemaking Tips) (, , , , )

Let’s start with the basics.  When your wine is properly fermented, there is no residual sugar.  In other words, all of the sugar, whether it’s from the fruit or the stuff you added, it’s all gone.  Every bit of it has been turned into alcohol, carbon dioxide, and some other stuff we won’t discuss.

So your juice is now wine.  It has been sitting in a carboy for a couple of months and it is beautifully clear.  Time to bottle.  Only you want a wine that is sweet, not dry.  I believe it is a common misconception that you somehow stop fermentation with some sugar left over.  Nope.

Here’s the secret.  We add more sugar.  Yep, that’s it.  You absolutely must also add something to stop the yeast from getting reactivated.  The common chemical for that is Potassium Sorbate.  A 6-gallon batch of wine needs only one tablespoon to inhibit the yeast from partying again once the sugar is added.

So how do you decide how much sugar to add?  It’s basically trial and error.  What you do is make a syrup of 2 cups of sugar to 1 cup of water, heat it until it’s clear, then let it cool a bit (this gives you 500 ml of solution).

Now draw off a 50 ml portion of your wine and start adding sugar solution by the drop.  I do this rather crudely, but basically I’ll add 5 drops and try it, then another 5 and try it again.  You end up with less and less liquid, so once you think you got it right, you might want to try again.  When the taste is where you like it, calculate how much sugar solution you need.  The formula for this is:  (# drops) x (45) = the number of ml of solution for a 6 gallon batch of wine.

I rack the wine to a bottling bucket (a 7 gallon plastic bucket with a stopcock) and mix in the Sorbate and the calculated sugar.  Stir the sugar in well, then bottle.  Give the wine a couple of weeks to recover from bottle shock and give it a try.

Now that you know this, if you are drinking some wine and you think it would be better if it was a bit sweeter, add a little table sugar.  That’s all the winery is doing.  Cheers.



  1. Sandy said,

    I need help real bad, I just finished a batch of 5 gallons of fruit wine and I added to much sugar syrup in the wine. It is to sweet, almost like syrup. Can I save this wine and do something to it to make it not to sweet. I also added potassium sorbate to it . Please help me. I perfer an email. Thank you for any information you can give me to resolve my problem.


    • Phil said,

      Hey sandy,

      In your case I can think of two options that you could use. The first being to find a dry wine that you can blend with your batch and add it in to taste. Use something that complements your batch. The second is to try to thin it out with water, which should be a last resort but is better then dumping the whole batch.


  2. Sandy said,

    Thanks for the email Phil, I really appreciate it very much.
    I am going to add some dry wine to my batch and see what happens, the worse is that I already bottled it and now I need to uncork them and put the wine back in the carboy and add the dry wine. It’s a lot of work, but I don’t want to lose any of the hard work I did to make this wine. It’s rhubarb and red grape wine.
    Thanks you for everything.

  3. sandra said,

    This is my first attempt at making homemade wine. I made pomagranate/blueberry wine i bottled it and opened a bottle today and it is fizzing. Did the wine go bad. What can I do to stop the fizzing?

    • Scott said,

      I can take a guess, but you’ve got to give me more information. It sounds like one of three possibilities.
      1. You added sugar to sweeten the wine but didn’t put Potassium Sorbate (or enough) to inhibit yeast reproduction, so it started fermenting again.
      2. You didn’t let it sit long enough in the carboy for the CO2 to find its way out before you bottled.
      3. The wine wasn’t done fermenting in the first place.
      Tell me more and I might be able to help more.

  4. tuss said,

    You have to add sod met to the wine also — if you just add sorbate and get a secondary fermentation (malolactic) it will taste like geraniums.

    • Scott said,

      I don’t completely agree. I prefer potassium metabisufate over the sodium salt. I believe the sorbate will inhibit the secondary fermentation, the sulfate limits the damage due to oxidation, but you have to be careful. Too much and you will smell it and possibly taste it.

      On Tue, Jun 4, 2013 at 1:58 PM, Homemade Wine

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  6. NickC said,

    I will be doing this process in a couple months, just a couple questions:
    Should i add the potassium sorbate and campden tablets along with the sweetener just prior to bottling or mix it all inside the carboy and let it sit for a week or two before bottling?
    I see different opinions on every website i read.
    First time making homemade wine..

    • Scott said,

      You really can’t do it in the carboy. When you add the sugar water, your volume increases a bunch and it won’t fit.

      I do this all the day of bottling. Boil the sugar water and then let it cool. Dissolve the chemicals you need into a little water. Siphon the wine to a bottling bucket, add in the chemicals and stir gently. Then add in the sugar water and stir some more. Now bottle.

      • NickC said,

        Thanks a lot Scott!

  7. n2006cos said,

    sorry Scott one more question, any chance i could use a natural honeybees honey to sweeten the wine that my girlfriends uncle makes overseas here in Portugal..? its pretty thick lol straight from their hive.. any idea how it could be done? just an idea

    • Scott said,

      When you use honey as the sweetener, it’s called mead. There are other recommended yeasts and the mead has different aging requirements. My friend and I have tried it twice but were not particularly successful.

      • n2006cos said,

        okay ill stick to the sugar lol thanks again!

  8. tanja bailey said,

    Hi Scott, How much wine conditioner and how much potassium sorbate do I need to use ?

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