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Using Campden Tablets: The How, When And Why

Campden TabletsI crushed fresh Syrah juice from grapes last September into 3 six-gallon plastic fermenters w/air gaps. I added 1 Campden tablet per gallon into the 3 six gallon plastic fermenters 24 hr. before adding the wine yeast. I separated out the sediment in January. I plan to bottle in mid-May. From your guidance, I plan to add 1 Campden tab per gallon before bottling. Should I have also added Campden tabs when fermentation was finished in September? I tasted the wine in January and it tasted good.

Name: Brad T.
State: California

Hello Brad,

This is a great question about using Campden tablets. I'll need to answer this from a couple of different perspectives.

When you add Campden tablets to a wine, your are essentially adding sulfites. Sulfites protect the wine by destroying any mold, bacteria or anything else that wants to grow in the wine. During the fermentation this is not a problem. It's when the must or wine is still that sulfites become important.

The issue is that over time the sulfites want to leave. They dissipate into the air as SO2 gas. For example, the Campden tablets you added before the fermentation are long-gone by the time the fermentation ended. So there is a need to replenish the sulfites to keep the wine totally protected.

From a winery's point of view, you always want 40 to 70 PPM (parts-per-million) of sulfite in the wine after the fermentation. The winery will measure and maintain this level all the way through the clearing process and on to bottling. They can easily afford the time and effort to do this because a lot of wine is at stake.

From an individual's point of view, it may be a little overkill to constantly test the sulfites and make adjustments as called for — particularly if you're only making 5 or 6 gallons at a time, and you're going to bottle the wine in a few weeks, anyway.

So as a compromise, I recommend using Campden tablets directly after the fermentation, then again, right before bottling. So to summarize, you are adding sulfites:

  • 24 hours before fermentation
  • After the fermentation
  • Right before bottling.

By handling the wine in this way you can keep the wine more evenly protected without a lot of effort on your part with tests and measurements.

From a home winery's point of view, say you are making 30, 50, 100 gallons, you may want to spend the time and energy to keep track of your sulfites. This can be done with Titret Test Vials and the Hand Tool that works with it. By running this test you can determine the sulfites that are currently in your wine, in PPM, and how much you need to add, if any.

You may also want to switch to a Campden tablet substitute such as potassium metabisulfite or sodium metabisulfite. These both come in a granulated form. They add sulfites to the must or wine, just as Campden tablets, but they come in a granulated form. It's much easier to use when needing larger amounts. Instead of crushing up a bunch of tablets, you just measure it out by the teaspoon.

Happy Winemaking,
Ed Kraus
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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.

Comments (6)

Name: Scott B.
Time: Thursday, August 1, 2013

As a follow up to this when sulfating following the "Individual's POV" should 1 Campden tablet (or equivalent) per gallon be used or con we go with a lower concentration?
Thank you.

Name: Art K
Time: Thursday, August 1, 2013

We've been making wine for approx 2-3 summers. We are experiencing high acid levels at bottling time. We start out in the pH range of 3.2 to 3.4 and end up after fermentation and aging with a 2.8 to 2.4. Do you have any suggestions on what we are doing incorrectly. We do add a water and sugar syrup to mask the acid.

Name: Customer Service
Time: Friday, August 2, 2013

Scott, obviously you can put in 3 or 4 Campden tablets to a 5 gallon batch, but the result is very simple. The lower you keep the sulfite level in the wine, the more likely it could spoil. Not an issue, particularly if you drink your wine in 6 month or less, but for wines that might age 1.. 2.. 5 years, I would think twice before shorting the dosage.

Name: Customer Service
Time: Friday, August 2, 2013

Art, acid levels can change through the coarse of a fermentation. A lot of this has to do with what you are fermenting. You usually don't see such a dramatic increase, but it can happen, particularly if you are fermenting concentrated juices that are not originally intended for making wine. You can get an excessive creation of succinic acid by the fermentation giving you lower pH readings.

Name: jerry
Time: Friday, August 2, 2013

are these question and answer fliers available in hard copy?

Name: Customer Service
Time: Saturday, August 3, 2013

Jerry, I am sorry but we do not have these articles in a 'hard copy' format.

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