Champagne, what’s all the fuss about? Well, the road from harvest to seeing the finished product on the shelves is long and winding, littered with precarious rope bridges and trolls aplenty. We’ve listed the painstaking process Champagne producers go through to see the dream realised…
1. Harvest: Harvest in Champagne generally occurs around mid October. Although 8 varietals are permitted in the production of Champagne, the most widely used are: Pinot Meunier, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. Generally, the Pinot Meunier is the first varietal to be harvested, followed by Chardonnay and then Pinot Noir. Grapes will be hand harvested in order to ensure that the grapes are brought in clean and undamaged.
2. Pressing: Grapes will be pressed as soon as possible, especially with Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier, as skin contact with these dark skinned varieties will soon begin to taint the juice if left on the skins. Two pressings are utilized here. The first press is called the “cuvee” which is considered the finer, more high quality juice. The second pressing is called the “tailles” (or tails) and considered of lesser quality.
3. First Fermentation: Next, the first of two fermentations takes place. A key factor in this first fermentation is that it be relatively quick and warm. The emphasis here is to produce a relatively neutral wine that is high in acidity.
4. Blending: The blending process in Champagne is what sets this region apart from just about any other wine producing region in the world. Whereas most wine regions produce a new vintage of a particular wine every year, the Champenoise are master blenders. Although in a good year many domains will produce a vintage champagne, the Champenoise pride themselves on their masterful skills of blending multiple vintages to create a signature “house style”.
5. Second Fermentation: Once a blend has been created, a mixture of still wine, sugar and yeast will be added to the blended wine. This mixture is known as the “liqueur de triage”. Here, active yeast will begin consuming the available sugar, resulting in the anaerobic production of alcohol within the bottle, which has been sealed with a crown cap similar to that on a beer bottle. This car will later be replaced with a cork, meaning the bottle the fermentation process take place in is the one that will reach the shelves of your preferred retailer. A by-product of thie fermentation process is the production of carbon dioxide, ordinarily the gas produced escapes from the open top fermenters but as this process is occurring inside a sealed bottled the gas is absorbed by the wine and the bubbles are born.
6. Lees Ageing: Following the completion of the secondary fermentation, the wine will then begin a period of ageing in bottle where the wine will interact with the dead yeast cells (lees) and which will greatly influence the flavor and texture of the finished champagne. By law, non-vintage Champagne must age a minimum of 15 months on their lees, although most age between 18-24 months. Although some are aged for much longer, Edouard Brun’s Brut Nature (Zero sugar) Gran Cru Champagne is aged for a minimum of five years.
7. Riddling: Once the champagne has completed its extended lees ageing it will go through a process known as “riddling”. This procedure is aimed at loosening the dead yeast cells and sediment that has formed at the bottom of the bottle, and slowly moving it towards the neck of the bottle so it can be removed or disgorged. This process must be done methodically and over time so as not to disrupt the champagne in bottle.
8. Disgorgement: This process involves removing the dead yeast/sediment in the neck of the bottle. Most often this is achieved by submerging the neck of the champagne bottle into a cold brine, thus quickly freezing the dead yeast matter that has collected in the neck. Nowadays a machine quickly and efficiently completes this task but it used to be done by hand, the elaborate labels on the neck of a Champagne bottle were invented to disguise the fact that they had lost a small quantity of the precious liquid whilst doing so and that it was no longer filled all the way up.
9. Dosage: Before the champagne is re-corked, a measured amount of champagne and cane sugar will be added to the finished wine. This is known as the “liqueur d’expedition”. The amount of this mixture, known as “dosage” will in effect determine the final sweetness level and style of champagne.
10. Re-corking: We are now in the home stretch! The fermented, blended, fermented (again), aged, riddled, disgorged and dosaged sparking wine is finally ready to be bottled and manipulated for the last time. After a cork is inserted, a protective wire cap is placed over the bottle to help secure the cork and bottle. The wine is then shaken vigorously, in order to help integrate the wine with the liqueur d’expedition.
It’s as easy as that!