Just over a week ago, I touched on the location and quality control measures taken in order to create Champagne, as described by Champagne Bureau. Today I took in a bit about making Champagne. It’s quite an intricate process, worth of sharing.
As I noted last week, only three type of grapes are allowed in Champagne. Once the best are harvested by hand, they are whisked off to press houses to be readied for their first fermentation.
Freshly pressed juice is stored in open vats made of either stainless steel or oak barrels. Yeast is added here, so the conversion of sugars to alcohol and CO2 begins, yielding a still wine (still wine is simply wine without effervescence).
Next step in creating Champagne is for the still wine to be blended with other base wines, by the cellar master. This makes a cuvée (blend) that matches the house style. Cellar masters may create a cuvée from 70+ base wines. After mixing the blend, the wine is poured into the bottle in which it will be sold. The cellar master then adds the liqueur de tirage, a mixture of sugar, yeast and old wine. The addition of this will induce the bubbles (mousse) during the wine’s second fermentation once it’s closed up with a cap and laid horizontally in a cool, dark cellar.
The wine is fermented a second time for at least 3 months in the bottle. This process is often called “capturing the sparkle.” During this time, CO2 and dead yeast cells form inside, producing the tiny, effervescent bubbles that are typical of Champagne.
After completing its second fermentation, the Champagne is aged in the bottle for up to 3 years, with finer Champagnes aging for even longer than 6 years.
Once the Champagne has finished aging, the maker removes the dead yeast cells from the bottle without losing precious carbonation. This process is called riddling, which takes about 8 weeks if done by hand, or 8 days by machine.
Disgorgement and Dosage
The process of disgorgement freezes the necks of the Champagne bottles, which creates a small ice plug in the bottle top, trapping the dead yeast sediment. When the crown caps are removed, the pressure shoots both the ice and yeast sediment out of the bottle, as well as a small amount of the Champagne itself. The wine lost is replaced by what is referred to as dosage, which is a small mixture of sugar, dissolved in wine, added into the bottle before corking.
Voila! You have Champagne. A bit of bubbly might not be so bad right about now… Of course, in honor of American Craft Beer Week I’ll most likely have a brew but, hmmm… maybe both.
[techtags:MAKING CHAMPAGNE, CHAMPAGNE CLASSIC METHOD, CHAMPAGNE]