Methode Champenoise - How The Traditional Method Is Used To Make Champagne
The harvest brings in all of the grapes used to start the champagne making process. Dude, you have to wait.
Step 1 - Pressing
Grapes are pressed quickly after harvesting. Extracted juice from the first press (“vin de cuvee”) is considered the highest quality. The 2nd pressing, “vin de taille” (or tails) is a lesser quality but richer in total pigments and tannins. After pressing, the juice settles and cools. The solids are then racked prior to first fermentation.
Step 2 - 1st Fermentation
The grape juice undergoes the first fermentation which results in a high acid base wine.
Step 3 - Blending
Blending is an important part of how the Champagne process works. Many different grapes, growing areas and vintages are blended to make a perfect assemblage. Superior growing years will produce vintage Champagne. However, more than 80% of the Champagne produced is non-vintage. Many houses declare vintage years and the last six listed are 2000, 2002, 2004, 2005, 2008 and 2010.
Step 4 - 2nd Fermentation
Prise de mousse (second fermentation) is the heart of the Methode Champenoise process. A mixture (liqueur de tirage) of still wine, sugar and yeast is added to the wine then affixed with a crown cap. Bottles are stored horizontally and a second fermentation begins, lasting up to eight weeks. Yeast slowly converts the sugars into a by-product of alcohol and carbon dioxide during this phase.
Step 5 - Lees Aging
The wine will age on lees (dead yeast cells) a minimum 15 months for non-vintage and 3 years for vintage, which will enhance the flavors of the final product.
Step 6 - Remuage / Riddling
After an extended period of lees aging, riddling (remuage in French) is performed. Bottles are placed on special racks called pupitres that hold them at a 45 degree angle, with the crown cap pointed down. Every few days or so the bottles are turned slightly, given a small shake and twist, and then dropped back into the pupitres with the angle gradually increased downward. This process pushes the dead yeast cells and sediment towards the neck of the bottle. Once the wines make their way to a fully upside down or vertical position (en masse), the yeast remains at the neck of the bottle ready to be disgorged.
Remuage Completion Times:
- A Remueur (bottle turner) can handle 40,000 bottles a day
- Manual riddling takes several months
- Mechanical riddling (using a gyro-palette) is accomplished in a week (80% use gyro-palettes today)
Step 7 - Disgorgement
After resting, there are two different ways to remove the bottleneck of dead yeast and sediment. The modern method of degorgement a la glace involves dipping the neck of the bottle into a freezing brine solution. The bottle is then turned upright where the force of internal pressure will expel the semi-frozen sediment (along with a small portion of the wine) as the crown cap is removed. An older method, degorgement a la volee, utilizes the same basic principle; however, without freezing the sediment first.
Step 8 - Dosage
The liquid lost from disgorgement is replaced with a “liqueur d’expedition” (a.k.a. dosage, pronounced ‘dose-ahhj’), which is a sugary mixture. The amount of sugar determines the overall sweetness of the Champagne.
Champagne Classifications Based on Sugar Dosages (g/l = grams per liter):
- Brut Nature = no added sugar or under 3 g/l
- Extra Brut = 0-6 g/l
- Brut = 0-12 g/l
- Extra sec (dry) = 12-17 g/l
- Sec = 17-32 g/l
- Demi Sec = 32-50 g/l
- Doux = 50+ g/l
See the guide to wine types for a visual chart which plots out sparkling wine / champagne categories from dry to sweet along with the type of various wines in a graph which includes flavor intensity as well.
Step 9 - Bottle Recorking
After adding dosage, the final cork is inserted and a protective wire cap is placed over and around the bottle neck to secure against internal pressure. A few vigorous shakes incorporate the wine with the liqueur d’expedition. Finally, the wine rests for a few weeks to several months (or years) before sending it to market.
Additional Facts About How Champagne Is Made:
- In Champagne, there are four main grape growing regions:
- Montagne de Reims
- Vallee de la Marne
- Cote des Blancs
- Cote des Bar
- Blanc de Blancs (white from white): made with white grapes like Chardonnay and Blanc de Noirs (white from black) is Champagne made using black grapes such as Pinot Noir
- Soil: chalk and limestone subsoil
- Grapes: In the Champagne region of France, there are 7 officially approved grapes but Pinot Meunier, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay are the most widely used varietals .. via.
While its fun to know how champagne is made, the best part is popping the cork and drinking some with family and friends at your home bar.