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Winemaking in Champagne
Winemaking methods are specific to AOC (controlled designation of origin) Champagne. This is what makes the specificity of Champagne.
Champagne winemaking elapse in 6 big steps.
Pressing is gentle and progressive, to preserve the quality. In Champagne, wine press are adapted to black grapes with white juice (pinot meunier and pinot noir). It crushes the grapes without brewing them to prevent skin pigments (also called grape must) to mix with the juice.
Our press is pneumatic. An air inflated membrane comes to slowly crush the grapes. Pressure does not exceed 1.4 bar.
Pressing is made in several stages, it collects separately the “cuvée” (the first juice and also the best, approximatively 80% in total) and the “taille” (second juice, approximatively 20%).
We are very thorough at pressing the different kind of grapes varieties separately, but also according to the parcel which they were harvested on (young, old vines…). Grape must and later wines will have their own terroir characteristics.
By making these separations we then have a good range of wine tastes for our blending.
After pressing, the musts are placed in vats where they will undergrown two fermentations during a 2 to 3 weeks period.
Alcoholic fermentation: Yeasts turns the juice into wine by consuming the sugar, transforming it into alcohol and releasing carbonic gas. These wines are called “tranquil white wines”, and they have about 11° of alcohol.
Malolactic fermentation: Malic acid changes into lactic acid thanks to selected bacteria. These fermentation allows to soften wines acidity and gives them flexibility.
After this fermentation, wine will be left to rest for a couple of months. At this stage, we call it “clear wine”.
One of the Champagne’s secrets resides in the combination of the “Cuvées”. The vast majority of Champagnes are the result of wines mixtures (called “blending process”) from different years, different parcels and different varieties.
Blending is not only a mix in several tanks. It gives a wealth and an aromatic complexity.
Blending allows to maintain a constant style, although every harvest is different in terms of quality and quantity.
This explains why we use wine from the reserve. Every year, a certain quantity of the harvest is kept in vats, after the alcoholic fermentation, for 2 to 3 years. These wines are blended in variable proportions with the wines from the harvest.
The art lies in the realization of a harmonious and well balanced elixir. Several tests are necessary to obtain the final result.
If the wine from a particular harvest is exceptional, we can create the blend of a Cuvée with the wine of a single year. This king of Champagne will be called “Millesime”, it represents the typicality of the year.
Once the Cuvée is created, wine has to be bottled. This is the bottling process.
Before the bottling process, we prepare a leaven which consist in the multiplication of an important enough quantity of yeasts and of a “tirage liqueur” (made of sugar and wine).
The day before the bottling, the leaven is mixed with the other Cuvées (5% of alcohol) and the liqueur is incorporated, respecting a dose of 24g of sugar by wine liter.
Everything is done to cause a second alcoholic fermentation in the bottle.
This second fermentation will bring a carbonic gas emission inside of the bottle closed beforehand. Pressure can achieves 5 to 6 kg, the alcohol degree increase of 1.4° and prisoner carbonic gas of the bottle will be dissolve in the wine. It is the “prise de mousse” (it becomes sparkling), a really delicate operation which must be slow and at a constant temperature if we want to obtain a delicate foam and permit the development of the most subtle flavours.
4. Wines aging
Once the foam formed, the yeast dies creating sediments, the molecules of this residue interact with the wine’s molecules. Simultaneously, a gas exchange occurs with the outside. This particular process and light oxidation contributed to the evolution of aromas and increase gustatory Champagne qualities.
The maturation process' lasting varies according to the blending types and desired result, but legislation requiers a rather long minimal period compared to other sparkling wines:
- 15 months minimum after bottling, whose 12 on wooden, except for Millésime Champagne.
- 3 years for Champagne “Millésime”
In our exploitation, bottles are kept for at least 3 years for classic bottles, and 5 years for Millésime Champagne.
When the maturation of Champagne is considered satisfying enough and before delivering the bottles, the sediment inside has to be removed. The “riddling” of the bottles is an ancestral technique that is typical in Champagne. It consists of making the sediment go down the neck of the bottle, to expell it completely. It can be done manually or automatically.
This technique consists of placing each bottle horizontally on a wood desk and turning the bottle 1/8th or 1/4th every day from left to right. This movement makes the heavy sediments attract the lighter residues up to finest particles and make the Champagne totally limpid.
In addition to this pendulum swing, the bottle is also progressively vertically positioned, making the sediments drown down the neck in the plastic “bidule”. This manual operation takes about a month.
Then comes the disgorgement step, which consists in opening the bottle to expel the deposit accumulated during the riddling.
It is made by freezing the neck: bottles are on a tip (head at the bottom). The neck is immersed in a -25°C solution which freezes the deposit. Then, the bottle is flipped and the cap removed. With a pressure of 6 bars inside of the bottle, the ice cube is expelled.
We add the “liqueur de dosage”, which finalizes the taste of a slight addition of sugar. It is the concentration in “liqueur de dosage” which allows to make a Champagne Brut or a Demi-sec.
Finally comes the clogging by a cork plug maintained by a metallic muselet.
Then, the bottles are left to rest for at least 3 months.
The only step remaining is to dress the bottles to sell them.