The secrets of Champagne production
Champagne... at life's important events, this king of wine is always in attendance. You enjoy tasting it, savouring it and celebrating with it, but do you know how it is made? Never fear, Grappers is here to take you through the steps involved in Champagne production!
The production of champagne has to meet stringent specifications and is tightly regulated by the AOC (Appellation d'Origine Contrôlée). This is what makes it such a special wine. The following are the most important steps in the crafting of a champagne.
Harvesting by hand
In Champagne, the harvesting is carried out by hand, by grape variety and by plot. This allows the producer to respect the fine quality of the grapes and prevent any damage to the bunches.
The grapes are then taken to the presses where their juice is extracted. Among the grape varieties most used in Champagne are the Pinot Noir and the Pinot Meunier, two varieties of black grapes with white juice. These have to be pressed very quickly to ensure that the extracted juice does not take on any colour.
This transforms the sugars in the grapes into alcohol. It lasts about 15 days and is carried out by plot and by grape variety.
After the alcoholic fermentation, still (non-sparkling) white wines are obtained and these are referred to as the vins clairs (clear wines). Each year, some of these wines are set aside to be used in the blends of the following years. These are known as reserve wines.
Champagne blending is a unique and very delicate operation. It consists of mixing vins clairs with reserve wines to obtain a "cuvée". The addition of reserve wines ensures the champagne’s personality is consistent year after year.
The “Méthode Champenoise” (champagne method) consists of adding a "liqueur de tirage", made up of wine, sugar and yeast, at the time of bottling to induce a second fermentation. The bottle is then hermetically sealed with a metal cap, known as a "bidule".
Once bottled, the liqueur de tirage triggers a second fermentation, known as the "prise de mousse". The capsule holds in the carbon dioxide produced by the fermentation, which dissolves into the wine and makes it sparkling, and a small deposit is also formed in the bottle.
The bottles are laid on their sides and placed "sur lattes" (on wooden slats). The champagne will gain in complexity depending on the length of time it spends ageing. The minimum required ageing time is 15 months for a Brut champagne and 3 years for a vintage champagne, but it can be much longer!
This process allows the natural deposit formed during the second fermentation to be removed. The bottles are tilted slowly on a riddling rack or on an automated gyropalette to force all the deposit to slide down to the neck of the bottle.
This process is the removal of the deposit. The neck of the bottle is submerged in a glycol bath at -17°C to freeze the deposit, then the bottle is turned upright and the cap removed at which point the pressure contained in the sparkling wine pushes out the plug of ice that contains the deposit.
Once the disgorgement has been carried out, the lost wine is replaced by a “liqueur d'expédition”, made up of wine and sugar. It is this liqueur that will determine the final style of the champagne. There are different sugar dosages per litre depending on the type of Champagne sought:
• Doux : Than 50 grams of sugar per litre
• Demi Sec : 32 to 50 grams of sugar per litre
• Sec : 17 to 32 grams of sugar per litre
• Extra Dry : 12 to 17 grams of sugar per litre
• Brut : 6 to 12 grams of sugar per litre
• Extra Brut : 3 to 6 grams of sugar per litre
• Nature : 0 to 3 grams of sugar per litre
Then, as you have probably guessed, the Champagne is corked and labelled ready to be enjoyed. There, you now know the basics of champagne production and are ready to impress your friends and family!