Sunday, April 26, 2009

How champagne is made...

Methode Champenoise is the traditional method by which champagne is produced. After primary fermentation and bottling, a second alcoholic fermentation occurs in the bottle. This second fermentation is induced by adding yeast and/or sugar. A minimum of 1.5 years is required to completely develop all the flavor. For years where the harvest is exceptional, a millesimé is declared. This means that the champagne will be very good and has to mature for at least 3 years. During this time the champagne bottle is sealed with a crown cap similar to that used on beer bottles.

After aging, the bottle is manipulated, either manually or mechanically, in a process called remuage (riddling, in English), so that sediment settles in the neck of the bottle.

This is the old fashioned way to store the bottle to get the sediment into the neck. Each bottle is turned one eighth over time to until is has made a full circle.

This is the modern way of turning the bottles. Each cage is not resting on the ground. They are "floating" and being turned one eighth at a time, without the labor intensity of the old method.

After chilling the bottles, the neck is frozen, and the cap removed. The pressure in the bottle forces out the ice containing the sediment, and the bottle is quickly corked to maintain the carbon dioxide in solution. Some syrup is added to maintain the level within the bottle.

Dipping the neck in freezing brine to create a frozen plug of wine, containing the dead yeast cells, in the neck of the bottle. Pop the cap and the plug, complete with lees, flies out. This is known as dégorgment.

It helps to involve your family. This is a family generational photo from Lecomte Pére et Fils. We met the man on the right. He inherited the business from his father on the left and his son (the taller one) is currently in college but will return to take over the business one day. His younger son was in the warehouse working when we took our tour.
To get some perspective, we asked at the last champagne producer how much he produces in an average year. He told us he makes about 60,000 bottles of champagne. However, Vueve Cliquot produces 60,000,000 in an average year.