Champagne production is carefully controlled and regulated and it has to be made by the ‘traditional’ method. It is a lengthy and involved process and explains the high value of champagne.
A guide to the different steps taken in champagne production:
The grapes are pressed twice with the first pressing called the “cuvee” to extract the finer quality juice. The second pressing is called tails and considered of lesser quality. The amount of juice from each pressing is strictly regulated.
After the pressing the juice is left to ferment. The emphasis is to produce a relatively neutral wine high in acidity. The fermentation usually takes place in stainless steel barrels but can sometimes be in a combination of wood and stainless steel.
The science behind it: The aim is to get a neutral wine as strong characteristics will interfere with the flavour that will occur during the second fermentation.
-Master blenders of champagne (Champenoise) are able to blend multiple vintages to create a signature house style. This further adds to the cost of champagne as reserves of vintage stock must be kept back.
-Yeast and sugar are added to the base wine to provoke a second fermentation in the closed wine bottle which usually takes between 1-2 months.
The science behind it: Yeast consumes the available sugar resulting in anaerobic production of alcohol, of which carbon dioxide is a by-product. If the carbon dioxide can’t escape, it dissolves into the wine instead.
-The Champagne is then left to age on the lees for a minimum of 15 months on the lees whilst vintage champagne a minimum of 3 years
The science behind it: The wine interacts with the dead yeast cells to enhance the flavour and texture.
Remuage & Disgorgement
-Once the wine has been aged, it goes through “remuage”, a process to remove the dead yeast and sediment. This is a lengthy process and can be done by hand by turning the bottle a little a day until it is upside down however this can take up to 2 months. Done by machine the process is sped up to 1 week as it can turn a whole palette at a time.
The science behind it: The yeast is removed by submerging the neck of the bottle into cold brine to quickly freeze the dead yeast. Once the cap is removed the pressure in the bottle pushes out the yeast plug.
-Before the champagne is re-corked, a measured amount of champagne and cane sugar will be added. The amount determines the sweetness of the finished champagne. Once the cork and wire cap have been inserted, the wine is shaken vigorously to help distribute the added sugar. The bottle will then rest for a minimum of serval weeks before being sent to be sold.