Winemaking steps

Blending


Blending is very much a work of art. By blending wines from different varietals, vineyards and vintages (reserve wines), the aim of the cellar master or winegrower is to create a Champagne that expresses his particular style and vision.

Blending requires a long experience of the terroir and of tasting but it is also a highly creative exercise that relies entirely on the winemaker’s sensory memory and ability to predict how a wine will develop over time, to orchestrate a perfect harmony.

The cellar master can decide to create a non-vintage wine by blending still wines from several different years to perpetuate his particular style, or a vintage wine that captures the unique style of an exceptional year.

Pressing


The grapes are pressed gently and quickly to limit contact between the juice, skins and stems to prevent the latter from colouring the juice. During the pressing, the juice is fractionated: the first pressing juice, rich in sugar, acids and subtle aromas is called the « cuvée ». Cuvée musts produce wines with great finesse, subtle aromas, a refreshing palate and good ageing potential. The second pressing juice has a lower sugar and acid content and is called « taille ». Taille musts produce intensely aromatic wines, fruitier in youth than those made from the cuvée musts but less age-worthy.

Alcoholic fermentation

In only a few days after pressing, the musts turn into wine. The added yeasts consume the sugar contained in the must transforming it into alcohol. During fermentation the yeasts also release a large number of molecules that will contribute to the wine aromas.

Bottling


Tirage or bottling marks the end of the vatting period. The next steps to Champagne take place in a bottle. After blending, a sweet solution known as the « liqueur de tirage » consisting of yeasts and sugar is added. This liqueur will kickstart the second alcoholic fermentation that produces effervescence. The mixture is added to the bottles which are then hermetically sealed with a polyethylene stopper known as a ‘bidule’, which is held in place by a crown cap, to resist the rise in pressure. The magic continues in the cellar…

The « prise de mousse »


The second fermentation that takes place in the bottle is called the « prise de mousse ». As the yeasts consume the sugar, fermentation produces carbon dioxide that remains trapped in the bottle, inducing a gradual rise in pressure and the effervescence that distinguishes Champagne wines.

In the cellars…

Deep inside the cellar, protected from the light, the bottles embark on a long period of maturation. Cellar conditions are critical for good maturation with a temperature that remains relatively constant at around 12°C. The lees consist mainly of yeasts that have multiplied during fermentation and formed a deposit. The physical and chemical properties of the lees contribute to the wine’s sensory profile.

Riddling


After a long resting period, the wine needs to be clarified by removing the deposit left by the second fermentation. By moving or riddling the bottle, a process known as « remuage », the spent yeasts collect in the neck of the bottle. To do this the bottles are progressively tilted neck-down to drive the deposit into the neck. The bottles are rotated by small increments from right to left and then lifted to force the deposit to come into contact with the cap.

Disgorgement


Disgorgement consists in removing the deposit that the riddling process has driven into the neck of the bottle. Traditionally, disgorgement was done by hand. The deposit was ejected under pressure, holding the bottle neck-down, opening it while quickly tilting it back upwards for a minimum loss of wine.

Today, bottles are usually disgorged by freezing the deposit. The neck of the bottle is plunged into a refrigerating solution at approximately – 25°C, trapping the deposit in a plug of ice that is then expelled under pressure when the bottle is opened.

Dosage

Now the cellar master can add his final touch. Dosage is an addition of an ingenious mixture of sugar cane and wine known as the « liqueur d’expédition ». Its purpose is to soften and impart roundness to the wine which, after fermentation, no longer contains sugar.

After addition of the dosage, the bottles are corked with a cork stopper that is squeezed into the neck of the bottle. The cork is then covered with a protective metal cap and held in place with a wire hood called the « muselet ». The last step consists in « dressing » the bottle with a label and a foil cap over the cork.