Indissociable from major events, gracing most tables during celebrations, champagne is a refined product. As the flagship of the Champagne region, it benefits from an AOC (Appellation d'Origine Contrôlée) and, as such, must be crafted using the Champagne method. This method defines a very precise set of specifications that winemakers must adhere to.
Not just anyone can produce champagne! Champagne wines are meticulously crafted from 3 grape varieties: Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Pinot Meunier. Patience is essential to transform the vine's fruits into high-quality vintages.
From manual harvesting to disgorgement, what is the step-by-step manufacturing process?
- Vineyard work and harvesting
- Alcoholic fermentation
- Dosage and dressing
1. Vineyard Work and Harvesting
While the harvest occurs only once a year, vineyard work spans 12 months. Indeed, the vine follows the seasons, and each season requires specific tasks.
- In spring, the vine resumes its vegetative cycle after winter dormancy. This is the budding period when the buds start to swell. It's the time for pruning, including bud removal.
- In summer, veraison occurs when grapes ripen and change color. In about ten days, they reach their maximum size and perfect ripeness. Grapes become rich in sugar and lose acidity. The end of this ripening period triggers the harvest.
- Autumn is the most anticipated season. It's the time of harvest and fulfillment after all the efforts. Therefore, the winemaker pays particular attention to the grape's maturity level and health. The grapes are sorted directly in the vineyard after harvesting. This is done manually in Champagne, a requirement of the AOC. Moreover, the harvest period should not exceed 2 to 3 weeks to prevent overripeness of the grapes.
- In winter, the vine is in a dormant phase. But the winemaker doesn't rest, as this is the time for various tasks that have a decisive impact on the rest of the activity. Pruning is one of these tasks, and it helps control the vine's vigor by distributing sap properly.
Vineyard work is ongoing, with each month bringing new needs. To get a complete overview of the various tasks, we invite you to explore the vine's annual cycle.
2. Pressing Stage
The pressing stage is the very first step in the champagne manufacturing process. It begins even before the harvest is complete. The grapes are brought directly from the vineyards to the press. Subsequently, they are transformed into must, and then the must is turned into wine.
Pressing is a crucial step that must be carried out promptly. The weight of the clusters could denature them and lead to the oxidation of the musts. To preserve the best quality of the grapes, they are pressed slowly and gently. Furthermore, the presses are located near the vineyards in the pressing houses.
In Champagne, 4000 kg of grapes must be pressed to obtain one marc, which is the unit of measurement. From there, two types of must are obtained:
- The cuvée
- The taille.
The cuvée is rich in sugar and acid and represents the most important and pure part of the juice. It yields wines with subtle aromas, great richness, good mouth freshness, and excellent aging potential.
The taille, on the other hand, is collected at the end of the pressing. It is less acidic and less sweet but has more structure and color. About 500 liters can be obtained from it. If you have more questions about pressing, we have dedicated a section to its importance in the harvesting process.
3. Alcoholic Fermentation Stage
After pressing, the musts are transferred to the winery. They are placed in large tanks, each numbered for traceability. Inside these tanks, alcoholic fermentation begins. This stage in the champagne manufacturing process is a key step. It is this alcoholic fermentation that transforms the must into wine.
Under the action of yeast added to the tanks, this fermentation begins. These yeasts consume the sugar naturally present in the must, transforming it and leading to the production of:
- CO² (carbon dioxide)
- Sensory and aromatic components of the wine.
Although not mandatory in Champagne, a second fermentation is possible, known as malolactic fermentation. This is carried out by lactic bacteria, which transform malic acid into softer lactic acid. This malolactic fermentation affects the wine, causing it to lose some of its freshness and fruity aromas.
Today, fermentation tanks for alcoholic fermentation are made of stainless steel, whereas in the past, it was done in oak barrels. De Lozey champagnes have a lot to say about the role of wood in champagne production.
4. Blending Stage
At the blending stage, we are dealing with what can be defined as clear wines. These are wines resulting from fermentation. Recall that fermentation is the step that transforms grape juice into wine.
The blending stage is undoubtedly a key step in the champagne manufacturing process. This stage involves three dimensions that are manipulated with precision and finesse: the dimension of vineyards, the dimension of years, and the dimension of grape varieties.
The blending stage is delicate. It involves defining and finding the best combinations among the clear wines. Experience from several people, especially the Cellar Master, is called upon to taste the clear wines. After this tasting, the blending takes on its full value. It is about creating cuvées that surpass the wines that compose them. These blends form a characteristic of the Champagne AOC.
Finding the perfect blend is an art in itself. De Lozey champagnes have their own true method for achieving this before putting their wines in champagne barrels.
5. Bottling Stage
After blending, the most important stage follows. You could say that this is the real process of making champagne. This is the moment when wines transform into champagne. At the end of this stage, a second fermentation will take place inside the bottle. This is called the "prise de mousse."
Several elements are needed to carry out bottling:
- The blend (or cuvée)
- The liqueur de tirage, which consists of sugar and wine
The liqueur and yeast will perform the second fermentation, known as the "prise de mousse." This process releases carbon dioxide, which will create the bubbles when the bottles are opened.
The "prise de mousse" takes about 2 months in the champagne manufacturing stages before maturation takes over.
Thus, it is this maturation that makes the difference between vintage and non-vintage wines.
6. Aging Stage
The maturation period, also known as aging, varies depending on the cuvée. For non-vintage wines, aging lasts for 15 months. In contrast, for vintage wines, the wine rests on wooden pallets for a minimum of 36 months.
During the aging stage, the wine matures to achieve its balance. Additionally, with champagne, over the months, the yeasts release the nitrogenous substances they had consumed. This results in a significant production of aromatic amino acids, which are highly beneficial for the wine.
To better understand this aging stage, we invite you to explore the difference between our vintages and learn about what a vintage is.
7. Riddling Stage
Champagne riddling is also a crucial stage. It involves turning the bottles to the right and left. Moreover, during this stage of the manufacturing process, the bottle is gradually moved from a horizontal to a vertical position. This final operation aims to move the sediments toward the neck for subsequent removal during the disgorgement stage.
The riddling stage is traditionally done manually. A professional riddler is responsible for this operation and can turn up to 40,000 bottles a day. Nevertheless, nowadays, winemakers increasingly use gyropalettes™. These machines mechanize the turning process. Given the number of champagne bottles per pallet, this saves considerable time.
8. Disgorging Stage
Disgorging is the champagne manufacturing stage that removes yeast deposits (lees) from the bottles. The bottles are dipped into a liquid at approximately -27°C to form an ice plug in the neck. This ice plug traps all the sediments that accumulate in the neck.
When the bottle is opened, the pressure expels this ice plug and the sediments within it. This method also minimizes the loss of wine quantity and pressure. However, a small amount of wine needs to be added to the bottle to compensate for the inevitable loss upon opening.
This final stage is called dosage.
9. Dosage Stage
Dosage is the last stage of champagne production, involving the addition of a dosage liqueur to compensate for wine loss. Typically, this addition is about 1 cl per bottle. The dosage also determines the type of wine obtained.
The dosage liqueur consists of wine and dissolved sugars. Additionally, this stage helps balance the acidity and various components of the champagne.
After dosing, the bottle is sealed with a cork and held in place with a wire cage. After corking, the champagne is returned to the cellar. This marks the final stage of aging, allowing for homogenization between the wine and the expedition liqueur.
The step-by-step champagne manufacturing process takes time. Each step is essential to give the wine its character and body. This is why the bottles deserve the finest presentation. The dressing also contributes to giving a bottle its nobility. We take great care in this aspect. As you can tell, at De Lozey champagnes, we talk about our profession with passion. You can learn more about "how to recognize real champagne" or "what are the significant dates to remember in the history of champagne" by following the links.
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