In champagne, grapes are all picked by hand, mechanical harvesting is not allowed because it is important not to break the skins before pressing. Grapes are then pressed quickly after harvest and juice extracted from the first press is considered the highest quality. Juice from the 2nd press is usually of lesser quality but richer in pigments and tannins. After pressing, the juice is left to settle & cool. The solids are then racked before first fermentation.
Blending is a vital part of the Champagne process. Various different grapes, growing areas and vintages are blended to make the perfect assemblage. Superior growing years will produce vintage Champagne however over 80% of all Champagne produced is non-vintage.
2nd fermentation is the heart of the Methode Champenoise. A mixture of still wine, sugar and yeast is added to the wine and then sealed with a crown cap. Bottles are then stored horizontally and 2nd fermentation takes, which can last up to 8 weeks, begins.
The wine will age on Lees (dead yeast cells) after a minimum of 15 months for non-vintage and 3 years for vintage. This enhances the final flavour of the product.
After extended Lees ageing, riddling is performed. Bottles are placed in special racks called pupitres, keeping them at a 45 degree angle with the crown cap pointing downwards. Every few days, the bottles are slightly turned and given a small shake and then dropped back into the pupitres with the angle gradually decreased. This process pushes the dead yeast cells and sediment towards the neck of the bottle ready to be disgorged.
After resting, there are 2 different ways to remove dead yeast & sediment. The modern method of disgorgement involves dipping the neck of the bottle in a freezing brine solution. The bottle is then turned upright where the force of internal pressure will expel the semi-frozen sediment (and a small portion of the wine) as the crown cap is removed. An older method utilises the same principle; however without freezing the sediment.
The liquid lost from the disgorgement is replaced with a dosage of sugar mixture. The amount of sugar used will determine the sweetness of the Champagne.
After adding dosage, the final cork is inserted and a protective wire cap is placed on the bottle. A few vigorous shakes incorporate the wine with the liqueur d’expedition. The wine then rests for a few weeks to several months (or years) before being shipped off to market.