How Champagne Is Made
The work at the vineyard is all year round. The farmer must prune, fertilise and spray his crop whilst struggling to protect his crops against viruses, parasites and rot. The average age of a vine is 15 years, and when a vine has reached the age of 30 (the peak of quality) it is finally replaced with a new vine. The vines are the most productive between age 10 and 25. The harvest is the highlight of the year in the Champagne region with a very colorful harvest festival. Harvesting starts in the middle of September.
For the processing it is very important that all the grapes are whole and in their best condition on arrival at the presshouse. Because of this, presshouses are always located as close to the vineyards as possible. The coquart press, made of wood and in the shape of a circle or sqaure, is still considered to be the best press. When the pressed grape juice has been taken to the fermenting vats, thanks to the yeast that sat in the grapes skin, it immediately begins to ferment. Other seleted yeasts are added depending on which style of champagne is being made. The vats are usually made of steel. Fermentation usually takes 10 days at a temperature of 18 – 20C. After fermentation has finished, the vine is racked twice. Racking is where the wine is separated from the sediment. The wine is then placed in a new vat.
In March/April the most difficult stage in the creation of champagne begins: the blending. This is the responsibility of the cellar master, the “chef de cowes”. The fermented wines are wines that are completely still and lie in separate vats. The cellar master mixes and matches until he finds the perfect palette. After blending in giant tanks the first fermenting is finished. More sugar and yeast are added for the second fermentation and the wine is bottled and sealed temporarily with a crown-cap instead of a proper cork. The bottles are then stored in vast cellars at 10 -12C for at least 15 months.
The final process is called digorging. Here the bottle neck is frozen in brine at -28C. The sediment of yeast at the top of the bottle is half frozen and shot out of the bottle by machine with a sharp mechanical movement. The wine that is lost in this process is replaced with new wine and some sugar. After this process, the cork is added to the bottle. At the beginning of the century, all champagne corks were made in one piece. Now, because of the high price of cork they are made up of several discs. The top part is agglemerated cork, and underneath are two or three discs of real cork. The part that is in contact with the wine is always of the highest quality. When the cork is in, the bottle is shaken and the cork is then held in place by a wire muzzle.
Champagne The Celebration Drink
Champagne is the drink associated with special occasions, parties and luxury. Used to toast millions at weddings, to celebrate success and shared between two people on countless numbers of private occasions, champagne has the most positive of images. Around 1500 million bottles of sparkling wine are produced anually worldwide. Out of this number, approximately only 200 million of these bottles are genuine champagne.
These 200 million bottles go through their special second fermentation process in the bottle creating around 47 million bubbles per bottle and are then stored in huge chalk cellars, several miles long, under the streets of towns such as Reims and Epernay. It’s only the “sacred triangle of champagne” linking Reims, Epernay and Chalones-es-Champagne where the best champagne can be produced and actually be classified as actual champagne.
Champagne attracts wine lovers worldwide, but also has many attractions for walkers, culture and nature-lovers with its wooded Ardennes to the north, and vast amount of arcitecture plotted around the region. Reims is home to countless numbers of champagne labels, but perhaps just as equally significant since the 11th century, all the kings of France have been crowned in the remarkable gothic cathedral Notre-dame. Other memorable sites to visit are the cyptoportique, Musee de la Reddirion, Musee de Beau orks and Musee st Remi.