Riddling at the cellar at Leclerc Briant Champagne House
The Second Fermentation
Liquer de Tirage (a mixture of yeast, yeast nutrients and sugar) is added to the wine. The wine is put in the classic Champagne bottle and sealed with a bottle cap (like a beer cap). The wine bottles are placed in a cool cellar to ferment slowly and to produce alcohol and carbon dioxide. The carbon dioxide cannot escape from the bottle, otherwise you’ll lose the sparkle!
As the fermentation proceeds yeast cells die which we’ll get to next. After several months, the fermentation process is complete. However, the Champagne continues to age in the cool cellar for several more years resulting in a toasty, yeasty character. During this aging period, the yeast imparts complex flavours often with bread and brioche characteristics. The best and most expensive Champagne is often aged for several years.
The sediment from the dead yeast cells are removed through a process called riddling. The Champagne bottle is placed upside down in a holder at a slight angle. Each day, the riddler gives the bottle a small turn whilst keeping it upside down. This procedure forces the dead yeast cells to float into the bottleneck where they are subsequently removed. The bottles are placed in racks with the bottlenecks facing downwards. Supposedly, Madame Veuve Clicquot is the inventor of the bottle rack in which the bottles are put downwards.
The disgorgement is the final step in the production of Champagne. The Champagne bottle is kept upside down (with the dead yeast cells in it) while the neck is frozen in an ice-salt bath. This procedure results in the formation of a plug of frozen wine containing the dead yeast cells. The bottle cap is removed and the pressure of the carbon dioxide gas in the bottle forces out the plug of frozen wine (“disgorging”) leaving behind clear Champagne. By doing so, a little bit of wine gets spilled out of the bottle, which is why we add the ‘dosage’!
A mixture of white wine, brandy and sugar (Liqueur de tirage) is added to adjust the sweetness level of the wine and to top up the bottle. This is often a house secret and the procedure decides whether the Champagne will be Brut Nature, Extra Brut, Brut, Extra Dry, Dry, Semi Dry or Doux (depending on the level of sugar). Most Champagne’s are ‘Brut’ so less than 12 grams of sugar.
The bottle is corked and the cork is wired down to secure the high internal pressure of the carbon dioxide in the Champagne.
Hopefully that answers your question, “How do you make Champagne?”
Want to visit Champagne, check out this article on Epernay, or read more on the buy some here.