THE CHAMPAGNE METHOD

We use the traditional méthode champenoise when we create our Chauvignon Reserve.

THE DISCOVERY
Up until the 18th century, in northern France, bubbles in wine were considered a problem. Once the harvesting and bottling were done in the autumn, the bottles were stored in cellars. When spring came, the sun heated up the air and suddenly the wine in the cellars started to produce bubbles. Corks popped out and wine was spoiled. At the time, the scientists were mainly monks around Europe. Monks were therefore studying the issue of bubbles in wine. Our research in history suggests that monks in southern France reversed the idea of placing the bubbles in the wine in order to understand how to get it out.

It is difficult to determine the true story of how the bubbles were mastered. It is very unlikely that the monk Dom Perignon was the inventor of Champagne even though this is illustrated in many ways.

DEFINITIONS
There are several definitions of the Champagne method. If a label specifies "Bottle fermentation" it is equal to méthode champenoise . The Champagne process is in other words all about a second fermentation in the bottle, whereas other bubbly wines that do not follow these traditional rules are carbonated white wine, like any carbonated sodas you find in your grocery store.

THE METHOD
The first fermentation happens in open tanks. The yeast consumes the sugar in the juice, creating alcohol. The "exhaust" in this process is CO2 which is released into the air from these open tanks.

Once the wine is dry (a term used to describe the absence of sugar) and filtered, sugar and yeast are manually added into the wine. The wine is bottled and closed with crown caps to withstand the pressure that is created in this second fermentation process.

In the next couple of months, the second fermentation in the bottle is finished, resulting in a dry wine with up to 5 bars of pressure inside the bottle. The bubbles are now created in a natural way, due to this pressure. When the fermentation process is done, the yeast particles end up in the bottom of the bottle. This sediment is also called lees, or yeast lees. When the wine is aged in the cellars it is defined as "aging on lees".

It is now up to the winemaker to determine how long time the wine should be aged. The minimum is 9 months and if it is aged more than 3 years it is defined as "fine Champagne". Sjoeblom Winery ages its Chauvignon Reserve for 17 years or more. The connoisseur will know when a wine is aged longer because the bubbles are smaller and the flavors will reveal hints of nut from the lees.

Over the aging process, the lees must be consolidated for removal. This is achieved through a process known as riddling. The bottles are turned or rotated every day throughout the entire aging process. Sjoeblom Winery hand riddles the bottles to continue honoring the old traditions from the wine district of Champagne, whereas most other sparkling and champagne producers riddle their bottles by machines. This continuous turning of the bottle causes the lees to slowly settle in the neck of the bottle.

The next process is called disgorging, or dégorgement. The bottles, now upside down from the riddling process and with the lees in the bottle neck, are frozen. The pressure within the bottle forces the small ice cube out when the crown cap is removed. The lees are now removed from the sparkling wine within the ice cap.

The final process is to add the dosage. This is base wine and sugar to flavor the wine. This final process is what determines if the wine should be dry or sweet. You may also read on the label: Brut, Sec, and Demi-Sec.

It takes much longer time and more manpower to create a traditional bubbly wine. This is why the prices are higher on wines using the méthode champenoise rather than just carbonate white wines.

© 2020 Sjoeblom Winery, Napa, California, USA