How Champagne is Made

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Producing Champagne is a fascinating art, passed down from many generations. From vineyard to table, the process takes years! Learn the laborious and extraordinary steps of making Champagne below.


CHAMPAGNE VINEYARDS

All Champagne begins as grapes growing in vineyards located in the Champagne region of France. There are three main grapes permitted in Champagne: chardonnay, pinot noir, and pinot meunier. The cool climate and soil content (regions with limestone, marl, and chalk) in Champagne creates grapes that are deliciously tart, and high in acid. Once the grapes have reached their peak ripeness, growers harvest by hand-picking every grape and transporting them back to the presses. Although the process is extremely laborious, hand-picking ensures that only the highest quality grapes go into each pressing.

How Champagne is Made

How Champagne is Made

How Champagne is Made

 


THE PRESS & PRIMARY FERMENTATION

Immediately after harvest, grapes are de-stemmed and delivered to cuveries for pressing. Many small growers still use traditional wooden presses (pictured below), that gently press grapes into juice that is channeled to tanks underneath. Between each pressing, the grapes are mixed with pitch forks to ensure maximum juice extraction.

After pressing, the grape juice is stored in barrels, concrete tanks, or stainless steel vats for primary fermentation. The juice is tasted at various stages of fermentation to determine future blends and vintages.

How Champagne is Made

How Champagne is Made

 


SECONDARY FERMENTATION

After lots of tasting and blending, the recently fermented wine is often combined with older reserve wine to make a cuvée. Or in exceptional years, the wine will be bottled on its own as a vintage. Once the blend is determined, the wines are bottled with yeast and sugar to start secondary fermenation. The bottles are stopped under a temporary bottle cap that keeps the bubbles inside each bottle. The reaction of the yeast and sugar inside the bottle creates the Champagne bubbles!
How Champagne is Made

How Champagne is Made

 


AGING

The Champagne ages in the bottle under a temporary bottle cap for a minimum of 15 months to be called Champagne, and a minimum of 3 years to be Fat Cork Champagne. Many producers age their cuvées for several years, and some even decades to produce complex and unique wines. The process of aging Champagne on the lees (dead yeast cells) creates more complexity and depth.

How Champagne is Made

How Champagne is Made

 


DISGORGEMENT

After aging is complete, and the bottles are ready to enjoy, the process of riddling begins. Bottles are slowly turned onto their necks so that the lees from the bottom of each bottle settle into the neck. Once stable, the bottles are disgorged, meaning that the lees are removed; the necks of bottles are flash-frozen so that when the bottle cap is removed, only the frozen wine (that contains the lees) is lost. Once the lees have been removed, a small dose of still wine and sugar (the dosage) is added to balance the levels of high acidity. Or, in the case of Brut Nature Champagne, the dosage will be skipped, creating a dry and acidic wine.

How Champagne is Made

 


CORKS & LABELING

Once the Champagne is complete, corks are inserted into the bottles then covered with wire cages and foil. Finally, the front labels and the Fat Cork back labels are applied by hand.

How Champagne is Made How Champagne is Made

How Champagne is Made

How Champagne is Made

 


VOILÁ! 

The process of making Champagne is complete! Fat Cork Champagne is then loaded into cases and shipped to the United States in temperature controlled containers. Once the cases reach our Seattle warehouse, they are unloaded by hand, and stored in our cool, underground Champagne cave. There the bottles await to be sent to celebrations across the U.S.!

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2016 Champagne Harvest

The Champagne harvest is complete for 2016! The grapes have all been picked by hand and are now bubbling away in their fermentation vessels! Learn about the laborious and extraordinary process of harvesting in Champagne below.

(Below: The youngest member of Champagne Redon helping with harvest and the cutest harvest picture ever!)

HAND-PICKED

All of our growers hand-pick their grapes each harvest season. Bunches of grapes are snipped directly from the vine using secateurs (small pruning clippers), then placed in buckets and baskets that are transported to each family’s press.

Although the process is extremely laborious and requires a lot of people, hand-picking ensures that only the highest quality grapes go into each pressing.

2016 Champagne Harvest

2016 Champagne Harvest

2016 Champagne Harvest

2016 Champagne Harvest

PRESSING

Once the grapes arrive at each family’s cuverie, they are weighed and measured into the press. Many of our growers still use traditional wooden presses (pictured below), that gently press grapes into juice that is channeled to tanks underneath. Between each press, the grapes are mixed with pitch forks to ensure maximum juice extraction. 
2016 Champagne Harvest

2016 Champagne Harvest

2016 Champagne Harvest

2016 Champagne Harvest

PRIMARY FERMENTATION

After pressing, the grape juice is stored in barrels, concrete tanks, or stainless steel vats for primary fermentation. The juice is tasted at various stages of fermentation to determine future blends and vintages.

Bryan will be headed back to Champagne in January to taste the freshly fermented wines. We can’t wait to see what’s bubbling up!

2016 Champagne Harvest

 

 

Fat Cork goes to IPNC, 2016

Our Champagnes have been consumed and celebrated at the International Pinot Noir Celebration since Bryan first visited in 2011, rolling a cooler around filled with bubbles!

Thibaud Mandet (Winemaker at WillaKenzie), Bryan, Rollin Soles (Winemaker at ROCO Winery)

Fat Cork goes to IPNC, 2016

Pinot Noir from Australia, excellent!

Fat Cork goes to IPNC, 2016

Champagne and sparkling wine fanatics: David Speer (Ambonnay), Rajat Parr (Evening Land, Sandhi Wines, Domaine de la Côte), Bryan

Fat Cork goes to IPNC, 2016

Bryan, Ken Meyer (FC Club Member), Nelson Daquip (Canlis Head Sommelier), Chris Tange (Seattle wine distributor and Master Sommelier)

Fat Cork goes to IPNC, 2016

Bryan, Chris, Carrie (Wine buyer for Sea Creature Restaurants), Renee Erickson (Chef and Owner, Sea Creature Restaurants)

Fat Cork goes to IPNC, 2016

IPNC’s volunteer sommeliers enjoying Fat Cork Champagne with their brunch.

Fat Cork goes to IPNC, 2016

Larry Stone (Master Sommelier, Lingua Franca Wines), Raj, Mimi Castille (Oregon vigneronne and FC Club Member), Bryan

Fat Cork goes to IPNC, 2016

Bryan, Dawn Smith (Sommelier extraordinaire and Fat Cork General Manager)

Meet our Grower: Champagne Redon

 

Trépail, the beautiful home village of the Redon family, is one of the sunniest places in all of Champagne. The additional light makes their grapes—mostly Chardonnay—extra ripe upon picking, leading to fruit-forward and elegant wines.

The Redon family now produces two distinct lines of Champagne, one by the father, Pascal, and one by the eldest son, Adrien. Pascal Redon’s cuvées are classic and full-bodied, while Adrien’s cuvées are fresh and dry. Both labels use the same old vine vineyards and the family’s traditional wood press, but create their final cuvées in their own unique style.

Watch the video for a quick look at the sunny vineyards of Champagne Redon! 

 

Meet our Grower: Champagne Redon

Meet our Grower: Champagne Redon

Meet our Grower: Champagne Redon

Meet our Grower: Champagne Redon

Meet our Grower: Champagne Redon

Meet our Grower: Champagne Redon

Fat Cork at Ponzi Vineyards

TINY BUBBLES SPARKLING SEMINAR

April 16th, 2-4pm | Ponzi Vineyards Winery | Sherwood, Oregon

Explore Fat Cork grower Champagnes and Oregon sparkling wines at the iconic Oregon winery, Ponzi Vineyards! Bryan is honored to be presenting alongside winemaker Luisa Ponzi where they will lead an educational seminar all about bubbles!

The Ponzis are pioneers in the Oregon Wine Industry. In the late 1960′s, the Pacific Northwest was not thought to be a place to grow great wine grapes, but the Ponzi family realized the Northern Willamette Valley was ideal for cool climate varieties and in 1970, Ponzi Vineyards was founded. After more than 40 years of making wonderful still wine, it is a natural progression that the second generation is starting to make great sparkling wine from the same cool climate varietals grown in Champagne, France.

We are thrilled to have our Champagne featured at the historic Ponzi Vineyards! Join us to taste, discover, and enjoy bubbles from both Fat Cork and Oregon (including the release of Ponzi’s 2013 “Cin Cin” Brut Rosé!). Small bites will be provided. Space is limited, click here for tickets!

Champagne Jean Baillette-Prudhomme is Visiting the PNW!

 

We are thrilled and honored to announce that our producer, Laureen Baillette and Madam Baillette of Champagne Jean Baillette-Prudhomme will be visiting the Northwest in April! They are traveling all the way from Trois-Puits, France to join Bryan on a Northwest adventure of vineyard tours, seminars, tastings, and of course, a visit to Fat Cork.

We are very excited to show the Baillettes our warehouse (where we have proudly imported their Champagne from day 1!) and all that the Northwest wine industry has to offer.

Save the date for one (or all!) of our events with Laureen Baillette.

MEET LAUREEN BAILLETTE! 

Monday, April 11th, 12-1pm
Champagne Seminar with Laureen Baillette | Fat Cork | Seattle, WA
Public Event | $20/Club, $30/PublicTickets here! 
Join us over your lunch hour to learn the history of Champagne Jean Baillette-Prudhomme from the vigneronne herself! Laureen will explain her unique approach to Champagne production, tell the incredible history of their family, and describe each of her fine cuvées in great detail. Tasting Champagne on a Monday afternoon is a beautiful way to start the week and live life! Small bites will be provided. We’re limiting this intimate seminar to 30 seats, so purchase your ticket soon!

Monday, April 11th, 6pm
Champagne Dinner with Laureen Baillette | Location to be Announced | Seattle, WA
Public Event | RSVP to Erica@FatCork.com
We are honored to work with local chef extraordinaire, Ethan Stowell, to create an evening of incredible food, delicious Champagne and great conversation with our French guests! The menu, location, and price are still in the works, but please RSVP to Erica@FatCork.com as soon as possible if you’re interested as this dinner will certainly sell out quickly. 

Wednesday, April 13th, 4:30-6pm
Tasting with Laureen Baillette | ROCO Winery | Newberg, OR
FC Club Members and their Guests Only | RSVP to Erica@FatCork.com
Mr. Rollin Soles is an icon for high-quality, Méthod Champenoise sparkling wine made in America. He and his wife, Corby, have been supporters of Fat Cork since the beginning and they were the first people we contacted when Laureen said she was coming to town. Getting Laureen and Rollin together to talk and taste Champagne will be a great time and quite educational! Space is limited, RSVP to Erica@FatCork.com.

Thursday, April 14th, 8:30am-5:30pm
2016 Sparkling Wine Symposium | Ponzi Vineyards | Sherwood, OR
Wine Industry Members | Tickets here!
Attention wine makers all around the U.S.A., we are honored to have so many of you as Fat Cork customers! If you’re already making sparkling wine or are interested in doing so, this event is for you. Laureen Baillette will be featured on a panel alongside sparkling wine experts from Oregon and California to lead an all day workshop about everything sparkling. This is an opportunity to ask the experts all of your geeky questions, taste base wines, and learn the details that go into making great sparkling wine. Click here for tickets.

Rosé 101

Rosé Champagne

These beautiful pink bubbles are made much the same as blanc Champagnes, but instead of using only the white juices of the grape, rosés implement the dark red skins of pinot noir and pinot meunier. Fat Cork rosé ranges from pale pink to light red, with flavors ranging from very dry & tart to deep & fruit-forward.

Red + White = Pink
The blending method of creating rosé Champagne is when a small amount of still red wine (vin rouge in French) is blended into the initial assemblage to create the desired color and flavor. Rosés produced with the blending method are usually light in color.

Saignée Method
Literally “to bleed”, these rosés pick up their color by fermenting the grape juice with its own dark skin for a short period of time. Saignée rosés are made purely from the dark grapes (pinot noir or pinot meunier).

Rosé 101

Bryan tasting Hervy-Quenardel’s pinot noir only 21 hours after the juice started fermenting with the skins.

Rosé Champagne Pairings
Light rosé - pair with prosciutto, spinach salad, or fresh goat cheese.
Medium-bodied rosé - pair with salmon, roast chicken, or a triple cream cheese.
Bold rosé - pair with red meat, dark chocolate, or berries.

The Rosé Spectrum

Rosé 101
Light & Dry
Perrot-Batteux et Filles Hélixe Rosé Premier Cru ($58) Elegant and crisp, this Champagne is 85% chardonnay from the chalky soils of the Côte des Blancs region. It has wonderful acidity and tartness, but also a hint of red berry fruit. Pop this bottle open while cooking dinner with your date; it’s wonderful on its own or with light appetizers.

Rosé 101 Fresh & Balanced
Grongnet Rosé ($49) Made from an equal blend of all 3 grapes, this rosé is balanced and fresh. It’s full of red berry and fruit flavors, but has a dry, tart finish. Paired with baked salmon, grilled vegetables, and fresh flowers, this cuvée is the perfect addition to a date night in.

Rosé 101Bold & Fruit-Forward 
Hervy-Quenardel Rosé de Saignée Grand Cru ($56) 100% pinot noir, this rosé is bold and beautiful. It’s packed with flavors of strawberry and a hint of tannin. The body is full, but still has notes of chalk and minerals. Save this rosé for dessert! It’s delicious on its own but even better paired with dark chocolate and strawberries.

 

 

Freshly Disgorged: Vintage Champagnes, Fresh Corks

 

Dis·gorge /disˈgôrj/

1) To remove the sediment from (a sparkling wine) after fermentation. “The Champagne is aged in the bottle before it is disgorged.” Late 15th century, from old French

Disgorgement – the Grand Finale! 
After base wines have been created, they are blended, bottled, and fermented again inside the bottle. Then comes the magic; the wine ages for years on its lees (dead yeast cells) and develops extraordinary flavors.

Disgorgement is the process of removing the lees from the bottle, leaving clear, beautiful Champagne behind.  After disgorgement, a small amount of still wine and sugar (dosage) may be added, and the cork is put in place.

Freshly Disgorged: Vintage Champagnes, Fresh Corks

Champagne Redon corking their bottles after disgorgement.

Disgorgement Methods
Traditionally, bottles were disgorged via a method called “A la Voile” (see Bryan’s photo above) where the vigneron would quickly remove the temporary bottle cap and place a thumb over the opening before losing too much Champagne. Now bottles are typically frozen at the necks and the lees are removed in a frozen plug.

Fresh from the Cave 
Fat Cork producers only disgorge their Champagne when it’s ready. Years of aging on the lees creates layers of complexity and beautiful aromas. Because all of that aging is done in cool caves and in bottles that are sealed by bottle cap, there is limited exposure of the wine to oxygen. And that makes freshly disgorged bottles both aged and fresh at the same time. The combination of these two characteristics (age and freshness) is the pinnacle of great Champagne.

At Fat Cork, we always display the disgorgement date (the day the bottle was corked) so you know exactly how long the cuvée aged on its lees and under cork.

 

Vintage Champagnes, Freshly Disgorged

Freshly Disgorged: Vintage Champagnes, Fresh CorksGimonnet-Oger Blanc de Blancs Millésime 1996 Premier Cru ($159) After aging peacefully in Jean-Luc Gimonnet’s cellar for almost 20 years, this Champagne has incredible complexity and character, but is still fresh! 1996 is an exceptional and rare vintage, especially with a recent disgorgement date. It’s magnificent to enjoy right now, but will also age under cork for another decade.

Freshly Disgorged: Vintage Champagnes, Fresh CorksPerrot-Batteux et Filles Cuvée Helixe Millésime 2009 Blanc de Blancs ($67) Perrot-Batteux is known for producing elegant Chardonnay from her ideal location in the south of Champagne. This particular cuvée is from 2009, which provides a wonderful maturity. Containing only Chardonnay and being recently disgorged provides a light and lively taste, with a pleasant acidity.

 

Fat Cork Featured in Seattle Magazine!

We were honored to be featured in the December 2015 issue of Seattle Magazine! Check out an excerpt of the article written by Paul Zitarelli below or visit Seattle Magazine online to see the full feature.

Sparkling Wine for Holiday (and Everyday) Celebrations

Paul Zitarelli’s guide to this season’s bubbliest companions for entertaining | December 2015  

For most wine lovers, the EF Score for sparkling wine is off the charts. (Never heard of an EF Score? That’s probably because I just invented it. Patent pending.) EF stands for enjoyment multiplied by frequency, and it’s a handy construct for figuring out whether you’re buying the right wines. Ask yourself: How much did you enjoy the last few sparkling wines you drank? And how frequently are you drinking sparkling wine? If the answers to those are “a lot” and “not very often,” you’re not alone—and you should be drinking more sparkling wine.

Fortunately, in Washington, we’re in the midst of a golden age for sparkling-wine lovers. The breadth of available bubbly has never been greater—high end and low end, local and import, white and pink and (gulp) red: It’s all available to savvy Seattleites. May I suggest the easiest, most pleasant New Year’s resolution you’ll ever make? Drink. More. Bubbly. Here’s how…

Cozy Up to Your Friendly Champagne Importer
In 2009, a bill was passed in the Washington State Legislature that relaxed restrictions on ownership of liquor businesses. Bryan Maletis responded quickly. Less than one year later, he launched Fat Cork in Seattle, where he is the exclusive importer and retailer of a carefully selected portfolio of grower Champagnes. He sells his Champagnes online and through his Fantastic Champagne (FC) Club (fatcork.com/club), hand-selecting bottles for each club member based on taste preferences. Fat Cork also hosts monthly tastings in its charming “cave” just west of the Seattle Center. “I wanted to control our product from the caves of vignerons in France all the way to consumers across the United States,” says Maletis. “As the only link between the producer and the consumer, we also have the ability to share the stories of every family producing Champagne, giving each bottle a unique history.”

Why the focus on Champagne? “The taste of well-made Champagne is distinctly beautiful,” enthuses Maletis, “and has yet to be replicated anywhere else in the world.”

 

The Fourth Generation of Magnums have Arrived!

The Fourth Generation of Magnums have Arrived!

 

After a long (but temperature controlled) pilgrimage from the caves of France, Fat Cork’s fourth generation of Magnums have arrive on our shores!

Big, bubbly, and delicious, these Champagnes will make a statement. Each bottle is handled individually throughout production (from bottling to disgorgement). And, with less than 200 magnums of each cuvée produced every year, these big bottles are rare!

Welcome our large format friends to your holiday celebrations! Perfect for a party of 6-8, exceptional for a party of 4, and sublime for a party of 2, a magnums contains 16 glasses of Champagne.

The Fourth Generation of Magnums have Arrived!