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 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.”