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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.!