The art of making fine champagne as explained by Emmanuel Pithois
C'est le but ... de faire un meilleur champagne.
That's the goal ... to make a better champagne. - Emmanuel Pithois
If you would like to learn how grapes are transformed into champagne, visit Emmanuel in Verzenay or scroll down the page for a photo tour of his champagne making facilities and cellar.
Maison des Vignes de Verzenay (Click here to read my post about Catherine and Emmanuel's B&B).
4 & 6, rue Veuve Pommery
Tél: + 33 (0)3 26 49 48 63
Tél: + 33 (0)3 26 49 48 63
After all of the grapes have been picked by hand according to the laws regulating the production of champagne, they're pressed to yield a specific amount of juice. The three main types of grapes used to make this bubbly beverage are Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier. With the approval of the chief government administrator of their department, each village decides the date that the grapes will be harvested. The harvest in Verzenay is expected to start on September 13, 2012.
The juice is fermented in stainless steel vats until approximately February of the following year. Next, a second fermentation is induced by adding sugar and yeast just before it is bottled.
No matter if you visit Pommery, Moët et Chandon, Taittinger, Veuve Clicquot or Pithois, they're all going to emphasize the importance of the yeast sediment that develops in champagne. For as the champagne is aged, it's the yeast cells that impart complex flavors to it. The best and most expensive champagnes are aged for five or more years.
Once the champagne is finished aging, the sediment must be removed. To collect the sediment, the bottles are positioned with their necks down for a period of up to six weeks. During this time, they're riddled (rotated) to help dislodge the sediment from the sides of the bottle. Riddling may be done by hand or while the bottles are in crates like the ones shown above. An experienced riddler can rotate 35,000-40,000 bottles of champagne per day.
As the sludge used to be the only downside of drinking champagne, someone had the clever idea to flash freeze the neck of the bottle and remove the temporary cap in order to disgorge the accumulated sediment. A dose of liquor (sugar and wine) is added to top off the bottle. At this point, the bottle is closed with a cork and sealed with wire.
The champagne is mature and ready for sale. To preserve its taste, keep champagne in a dark and preferably cool place. According to all of the guides of the champagne houses that we visited, there's no point in aging champagne because it won't get better like some wines do. In fact, champagne can go off if you store it for too long. Trust me, it's true! Stéphane and I found out the hard way after we kept a bottle of Dom Pérignon to drink on our daughter's twentieth birthday. When we finally popped the cork, it tasted so awful that we ended up pouring it down the drain.
If Emmanual Pithois invites you into his cellar, be sure to accept his invitation. I'm sure that you'll be pleased when you sample the fruits of his labor!