During this time of remaining indoors we thought it may be the perfect opportunity to further enlighten the MCC fan about the process involved in the journey from vine to flute. Each week our winemaker, Emma Bruwer, will spend time on each of the processes of making Methode Cap Classique.
As an introduction, here are the steps Emma will take us through with a brief description:
Harvest & Press
All our grapes are picked by hand in the early mornings of January. We work with Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Menuier originating from Robertson, Bonnievale and Franschhoek areas. They are then pressed while still cold to allow us to extract the three different press fractions clearly.
First fermentation takes place mostly in stainless steel tanks, with a small portion of Chardonnay in old french oak barrels. A specific yeast produced in the region of Champagne for the making of Champagne is used. First fermentation results in a high-acid, low-alcohol base wine.
Blending can be seen as one of the most important stages for a winemaker, as it is one of the steps where you as winemaker decide the style you will follow. In Champagne, blending can take place from many different years and regions to create a blend that shows the house style. For us it’s important to have the reserve wines (Brut and Rose) consistent and true to Le lude’s style.
Tirage is the second fermentation. The base wines are bottled along with yeast, sugar and nutrients. For Cap Classique, as with Champagne, this is regulated to take place in the bottle it will be sold in. We use a specialised yeast for this process as it needs to endure alcohol, high acidity and low oxygen content – all things yeast generally doesn’t like. Tirage can last up to two months. Generally bottles are closed with crown caps for tirage as they are easily removed by a machine, but we do some bottles under cork for secondary fermentation – Agrafe.
After fermentation is complete, the yeast cells in the bottle die and fall to the bottom of the bottle – this becomes the lees. Time on lees is one of the predominant factors influencing aroma profile and texture in Cap Classiques.
Riddling is the process of moving the lees in the bottle, to the neck of the bottle in a small compacted ball to allow a clean degorgement. Traditionally this was done solely by manually turning the bottles in a Pipetri, but is now mostly done via a machine called the Gyro pallet.
Degorgement (Disgorgement) is the physical removal of the lees from the bottle.
This can be done by hand or by machine. We first freeze the neck of the bottle to prevent any lees from running back into the wine – no one wants a cloudy glass of bubbly. The cap is shot off with a small blade, and the pressure inside the bottle is enough to push out the Bidule and lees cap.
Dosage and recorking
Just after degorgement, the dosage will be added, topped up to the correct level, and corked for release.
Dosage (Liqueur d’expedition) is a mixture of sugar, sulphur for protection, and a chosen wine. This can be older vintages of reserve wines or the same wine as being degorged. The amount of sugar added is determined by the winemaker on the day, this is essential to balance the wine on the palate.
After degorgement the final cork is inserted and a protective wire cap is placed on the bottle (Muselet). A few vigorous shakes to incorporate the dosage with the wine, then the wine rests for several months before release to the market.
Keep an eye out for Emma’s next post surrounding the intricacies of bringing in the grapes at just the right time, a bit more about this year’s harvest, and what happens once the grapes arrive in the cellar.