Thursday, July 01, 2010

Riddle me this

The Monmousseau winery specializes in sparkling wines made using the Champagne process, or méthode champenoise. Of course, French wine industry rules prohibit winemakers outside the Champagne region from using those words, so producers of sparkling wines in other regions use the words méthode traditionnelle to describe the process.

A hand-crank riddling machine at Monmousseau. Each cube or palette holds 520 bottles.

The sparkling wine process includes a second fermentation inside the bottle. Sugar and yeast are added to the still wine and the bottle is capped and stored on its side. The yeast consumes the sugar but its waste, carbon dioxide, cannot escape the bottle and stays dissolved in the wine. During this second fermentation, sediments (dead yeast) collect on the bottom of the bottle. These sediments need to be removed from the bottle before it can be corked and sold.

To move the sediments down to the neck of the bottle, wine makers would use special wooden racks that hold each bottle by the neck. A worker would turn each bottle one quarter turn daily and at the same time increase its angle slightly in the rack. This action, which takes considerable skill, would slowly move the sediments down toward the neck of the bottle until, about eight weeks later, they would all be collected at the cap. This is the process known as "riddling" or remuage in French.

These days, only very special bottles are riddled manually. Instead, large crates are turned using gears and cranks so that thousands of bottles can be riddled faster and with less effort (and skill). Many riddling machines are fully automated and require very little human intervention. The riddling process that once took skilled workers eight weeks can now be completed in a matter of days or even hours.

8 comments:

  1. Interesting. But then what? They remove the cork, get rid of the sediment and recork? No wonder champagne is so much more expensive.

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  2. Ah haaaa..... very interesting. :) Somewhere along the way in life I had learned about the fermenting-in-the-bottle stage of champagne, and the limits as to which sparkling wines could actually use the term champagne, but I hadn't ever learned about the remuage :))

    Judy

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  3. I used to buy a "Vouvray, methode champenoise" a while back. Can't find it in the States anymore.
    No wonder champagne was so expensive in the old days and only used for special occasions.

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  4. Ah, but there's one more delicate maneuver -- once the sediments are all in the neck of the bottle, the end of the neck is frozen and the sediment is then captured in a block of ice. The cork is drawn, pulling out the ice and sediment, then the bottle is quickly recorked.

    Legend has it the Dom Perignon, the monk who reputedly invented champagne, drank the first glass and called to all the others, "Come quickly; I'm drinking stars!"

    I've loved champagne ever since I was a boy. Delightfully, my husband loves it as much as I do.

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  5. Actually, Dom Perignon never said that, but the myth continues anyway. How many bottles did you take home? Don't you live in the area where they make a very nice Crémant?

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  6. Very interesting, Walt, thanks!

    And thanks to Will for the explanation of how they get the sediment out of the bottle, I was wondering about that.

    BettyAnn

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  7. I have heard the French have very strict wine laws, some of them inflexible that French wine is thwarted to compete in today's wine market.
    I have explored a lot of wine, but ve ry little French - some of it is because it looks so daunting, some of it is because of the price. There is so much good stuff less expensive than French.
    still, I am keen to try some 'real french wine' if I could find some not too expensive.

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  8. tornwordo, you got it. That's the next post coming up!

    judy, it's a very interesting process!

    nadege, Vouvray is the appellation that Monmousseau produces.

    will, you beat me to it! Friday's post is about the dégorgement.

    starman, hmmmm... legends! We brought back about 15 bottles. I think crément is made more on the west side of Tours, but I'm not sure about that.

    bettyann, :)

    michael, when I lived in San Francisco, French wines were much less expensive than most local California wines. Maybe the incredible shrinking dollar is to blame for the increase?

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