Have you ever made your own wine from a wine kit? Have you ever fancied going several steps further and making your own Champagne? Well – you can’t! At least, you can’t do so unless you live in a specific region of eastern France to the south of the city of Rheims. You might be able to make sparkling wine elsewhere, but unless it is produced in the Champagne region it cannot be called Champagne.
And even if it was not illegal to make the stuff anywhere else, do you really know how to make it? When you know all the steps involved, you should not be surprised at just how expensive it is.
Three varieties of grape are used for making Champagne – Pinot Noir, Meunier and Chardonnay. They are grown in three distinct areas on the chalky soils of the region, which are noted for their hot summers and cold winters. Blends are made from the produce of several vineyards.
The secret of making Champagne is the “méthode champenoise”, which was supposedly invented in the 17th century by a Benedictine monk named Dom Perignon. At heart, the method involves two periods of fermentation, the second being inside the bottle. And that is where the fun starts!
The secondary fermentation requires the bottles to be corked and placed on sloping racks, where they are turned and shaken slightly every day. This is known as rémuage. The process originally meant that workers had to do this manually as they walked along the rows of possibly thousands of bottles, and this had to be done for anything between six months and several years. However, modern production allows for remuage to be done mechanically under computer control – the quality of the wine under this speeded-up process does not appear to have been unduly affected.
When rémuage is complete, the bottles are stood upright and upside-down so that any deposit collects on the corks. They are then placed in frozen brine so that the deposit forms a solid plug that is then removed with the corks.
This has to be done so that cane-sugar syrup can be added before the bottles are re-corked. The amount of syrup determines the sweetness or otherwise of the wine. Add little or no syrup and you have “brut” or extra dry Champagne. The other common varieties are “sec” (dry) and “demi-sec” which is actually quite sweet.
When the bottles return to their original temperature they are allowed to stand and achieve their final “fizz”
So – do you still want to make your own? Or will you stick to the wine kit and bite the financial bullet when you want proper Champers?