Making of Champagne

A Look at How Champagne is Made

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Champagne is a popular sparkling wine that originated in the Champagne region of France under appellation rules. In making these drinks, the sourcing of grapes from specific vineyards is highly important.

This is why technically, champagne cannot be homemade – as it has to come from a certain geographic location.

However, you can make sparkling wine at your home by carefully adding a mixture of yeast, yeast nutrients & sugar to wine. The composite should then be fermented in a cool cellar.

How long does it take to make Champagne?

Quality champagne is the result of a lengthy & complicated production process. On average, most champagnes go through a minimum of fifteen months to develop properly. A bottle of Millesime champagne on the other hand – which is a great vintage, may take over three years to prepare.

Such high-quality wines usually have a rich history behind them, as they come from a specific year & place. Typically, a bottle of homemade champagne takes around five months to prepare & is aged several months before consumption.

In a nutshell, non-vintage or homemade wines take roughly two to three years for maturation & vintage wines could take up to ten years for maturation.

This is because all champagnes remain in cellars for a long time for maturation. The minimum aging duration by law for champagnes is longer than any other sparkling wines.

Champagne fermentation process

The alcoholic fermentation stage is the starting point for all kinds of wines, including champagne. The fermentation process depends on the winemaker. He can tweak the style, quality, or aging potential of the champagne.

There are mainly two types of fermentation processes:

  • Primary Fermentation – This process chemically changes the grape musts into wine. The yeast converts the natural sugars present in the grapes and produces alcohol and carbon dioxide. Other byproducts of this reaction influence the sensory characteristics of the beverage.
  • Malolactic Fermentation – This is an optional process that chemically changes malic acid contained in the grapes into lactic acid. It greatly shapes the wine’s aroma by restructuring its sensations of softness, ripeness, or creaminess.

Does Champagne need to be aged?

Like any other wine, champagne does not only age well but will greatly improve with age. For optimal aging, storage should be inside a cool, dark, humid, vibration-free zone.

The temperature should between 11.6-15°C. The highest quality champagnes have spent several years aging inside cellars. Unopened non-vintage champagnes usually last for three to four years.

On the other hand, vintage champagnes could last up to ten years. Vintage champagnes tend to age better than non-vintage ones.

However, if not stored properly – champagnes could lose their carbonation along with their fresh fruity flavors & effervescence. A tell-tale sign of improper storage is given by the color of the champagne becoming darker than before.

Champagne making process

  • Harvesting & crushing of the grapes – The champagne-making process begins with vine cultivation between August and October. Grapes are carefully gathered by hand to keep them undamaged.
  • Pressing & settling – Workers measure grapes in terms of their weight. The details get logged in a book for safekeeping & are usually kept by the producer. The settling phase marks the start of the fermentation process.
  • First fermentation – The grape juiced ferments inside stainless steel tanks or oak barrels. The temperature within these containers is regulated. The process lasts for several weeks. During this process, natural grape sugar converts to acidic wine.
  • The blending process – Here the acidic still wine gets combined with reserved wine to make base wine. This base wine is called – Cuvee and has a specific character. Then after the cold stabilization & clarification processes – the wine is free of all suspended particles.
  • Second fermentation – In this stage, the mixing of the base wine with yeast & sugar takes place. Alcohol & carbon dioxide production happens after the end of this process. This entire process takes around eight weeks to complete.
  • Aging the wine – The maturation or aging process takes place inside wine cellars. The wine gets its unique flavor profile from dead yeast cells which form here. These cells are also known as lees. The wine takes about fifteen months to age before it is commercially available.
  • Riddling stage – In this stage, the wine bottles are placed in a rack, tilted downwards at a certain angle as lees coalesce at the neck of the bottle. This process can last up to three months.
  • Disgorging of the lees – This stage is all about the removal of lees from the wine bottles. An ice-salt solution helps separate the sediment by freezing the dead yeast cells. The process takes place at a temperature of minus thirty degrees Celsius.
  • Dosage addition – During the previous process, some amount of wine is lost. To compensate for this loss, ‘shipping liqueur’ restores the wine’s natural carbonation and acidity of the wine. This solution consists of white wine, brandy, and sugar. The amount of dosage can change the sweetness profile of the wine. It usually takes around four months for the blending process to complete.
  • Corking the champagne bottle – Finally, it’s time to cork & secures the champagne bottle with the help of a wire cage. It helps to contain the exerted pressure by carbon dioxide. From here on, the bottle can be aged for a few months or several years depending on the wine house & style.

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What is vintage champagne made from?

A bottle of vintage champagne refers to champagne that is from a single specified year. On the other hand, a bottle of non-vintage champagne is a blend of fermented grape juices from the harvests of different years.

Every vintage from a specific year has its unique profile and character. Vintage champagne is less frizzy and richer in aroma compared to non-vintage ones.

Only specific years with outstanding harvest quality get the ‘vintage’ label. This is why every decade produces only three or four vintages. This makes them far more expensive.

How to make fruit champagne at home?

A glass of non-alcoholic fruit champagne can be easily made at home by following some simple instructions! The ingredients required for this are – an unpeeled red apple, an unpeeled orange, a lemon, one liter of cold apple juice & soda (each), and some freshly-cut mint leaves. In place of soda, lemonade can be used as well.

The process of making is as follows:

  • Rinse and dry the apple and orange by patting.
  • Without peeling the fruits, cut them into thin round slices.
  • Pour some lemon juice atop the sliced apple to prevent discoloration & toss.
  • Add the fruit slices with the remaining lemon juice into a pitcher. Add some mint as per taste.
  • Fill the jug with cold apple juice. Leave it for twenty minutes for adequate blending.
  • Add ice to the serving glass. Put a slice of fruit and mint leaf for garnish.
  • Voilà – your homemade fruit champagne is ready!

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Can you turn wine into champagne?

It is easy to turn your boring white wine into sparkling champagne by following a few simple steps. Once you have your normal white wine in hard bottles, add some yeast along with a teaspoon of sugar into each bottle.

Close the bottles and swirl them to mix the added components well. Over time, the fermentation process would produce carbon dioxide and you would get the special bubbles. Now, you can have your homemade champagne!

Champagne vs wine

There are some key differences between the two based on certain parameters. They are as follows:

  • Region or location – A champagne is original, only if it is produced in the Champagne region of France. If not, then it is just plain wine.
  • Variety of grapes and other fruits – Champagne is usually made from these grape varieties – Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Pinot Meunier. On the other hand, wine can be made from grapes of any variety or even fruits like plum, cherry, or starfruit.
  • A technique used – A single-step fermentation process leads to wine. While champagne requires a two-step fermentation process. This is also known as the traditional method.
  • Sweetness level – Champagnes have a certain range of sweetness levels. So, all champagnes are wines but not all wines can be called champagnes.
  • Alcohol content – The average alcohol content in wine usually ranges between 5-23%. While in the case of champagne, that range is 11-13%.
  • Price – The average price of popular table wine is between $5 to $10. Whereas, the average price of a champagne bottle in retail is around $44.

FAQs relating to how champagne is made

How is Champagne made step by step?

Here’s the step-by-step process:

Step 1 – Pressing the grapes

Step 2 – First fermentation process

Step 3 – Blending

Step 4 – Second fermentation process

Step 5 – Lees’s aging

Step 6 – Riddling

Step 7 – Disgorgement

Step 8 – Dosage addition

Step 9 – Cork insertion

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What is real Champagne made of?

Real champagne does not concern itself with ingredients but with the place of origin. Sparkling wines that originate and are bottled within 100 miles of the Champagne region of France are true – ‘Champagne’.

Furthermore, champagnes always use grapes of these varieties – Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Pinot Meunier.

How is Champagne different than wine?

Any alcoholic beverage that comes from grapes or other fruits like cherry, elderberry, etc, can be Wine. However, those wine bottles that come from the Champagne region of France and have that special sparkling-bubble effect can be Champagne.

To produce this bubbly effect the wine has to go through a secondary fermentation process which produces carbon dioxide as a by-product. Wines only go through a single, primary fermentation process & lack carbonation that produces bubbles.

Is Champagne just sparkling wine?

No, you cannot call any sparkling wine – Champagne. It has to originate from a specific geographical location in France and has to have one of these grape varieties as the ingredient – Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Pinot Meunier.

So, all champagne is sparkling wine, but not all sparkling wine is champagne!

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