Champagne Processing

Champagne processing is a fascinating subject and deserves some discussions. About 250 years ago a monk named Don Perignon in the Champagne region of France discovered the process of making champagne. He exclaimed, "Come and see I am drinking stars." Champagne making is now a highly regulated manufacturing process under the control of the French government. At the perfect time of maturity of the grapes (chardonnay, pinot meunier, and/or pinot noir), they are picked by hand. Great care is taken not to bruise the delicate skin of the grapes during the harvesting stage. The grapes are then transported to the winery to be pressed to obtain the grape juice. Four thousand kg or 8800 lb of grapes are placed in a tub called marc. Each marc is pressed several times, yielding a total of 2550 L as laid down by the rules of appellation, which calls for 1.6 kg (3.52 lb) of grapes per liter of juice. The first three pressings yield 2050 L of first-quality juice known as the cuvee. A final pressing then yields 500 L of taille or lesser-quality juice.

After pressing, the vin de cuvee and vin de taille are allowed to stand for the solids to settle. After that time the must will be allowed to ferment and is made into wine. Only wine made from vin de cuvee is used for champagne making. After fermentation, the cuvee will have about 10% alcohol. Into this cuvee more sugar and yeast culture will be added, and a strong cap is applied to the bottle to start a secondary fermentation in the bottle. The amount of added sugar will dictate the amount of pressure generated in the bottle. This is why champagne bottles are made with very strong and thick glass. During this fermentation, the yeast will convert the added sugar to alcohol and carbon dioxide. It is this carbon dioxide that causes champagne to bubble. An important step in champagne making is to remove the yeast cells from the enclosed bottle so that the champagne will not be cloudy. To achieve this, a very tedious procedure is used in which a worker will turn the champagne bottle one quarter time per day for two weeks (riddling). Each day after riddling, the bottle will be tilted a little more toward the neck such that yeast will slowly migrate to the neck of the bottle by gravity. After completion of the riddling process, all the yeast will be at the neck of bottle. The neck is then frozen. This will cause a column of ice to be formed, which traps the yeast. The bottle is then opened quickly, and the pressure of the gas in the bottle will expel the column of ice with the yeast. Quickly the worker will add some sterile wine into the bottle to compensate for the lost liquid, and the bottle is tightly closed. A champagne is then made. The champagne can be stored in caves for years before shipment for sale. In the Meot & Chandon company in Epernay, France, something like 5 million bottles of champagne are stored in 7.1 mile of caves in this lime country. Current research work on champagne includes: (1) development of disease-resistant strains of grape vine; (2) use of alginate pellets to immobilize yeast cell in the champagne for secondary fermentation; after fermentation, it would take only 40 s to settle all the alginate pellets with yeast to the neck and remove the yeast a frozen column—this can take the place of the tedious "riddling" process by hand; and (3) measurement of amount of bubble and foam by use of robots and camera to examine champagne quality.

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