The Search for the Perfect Glass of Bubbles
My weekend with friends celebrating a birthday, friendship, good food and laughter.
In celebration of my friend Jane’s birthday, she asked several of her friends to join her in the Champagne region of France. Eight of us, all Americans, took off early on a Friday morning driving the 4 short hour to Reims, where we would be touring several Champagne Houses.
There is no way I could possibly tell you the process of making champagne correctly, even though I listened quite intently several different times. I will leave that up to the experts. But I will say these are the things that I loved learning about champagne.
In order for the sparkling wine to be called champagne the grapes must be grown in the Champagne region of France and follow the rules of the Champagne appellation. They use three different grapes to make champagne…Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier and Chardonnay. The Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier grapes are black which makes you wonder about the color of champagne, but inside the black skin of the grapes is white juice.
They hand pick all the grapes. Yes you read that correctly, handpicked! Then they have 30 minutes to get them to the presses carefully without damaging or bruising the grape so the skin does not bleed into the juice.
After the juice has been pressed it is placed into a barrel. This is where the first fermentation takes place. Then it is placed into the bottle in which it will be sold. The wine is mixed with a triage of wine, yeast and sugar. This is when the special champagne secondary fermentation takes place over time. This is the process that makes the wine bubbly.
The wine is then aged for at least 15-30 months. I think this depends of the type of champagne. The next process is rotating the bottles over time slightly everyday either by hand or machine allowing the dead yeast cells known as lees to a new position.
As the bottles are rotated they are also lifted slightly each time upside down. This allows the lees to settle into the neck of the bottle.
Once they have settled fully into the top of the bottle, the neck of the bottle is frozen, thus containing all of the lees into the neck. The crown cap is then removed at which time the pressure in the bottle forces the iced neck containing the lees to pop out. Wine from former vintages and sugar is then added to level off the champagne. The bottle is quickly corked and the wire cage attached.
As I said above, I am not the professional… just the girl who got to see the process and enjoy a “few” glasses of the beautiful bubbly delight during our girly weekend. We had a wonderful time wandering through the Champagne Houses, the vineyards, dining in French restaurants and even munching on a few croissants. But the best part was just being with friends enjoying our friend’s birthday.
Happy Birthday to our dear friend Jane… and many more.
Our tours of Champagne Houses:
G.H. Mumm, established in 1827.
Champagne de Castellane, established in 1895
We went to Moet & Chandon, established in1743. We were unable to get a tour so we just went to the boutique shop and outside on the grounds. Stunning!!!
The family has been cultivating the vines since the 18th century, but they lost it during World War 1. It was taken over by the J Chopin family and the champagne was established in 1947. We had lunch served by the owner while we were there. Truly a delight.
Then on to Champagne Bouche Pere & Fils, established in 1920.
Happy Birthday Jane, and thank you for sharing it with us! Truly the time of our lives!!