There are far more champagne houses than anyone has time to visit so I planned just the famous ones. And sure enough, after the cellar visits, I feel quite educated on how champagne is made. Traditionally made using a blend of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier (black grapes), but one can also find Blanc de Blancs which is 100% Chardonnay or Blanc de Noirs, two Pinots only. It is fermented twice, which gives it the bubbles. In the second fermentation, yeast and sugar are added and the liquid is sealed and aged for approximately one and a half years. The yeast inside the bottle consumes the sugar, releasing alcohol and gas. Interestingly, as the champagne ages, the yeast begins to die, leaving sediments.
At this stage, one has to start riddling the bottles i.e. rotating them every few days and storing them tilted upside-down, so that the sediments move down into the neck and can be removed. Lees are then removed by freezing the only neck of the bottle, and removing the cap. The pressure from inside the bottle pushes out the ice with the lees frozen inside, additional blends of wine are added to top off the bottle and it is recapped. And of course, it does not lose all of its bubbles because the gas in champagne is actually in the wine itself, not just added carbonation. Interestingly in the days of Dom Perignon, bottles were pushed into sand piles so that the sediment could collect. It was in the nineteenth century that ‘Veuve Clicquot’ invented the riddling table and the process of turning and tilting the bottles became more efficient!