or actually sparkling wine, is a facet of my home winemaking that I have had interest in exploring. This interest was brought on mostly due to a close friend who loves sparkling wine and has asked me if I could try making it. Well, always up for a challenge, I agreed to give it a try with a small portion of my estate Vidal Blanc wine this year. So what is there to making still wine sparkling? Is it just about getting bubbles in the bottle, or something more?
Well like everything else I do in my winemaking hobby, a lot of research followed. Based on that research, I decided to give it the old college try utilizing the traditional Champagne method. By the way, for those of you that don't know, sparkling wine can only be called Champagne if a blend of Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier, and Chardonnay grape from the Champagne appellation of France are utilized and made in the méthode champenoise style. You may say that you have seen other sparkling wines that are labeled Champagne. Well not to get into a history lesson, but those are sparkling wines that are made by wineries that used that name prior to a law in 2006 that made it illegal. In other words, they were “grand-fathered” in. Any newer winery that makes sparkling wine anywhere in the world may no longer call it Champagne. There are other cool names for sparkling wines that you may have heard of though — like Cava from Spain, Sekt from Germany and Spumante, Asti, and Prosecco from Italy. Even other areas of France can't utilize the Champagne name. They have other names like Crémant.
The traditional Champagne method is one where a still wine is made, it is bottled in heavy Champagne-style glass bottles, a bit of sugar and yeast are added, it is capped with a bottle cap and allowed to referment in the bottle, carbonating the wine. Very similar to adding priming sugar and bottling for beer makers. After completing the cold stabilization of my white and rosé wines on my deck – Mother Nature did her job, I racked a three-gallon batch of my Vidal Blanc to a clean carboy. I then made a simple syrup and added it to the wine as it was racking over to approximately 2% residual sugar. I bottled the sweetened wine and added 1 teaspoon of rehydrated Red Star Premier Cuvée yeast to each bottle. I then capped each bottle – it's very handy to have one of those combined corker/capper units. The bottles are now sitting upright in their cardboard cases at room temperature; hopefully refermenting. By the way, always liking to experiment, I'm also trying to make a small batch of sparkling rosé as well! Isn't home winemaking fun?
After about two weeks, I'm guessing the refermentation will be complete. At that point I will take the cases, of then hopefully sparkling wine, down to my wine cellar to begin the next process, called riddling. Riddling is an age-old process of beginning to separate the spent yeast from the wine. Typically this is done in a riddling rack or large automated machine. Having neither, I plan to utilize the cardboard cases as pseudo riddling racks. I will put these cases up at an angle against the wall, with support from underneath of course, turn each bottle with the neck facing down and begin the riddling process. The bottles will get turned – side to side – everyday, while increasing the angle of the bottles till they are eventually perpendicular to the floor. This process should take a number of weeks. The idea here is to get all the spent yeast and other solids to settle into the neck of the bottle....