The roots of Champagne are literally buried in the chalk soils of France’s Champagne departmente, found in the country’s north-central part. Here, partners Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier, and Chardonnay have been cultivated separately for centuries, each varietal playing its role in sparkling wine production. Yet, how are these celebrated beverages made? What steps does each varietal endure before becoming Champagne?
(1) Pressing – Tons of grapes are pressed after harvest, releasing juice that needs to ferment.
(2) Initial Fermentation – Grape juices are vinified in separate lots, i.e. Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier, until each reaches a decided level of alcohol.
(3) Blending – Fermented grape juice is rationed to suit the vintner.
(a) A Blanc de Blancs will be a sparkling wine made of solely Chardonnay.
(b) A Blanc de Noirs will be a sparkler comprised of each Pinot, or one, perhaps.
(c) A Cuvèe, or blend of the three.
(4-8) Secondary fermentation with added dosage, in bottle. This is essential, since carbonation occurs at this time. Here is why. With fermenting wine trapped within a vessel – where yeasts continue eating added sugar, hence converting them into alcohol – CO2 has nowhere else to go but into the beverage itself. A gas, it settles itself within the fermented juice. The wine’s level of dryness depends on the level of dosage, or added sugar.
(a) Extra Brut (less than 6g of sugar per litre)
(b) Brut (less than 12g)
(c) Extra Dry (between 12-17 g)]
(d) Sec (between 17-32 g)
(e) Demi-Sec (between 32-50g)
(f) Doux (50g)
Sonoma’s Russian River Valley is – despite contrasting loam, clay, and alluvial soils – Champagne’s (and Burgundy’s) equivalent, especially when climate and temperature combine to create a perfect environment for many varietals, Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier, and Chardonnay among them. Judy Jordan (of Jordan Family vintners) recognized this and pushed through with an enterprise of her own, “J,” in 1996. Her “J” Brut Cuvée – a California sparkling wine – is borne of the aforementioned Méthode Tradicionelle, and is a blend of Chardonnay (50%), Pinot Noir (49%), and Pinot Meunier (1%). The result is a heavenly blend of papaya, guava, and yeast, with fine pèrlage (a.k.a. bubbles) and lasting tropical finish.