During our trip to Lake Chelan Wine Valley, we had a bubbly brunch at the beautiful winery grounds of Karma Vineyards. Sparkling wines were poured from Karma as well as other local wineries, including Hard Row to Hoe and Cairdeas Winery .
The owner of Karma Julie Pittsinger walked us through the Karma vineyard and showed us their vines and wine cave where they keep their sparkling wine. She explained that their winery uses the most traditional and one of the most complicated ways of creating sparkling wine: Methode Champenoise.
Developed in France, Methode Champenoise – considered by many to be the best method of creating Champagne and other sparkling wines – allows for a second fermentation in the bottle – lasting from six months to six years – instead of a large tank. Using large tanks for the second fermentation is called “charmat.” Prosecco, a popular Italian sparkling wine, is created with the less-expensive charmat process.
During the secondary fermentation in the Methode Champenoise, a mixture of sugar and yeast, called “liqueur de triage,” is added to the still wine. Each bottle is capped with what looks like a traditional beer bottle cap and is then laid down in riddling racks (a popular rack for showcasing wine as well). We may have to get one for our condo. They’re made out of wood and add a visual statement to a wine lovers abode.
Once laid down, the yeast then ferments the sugar, creating the alcohol and carbon dioxide – the CO2 gives the wine its amazing bubbles (we love those bubbles). At the end of the secondary fermentation, as determined by the winemaker, the beer bottle cap is removed and replaced with a cork and wire cage.
Prior to corking, lees, or yeast and any other particles, are removed from the bottle during a process called “disgorging.” Sounds like a horror movie huh? Well, disgorging lets the yucky stuff out, i.e. dead yeast etc., and the winemaker can put his or her special sugary blend, called “liqueur d’expédition,” in the bottle to top it off and make it a signature bottle of sparkling wine. This process of adding a sugary blend to the bottle is called “dosage.”
The origins of Methode Champenoise are debated. Some believe Dom (Pierre) Perignon, a Benedictine Monk, developed the process. Recognize the name? Moet & Chandon name their prestige Champagne after Dom Perignon. Dom Perignon Champagne is typically a 50/50 blend of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. And it’s price – about $100 plus – is not easy on the wallet. But it’s great for celebrations. I’ll never forget the bottle Steve bought me when I got my first real job back in 1991. I was so impressed and it probably contributed to me saying yes to his marriage proposal a few months later. Yes, we have been together that long!
Others believe Methode Champenoise had been developed by a British scientist and physician Christopher Merret a couple of decades prior to Dom Perignon’s work in helping to improve the quality of Champagne.
Whatever the origins, Methode Champenoise is considered a premiere way of creating sparkling wine. It is the method used in the Champagne region of France in order to create their world-renown champagnes. In fact, no one outside of Champagne, France, is supposed to call their sparkling wine Champagne.
We had the privilege of being shown Karma’s wine cave where Julie explained the process of Methode Champenoise. We recorded it and wanted to share it with you. We will add a link to the video shortly.