People who know me well know I have a passion for sparkling wine. To me, sparkling wine is not something you only drink on New Year's Eve or at your best friend's wedding. Every day can and should be celebrated, and sparkling wine deserves a place at the proverbial and literal table. So back in 2010, we set out to make sparkling wine from Wisconsin grown fruit by the traditional method...methode champenoise...which is the way all true French Champagne is made. But first, a bit of folklore...
The French monk Dom Pierre Perignon is often given credit for the invention of Champagne. Whether or not the story rings true, it is still a good story. Legend has it the monk was having a problem with bubbles forming in wine that was supposed to be still. On a whim, he tried the bubbly wine and exclaimed "Come quickly, I am tasting the stars!" ...which is one of my all-time favorite wine quotes. If this did indeed happen, what was occurring was a re-fermentation after the wine had been bottled. The process of fermentation converts sugar into alcohol and as a by-product you also get carbon dioxide. Trapped inside a bottle, carbon dioxide creates bubbles or fizz, just like a can of soda. Trapped carbon dioxide gives wine it's stars...or as we say today, it's sparkle.
There are several ways to add carbon dioxide to wine, but the traditional French method is the oldest and the best. After juice is fermented into wine, the still wine is bottled and yeast and sugar are added...to each and every bottle individually. The result is a second fermentation where the yeast converts the sugar to a small amount of additional alcohol and creates carbon dioxide, which...you guessed it...is now trapped in the bottle. Producing sparkling wine by this method provides a high level of carbonation and the tiniest of bubbles, both of which are desired for a well-balanced sparkling wine.
But at some point, the yeast that's in the bottle needs to be removed. This is a process that requires specialized equipment that not many wineries in the Midwest possess. So, every two years, Al and I make a trip to a winery in Suttons Bay, Michigan. There, under the guidance of sparkling guru Larry Mawby, our wine is disgorged. This is the process by which the yeast is removed from the bottle, but the carbon dioxide is retained. We'll talk more about this process in next week's blog, and we'll have some photos from the Mawby winery to show as well.
Have I mentioned yet that this is a very special version of our sparkling wine? This particular batch is what we call an "extended tirage". I'll explain that in more detail next week too, so please stay tuned. Here's a hint...we've been waiting for this for seven years.