Champagne Week Part III – Disgorging
December 29, 2010
In making champagne, everything is leading up to somehow removing the lees from the champagne without reducing the CO2 in the bottle. And this is where I need to step back and talk a little about safety.
Because of the increased CO2 in the bottle, the bottles have a built up pressure. Therefore, making champagne or even a bottle conditioned beverage really needs to be done with the appropriate bottles, ones that can handle this pressure. Wine bottles are not strong enough. Beer bottles can handle pressure up to a certain amount, but not as much as champagne bottles. Tim Vandergrift claims that at 90 psi, Champagne has five times the pressure of beer or soft drinks.
Secondly, too much pressure or a flaw in the bottle can cause the bottle to crack or even explode. One would not want that to happen when you are handling the bottles, so please be careful and wear protective clothing and goggles. Here is Vandergrift’s unfortunate experience with an exploding champagne bottle.
This stage of making champagne is dangerous, so please do not attempt this just from reading on the topic or watching YouTube videos, but instead try to find an experienced méthode champenoise maker and have them tutor and supervise you to make sure you are doing things correct and safely. Today’s blog posting is meant only to educate for the appreciation of champagne and sparkling wine, not as a how-to.
So at this point, the bottle is in a ridding rack, tipped upside down, with all the lees in the neck. From there, the bottle is removed and chilled, remaining in the upside down position to keep the lees in the neck. It is then placed so that the neck is in an extremely cold solution that freezes just the neck of the bottle.
Next, the bottle is then disgorged, in that the upside down bottle has it’s cap removed, in which the pressure causes the frozen lees to shoot out of the bottle, and the bottle is turned upright as to not lose too much of the champagne, all in one swift motion. If the bottle was not cold enough, the champagne will proceed to bubble out of the bottle, but if it was cold enough, it can be stopped by placing a thumb over the opening. Disgorging is either done outside, or in a special container.
Now all the yeast is gone, and another dosage of sugar or juice can be added back to the bottle without fear of it fermenting again. A dosage should be added to remove extra headspace for air to be in the bottle, or the CO2 will come out of the liquid due to the extra space. After that, the bottle is quickly corked with a mushroom cork, and a cage is added to ensure the cork does not pop free from the pressure.
Commercial winemakers have a machine for the neck freezing, disgorgment, dosage, and corking, which makes it safer and faster.
The bottle should then be cellared for a month before drinking, monitoring for leaks and cracks in the bottle. If some is detected, make sure you wear safety gear and clothing while handling the bottle pushed to the limits of pressure, chill the bottle to reduce the pressure slightly, and drink.
- I saw Time Vandergrift give the presentation “Sparkling Wine from Kits: Wine Kits” while I attended the 2010 WineMaker Magazine Conference, and I highly recommend him as the authority for the amateur winemaker to follow.
- Daniel Pambianchi, who wrote Techniques in Home Winemaking, also has some information on the topic on his website.
- What is Méthode Champenoise?