We absolutely love sparkling wine, but alas, had never taken the plunge to produce it ourselves.  Well, 2012 was the year we finally decided to make the first Somerset Ridge sparkling wine.  As with all things related to operating a small, boutique winery in the Midwest, the decision was more one of the heart than the business plan!  After all, to make a méthode champenoise (more on that below) sparkling wine is much more labor intensive than producing still wine and it requires different and more expensive equipment.  But, as we have done all along, we said what the heck and plunged right in on our  journey to make a a true Champagne-style sparkler from Kansas.

sparklingbrutThere are several ways to produce a sparkling wine.  The method that is used in the Champagne region of France is called méthode champenoise. It is the most difficult and labor intensive, but results in sublime sparking wine.  There was never any question that this was the method we would use.  To start, you must have a suitable base wine.  In Champagne, they use slightly under-ripe Chardonnay and Pinot Noir grapes for the base wine.  In our case, our Chardonel is ideal, naturally having the higher acidity and crispness desired in Champagne.

We fermented our 2012 Chardonel as normal for a still wine, This base Chardonel was then bottled into Champagne bottles, (which are much thicker than regular wine bottles so they will not explode under pressure).  During the bottling process we added a special yeast and a small amount of simple syrup.  We then capped the bottles with a crown cap.  The bottles were then put on their sides in the riddling room.

Since then, a secondary fermentation has been occurring in the bottle, where the yeast is slowly converting the sugar added to the wine into alcohol and carbon dioxide.  Because the bottles are capped, the carbon dioxide cannot escape as it would in a normal fermentation.  This causes the carbon dioxide to be slowly absorbed into the wine, resulting in the wonderful effervescent bubbles found in Champagne!

We are monitoring the progress of the fermentation in the bottles now, and we must say we are very excited.  When we have determined that the secondary fermentation is complete, we will embark on a wild and fun procedure called disgorgment and dosage. More on that in a later blog post. Suffice to say that we are hopeful that later this year we will be able to release our first Champagne-style sparkling wine.  We hope that when you take that first sip you’ll agree with the monk Dom Perignon who exclaimed, upon taking his first sip of bubbly, I am tasting stars!