First harvest – Sparkling wine
Excitement is in the air, as well as the smell of harvest. We kicked off our harvest early Friday morning with a crew of 10 people picking. The very first grapes we pick are Chardonnay for our sparkling Blanc de Blancs. I have been sampling grapes for measuring Brix (percent sugar in the grape juice) the last several weeks to reach the perfect level and tasting them to see that we have the flavors we want. If you use the traditional method to get bubbles you ferment a base wine which is then put in bottles for a second fermentation. You start by making a base wine from grapes low in sugar. I aim for about 18.5 Brix. In a couple of weeks we will start picking grapes for our still wines and they need a higher sugar level so I will continue to sample grapes for another 6-8 weeks. Every varietal matures at a different speed and even the same varietal will be picked at different times depending on the style the winemaker is after.
After picking the grapes as whole clusters they went straight to the press and the grapes were gently pressed at fairly low pressure to make sure we don’t get the harsher flavors close to the skin. Now the grape juice is resting for a couple of days in a tank kept at low temperature. For a Champagne style sparkling we first make a base wine and then start the fermentation. We just did that Monday. When the wine is completely done we fill champagne bottles with the base wine and add additional yeast and sugar. The wine will ferment a second time and carbon dioxide created in the process is now trapped in the closed bottles, and that is how we get the bubbles. Then we have to wait, and wait, and wait while the wine is “sur lie” which means that the yeast cells remain in the bottle with the wine. Over a couple of years the wine will mature and pick up the unmistakable champagne flavors while resting in the bottle.
When I think it is finally ready, a couple of years away, we need to do the last step in which the yeast is removed from the bottle and a real champagne cork with its wire cage is plugged in. We just did that with our 2014 West Seafoam Blanc de Blancs. We used 100% Chardonnay grapes which in Champagne is called Blanc de Blancs, white wine from white grapes. You can also use Pinot Noir to make a sparkling wine and then it is called Blanc de Noir, white wine from black grapes.
It is really exciting to test the sparkling wine over the years as it gets better and better. Finally you are ready for the last step, disgorging the bottles, i.e. getting the yeast out and the final corks in. We did that last week, the day before we started harvesting. So we really have come full circle and now the next vintage starts again.