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Nicole Langen Fotografie


Producing champagne is an intense, time consuming and complicated process. The choices that have to be made during each step, will have a major influence on the final results; both on the style as well as on the quality of the champagne.

The decisions of the winemaker or cellar master (chef de cave) are often taken in close collaboration with the management or the family. In Champagne, there are numerous family businesses, that have been passionately involved in cultivating grapes and/or in the production of champagne for many generations.

The stakes are high, so it is important for champagne houses and champagne producers to work with trusted suppliers and with people who know the business and the house style well. Everything has to be just right, only then one can produce excellent champagnes. Every year, producers have to deal with new challenges, but when it all adds up, the end result will be amazing and we can enjoy very special, delicious champagnes!

From grape to champagne; the champagne process in 9 steps
Oogst champagne 2020 druiven bakken.jpg
Oogst champagne 2020 druiven bakken.jpg
1. The harvest


In Champagne, grapes can only be harvested manually. Machine harvesting is prohibited by law.

Each year, the exact harvest period is determined again, based on the physical ripeness of the grapes, the potential alcohol content and the level of acidity.


Usually, the harvest takes place in September, but in recent years, the harvest already started in August. It takes about two to three weeks to pick all the grapes. During that period, about 120,000 seasonal workers are coming to the region to assist with the harvest.

Comité Champagne and the INAO (Institut national de l'origine et de la qualité , previously Institut National des Appellations d'Origine) determine the annual authorized harvest yield, within the limit of the maximum yield determined by the European Union. 

Alexandre Couvreux

Alexandre Couvreux

AC- pershuis champagne druiven persen ti
2. Pressing and clarification

The base wine for champagne is white, but often it is (partly) made from black grapes. This is why it is crucial to avoid any damage, or colouration of the juice. After harvesting, the crates with the grapes are immediately transported to the nearest pressing centre, the vendangeoir, where they are registered.

A maximum of 2,550 liters of juice may be pressed from every 4,000 kilos of grapes (called a marc).

Pressing takes 3 - 4 hours per marc and is done in 2 consequential steps:

1) The first pressing of 2,050l, the cuvée, is the purest and of the highest quality.

2) The quality of the second pressing of 500l, the taille, is somewhat lower. The pressure is further increased and the acidity level of the grapes decreases.


Some producers deliberately choose to only use the cuvée; the taille will then be sold. Producers try to press and store the grapes as much as possible per cru or even per plot, so that all specific characteristics are preserved. From 160 kilos of grapes, 102l juice (must) remains . After pressing, the juice is collected in open vats, 'belons'. There, the sediment is removed (clarification or débourbage). The clear juice (must) is then pumped into mostly stainless steel tanks or wooden barrels.

AC- pershuis champagne druiven persen ti

Alexandre Couvreux

SC - Houten vaten en RVS tanks champagne
SC - Houten vaten en RVS tanks champagne
3. Juice becomes wine


Then the alcoholic fermentation process begins: The yeast that is naturally present in the grape, eats the natural sugars in the grape and converts them into alcohol and carbon dioxide (gas). This gas can escape from the tanks and barrels and a regular or 'still' white wine is produced; at this stage, there are no bubbles in the wine yet.

If the potential alcohol content of the must is too low, the winemaker can add some extra sugar before fermentation. This is called chaptalization. Many producers use special industrial yeasts, which resemble the wild yeasts in the grapes. These yeasts can adapt well to their environment. The alcoholic fermentation takes about 7-10 days at a temperature of 16-20 degrees Celsius. Some producers choose a lower temperature because they want to preserve certain fruit flavours. The alcoholic fermentation can then take up to three weeks.

It is possible to add an extra step to the process, in which the sharper malic acid in the wine is converted into the milder lactic acid. This is called malolactic fermentation, or malo. This usually provides the champagne with more depth and complexity. Those who opt for a lively, fresh style of champagne, skip this step. The still, non-sparkling base wine is called a 'vin clair'.

TS- Assemblage
TS- Assemblage
4. The blending process


During the blending process, or 'assemblage', various base wines are combined, often with a part of so-called reserve wines; still base wines from previous harvest years. Usually, we are used to drinking a non-vintage champagne (NV), or 'brut sans année' (BSA). This champagne must be identical every year; in taste, quality and in accordance with the house style of the producer. This is not an easy task, because characteristics and quality of champagne grapes are different every year.

Putting together a NV-champagne is a challenge for the blending team, which has dozens and sometimes hundreds of base wines to choose from, from different crus and/or from different parts of the Champagne region. Most often, it is a combination of the three main grape varieties  pinot noir, chardonnay and meunier.


Reserve wines provide consistency and serve to maintain the house style. Only in excellent harvest years,a vintage champagne, or millésimé, is being produced. Then no reserve wines will be added. A vintage champagne is a true expression of the terroir and nature of the specific harvest year.

Rosé champagne can be made in two ways, here you will find more information about this process.

Tyson Stelzer

SC-flessen champagne kelder Pol
SC-flessen champagne kelder Pol

4. Bottling and bubbles


Once the right blend has been determined and approved after in-depth analysis, the wines are brought together in a large tank or barrel. The separate wines are given time to become one blend; this is called marriage or 'le mariage des vins'. The wine is then ready to be bottled, the 'tirage'.


Since all the yeasts have already been consumed during the first alcoholic fermentation, a 'liqueur de tirage' is added, consisting of wine, sugar and selected yeasts. This way, a slow, second fermentation will take place, inside of the bottle. 

The bottles are placed into cool, dark cellars or caves. There are often hundreds to (ten)thousands of bottles stacked on top of each other. They lie on wooden slats or 'sur lattes'.


Just like during the first fermentation, during the second fermentation, the yeasts convert the sugars into alcohol and carbon dioxide , but this time the gas cannot escape and dissolves in the wine. This is called the 'prise de mousse'. The wine has now become sparkling!

This second fermentation is the quintessence  of the champagne method (the méthode champenoise or méthode traditionnelle).


SC-Flessen La Grande Dame Veuve Clicquot
SC-Flessen La Grande Dame Veuve Clicquot
6. Slow maturation


Due to the low temperature in the cellar (10-12 degrees Celsius), the second fermentation is very calm and slow. During this period, which can last up to two months, the champagne gets time to develop.

A slow second fermentation ensures beautiful aromas, more complexity and finer bubbles. It certainly improves the quality!

After the yeasts have done their job, they die and disintegrate, leaving sediment in the bottle. This process is called autolysis and it is important for the development of champagne. Autolysis releases new, specific aromas that affect the tasting experience and quality. Think, for example, of the delicate aromas of toast and brioche we find in some champagnes.

For a non-vintage champagne, there must be at least 15 months between bottling and shipping, of which 12 months sur lies. For a millésimé, this is 3 years or even more. These periods are therefore much longer than the minimum period of 90 days, which applies to sparkling wines within European regulations.

Many cellar masters keep their champagnes in the cellar for (much) longer. As a result, the champagne gains in complexity and depth.

SC - Remueur-remuage
SC - Remueur-remuage
7. Removing the sediment

Once the chef de cave has decided that the champagne is ready, the sediment must be removed from the bottle. This can either be done manually, with a 'pupitre', or with a machine, the 'gyropalette'. A pupitre is a wooden rack with angled holes, in which 60 bottles are manually turned from an almost horizontal position to a vertical position. By turning the bottle to the left and to the right and putting it a little more upright with each movement, the sediment slowly moves towards the neck of the bottle. This is called 'remuage' and takes about 1-2 months. A remueur can turn up to 40,000-50,000 bottles a day!

Usually, the remuage is done by gyropalette, which  shortens the period to 1-2 weeks. As far as we know, this has no influence on the quality of champagne.

After the sediment has been collected in the neck, the bottles are placed on top of each other with the neck down, 'sur pointes' or 'en masse'. The neck of one bottle fits into the soul of the one below. Champagne that spends a long time on its lees, sur lattes and sur pointes, gains complexity. The bubbles also become finer and softer, which gives a very pleasant mouth feeling.

AJ - dosage
AJ - dosage
8. Disgorgement and dosage


There are two ways to remove the sediment from the bottle, the disgorgement or 'dégorgement'. The machinemethod is most commonly used. The neck of the bottle is plunged into a liquid solution of -27°C, thus creating an ice cube containing the sediment. The capsule is removed from the bottle and the internal pressure causes the ice cube to come out, with a minimum loss of pressure or champagne.

With larger bottles or small quantities, the bottles will be disgorged by hand, 'à la volée'. The bottle is then quickly turned upright during opening. This causes the sediment to shoot out.


Then a 'liqueur d'expédition' or 'liqueur de dosage' is added, which usually consists of cane sugar dissolved in wine. The dosage determines the sweetness of the champagne and is always stated on the champagne label (e.g. brut). The dosages are:

  • doux              > 50 gram sugar per liter

  • demi-sec    32-50 gram sugar per liter

  • sec                17-32 gram sugar per liter

  • extra dry     12-17 gram sugar per liter

  • brut                < 12 gram sugar per liter

  • extra brut     0-6 gram sugar per liter

  • brut nature  0-3 gram sugar per liter

 Alain Julien - La Champagne Viticole

Champagneflessen Pol Roger
Champagneflessen Pol Roger
9. The final touch

The big moment has arrived; finally the bottle can be closed with the cork!


A metal cap is placed on the cork, the 'plaque', with a metal wire cage around it, which holds the cork in place, called the 'muselet'. Closing the bottle is called 'bouchage'.

The bottles are then mechanically shaken to thoroughly mix the 'liqueur d'expédition' and the champagne.

After a final check, the bottles are placed in cages, horizontally.  They are often allowed to rest for a while, sometimes several months, to recover from the shock of the disgorgement and of adding the 'liqueur de dosage'..


Before the bottles are shipped, they are labeled and a foil is placed around the cork and neck, the 'habillage'.


The champagne is then ready for shipping and for consumption!

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