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Champagne is a special sparkling wine that is produced in the French Champagne region. It is made from certain grape varieties by the method of secondary fermentation of wine in a bottle. Strictly speaking, the name "champagne" refers only to wine that was produced in the province of Champagne. Although it is actively used for the name of its products by numerous manufacturers from other regions and countries of the world, including Canada, America and Russia.
There is a whole set of rules and regulations issued under the auspices of the "Interprofessional Committee of Champagne Wines", which refers to wines produced in this area. It mentions the most suitable places for growing these grape varieties. In total, seven different varieties are allowed to produce cuvée (a wort used to make champagne), but usually blended or monosorted champagne is made from the three most common: white Chardonay grapes, black grapes with colorless Pinot Noir juice and Pino Meunier.
True, sometimes manufacturers use other grape varieties that are not very cultivated in Champagne: for example, white Albana (Albana) and Pit Mellier Petit Meslier) and black gamay (Gamay). The Code of Conduct of the Interprofessional Committee contains requirements that relate to the main aspects of growing grapes, including pruning of the vine, vineyard harvest, the degree of squeezing the grapes, the minimum aging time on the lees. Strictly speaking, only if the product meets all these requirements can it be called champagne.
Despite all these restrictions, competition in this segment of alcohol production is very high. In our country there are several large enterprises that produce sparkling wines, previously produced under the name "champagne". However, there are still unoccupied niches in this market.
For example, in our country, no factory produces high - quality non-alcoholic sparkling wines for Muslims (such a specialized production has recently appeared in Italy) or drinks with original recipes (for example, champagne based on tea from a Japanese alcohol producer). Such proposals will help new manufacturers to take their place in the market, and existing plants significantly expand their range and attract a new target audience.
Champagne production technology is considered complex. Champagne is usually made from a mixture of black and white grape wines. Difficulties begin even at the stage of raw material preparation. All clusters of grapes are harvested by hand. Of course, there are special machines for collecting grape brushes, but they are not suitable for use in this case, since the berries coming to the pressing must be intact, without damage. Therefore, the clusters are carefully removed from the vine, and then all spoiled berries are removed from them.
The classic technology for producing champagne wines, which is known as Methode Champenoise, consists of several stages. The first one is to get grape juice. Grapes, which are used for the production of champagne, in most cases, are harvested a little earlier than its ripening period. At this time, its acidity level is higher and sugar level lower, which favorably affects the taste of the finished product.
The collection is carried out in dry weather in the daytime. Dew, which may be present on grapes in the morning, leads to a decrease in the concentration of sugars and acids in the must. Also, grapes are not harvested after heavy rains: moisture, which is absorbed by the root system of the plant, can too thin the grape juice. As soon as the grapes are harvested, it is immediately sent for pressing, unless it is a question of producing pink champagne.
Such a rush is due to the fact that in black grapes of the above varieties only the skin is painted in dark color. The pulp has a light shade. White wine also has a light, slightly yellowish color, due to the fact that the skin of individual grapes does not fray during pressing and does not have time to color the wort. It is with this that the main requirement for the integrity of the skin of the collected berries is connected. The period between the collection and processing of grapes should not be more than four hours.
French wineries use traditional vertical presses, which hold about 3.5-4 tons of berries. Moreover, from 150 kg of feedstock receive no more than 100 liters of colorless wort. Juice obtained by stronger pressing is not allowed to produce champagne. Large enterprises harvested grapes of various varieties and quality, as well as crops harvested from different vineyards, are pressed separately using large presses with a capacity of four tons of raw materials. The presses work softly and at the same time quickly, preventing the juice from contacting the skin for a long time.
Previously, grapes went through three stages of extraction, as a result of which three types of wort were obtained with a total volume of 2665 liters:
- cuvee, which is the result of the first squeeze and is considered the highest quality wort (2050 liters);
- primary wort, which is obtained after the second extraction and which has worse quality compared to the cuvé (410 liters);
- secondary wort, which is considered the lowest quality and is no longer used for the production of champagne (205 liters).
Since 1992, it is forbidden to use secondary wort (or third juice) for the production of champagne and the maximum amount of wort produced is reduced to 2550 liters. The resulting wort is ready for fermentation, but before that it must be filtered. During the filtering process, extraneous elements are removed - twigs, leaves and berries that accidentally fall into containers. Then the filtered wort of each species is subjected to fermentation.
To do this, it is poured into enameled steel tanks or stainless steel tanks (for mass market products) or in old oak barrels with a capacity of 205 liters (if we are talking about expensive brands of wine). Oak barrels are better than metal containers, as it is more convenient to control the fermentation temperature in them. The wort is fermented for two weeks, resulting in a "base" or "quiet" white wine. This product has a sour and not very pleasant taste. It is the basis for blending using wines from different vineyards, various crops or varieties. This process is called assemblage.
The specialist tastes samples of new wine in order to find the best combination for making champagne, which would be as similar as possible to champagne from previous years of production. As a result of the assembly, a cuvée, which has the taste of future champagne, is obtained. The composition of the cuvée depends on the quality of the crop. If the year was successful, then it includes wines from grapes harvested in a particular year.
However, sometimes the so-called reserve wines from previous crops are used in the preparation of the cuvée. The number and types of components that make up the cuvée vary, and its exact recipe is a trade secret of every producer of this noble drink. Sometimes a master winemaker mixes several dozen different “light” wines in order to get the necessary taste. At the same time, he needs to remember all the characteristics of individual wines in order to combine all these samples in various proportions. There are also certain types of wines that are specially made from grapes of one year.
Blended wine is poured into high-strength bottles with thick walls, where sugar (18 grams) and Saccharomyces cerevisiae yeast, which cause secondary fermentation, are also added. A mixture of sugar, yeast and still wine is called circulation liqueur (liqueur de tirage). As a result of secondary fermentation, the amount of sugar decreases to 1 gram per liter, the strength of the drink rises to 12-12.5% alcohol, and carbon dioxide is formed, which dissolves in water in the form of bubbles familiar to everyone.
The pressure in the bottle as a result of this procedure rises significantly, reaching a level of six atmospheres. Bottles are stored horizontally at a constant temperature in the region of 9-12 ° C. The optimal storage location is chalky cellars. When stored as a result of fermentation, sediment remains on the bottle walls. On this lees wine is aged for at least 15 months. The aging time of the so-called vintage cuvés (Vintage cuv ee) is extended to three or more years. And expensive collection champagne varieties are stored for 6-8 years or longer.
The precipitate that the yeast leaves on the walls of the bottle must be removed, but so as not to release carbon dioxide and spill the contents. This is done using the remuage procedure, as a result of which sediment is collected on the cork. To do this, the bottle, which until then lay in a horizontal position, is installed on special rotating music stands.
Every day, the specialist in remuage carefully lowers each bottle with its neck down and rotates it around its own axis. Previously, this stage of champagne production was carried out exclusively by hand. Until now, some private wineries with small production do without special equipment. However, most modern companies still resort to using an automatic machine called a giropalette. It is controlled by computer. After six to seven weeks of such rotations, the precipitate separates from the walls of the bottle and accumulates on the cork. The drink itself becomes transparent.
Sludge that has been transferred to the cork of the bottle is removed during the degorgeage process. Unfortunately, during this operation, some losses of a valuable drink cannot be dispensed with. The necks of the bottles, which are still upright, are frozen in a mixture of ice crumbs and salt, cooled to a temperature of -18-20 ° C. Then the car takes out the cork, which comes out with the sediment frozen in it.
To compensate for the small amount of wine that splashed out with the sediment, a mixture of wine, cognac and sugar syrup or the so-called dose liquor from cane sugar dissolved in the original white wine is added to the bottle. The amount of sugar that is part of the liquor determines the type of champagne produced - brut (with zero sugar content), semi-dry or dry champagne.
Then, using automated equipment, the bottles are corked with a new one, this time with a cork stopper and a plaque with the manufacturer's marking. The cork is fixed with a wire bridle called a muselet. The strength of a ready-to-drink sparkling drink is 12%. Before the invention of the procedure of degorging, champagne, which went on sale, was not transparent, but cloudy. However, such unrefined sparkling wine can be purchased today. On its label there is an inscription "family method" (methode ancestrale).
Champagne production does not end on bottle corking. The wine should be aged again for 2-6 months until the dosage liquor is completely dissolved and the cork is straightened. Labels on bottles are glued only immediately before packing in boxes, as otherwise they will become damp in the cellar, where high humidity reigns. The quality of champagne is directly affected by the duration of its storage in bottles until it goes on sale.
Champagne, the label of which does not bear the date of manufacture, must be stored in the bottle for at least a year until it goes on sale. Bottles with the specified year are stored for at least three years. Companies that care about the quality of their vintage wines, withstand them for five years, and not marked a year - for three years. The content of champagne in a bottle is an important technological stage, which is called the period of rest of the wine. Champagne goes on sale only when it is completely ready for use and does not require further aging.
The production technology of the so-called "non-alcoholic champagne" (or, to be more precise, sparkling wine), in general, is similar to the production technology of the usual alcoholic beverage. However, alcohol is removed before bottling from non-alcoholic wine. About half a percent of alcohol remains in the liquid. But as many degrees can be contained, for example, in kvass or fruit juice. For the extraction of ethanol from wine, some manufacturers use technologies that involve increasing the temperature of the liquid. But the best option is considered to be “cold” alcohol extraction using reverse osmosis. This technology can significantly reduce the alcohol content in the drink, preserving almost all of its taste.
For the production of champagne you will need the usual, widely used in winemaking, and special equipment. The list of necessities includes a double-walled boiler with a stirrer for making liquor, installations for draining wine from bottles, pumps with hermetic seals, back-filling filling machines. The main equipment that the plants producing sparkling wines are equipped with is steel tanks with a cooling jacket, which withstand pressures up to 750 kPa (under production conditions, the maximum pressure reaches 600 kPa). The most common boilers with a capacity of 500-1000 decalitres, but there are also tanks for 10 thousand decalitres. Small containers are coated on the inside with enamel, while large containers are made of stainless steel. They can be installed both vertically and horizontally.
All tanks have a heat insulating shell. However, if air conditioners are installed in the production premises that constantly maintain the required temperature, then containers without insulation can be purchased. Enterprises that produce champagne using the transvasase method use special equipment for backpressure drainage. It allows you to arrange the bottles at a certain angle. A cork is drilled with a special drill for one revolution, and champagne is removed from the container through the hole in this drill.
To place the equipment, production facilities will be needed where the storage, processing and stabilization of wines will be carried out. Separate workshops are needed to install alcohol bottling lines in glass bottles and bottling lines in boxes (if a wide range of wines are to be produced). You will also need cellars and areas for storage facilities.
The production of champagne, like any other alcoholic product, is considered a profitable business. Its profitability is about 10-12%. For comparison, the profitability of still wines production ranges from 10-15% (production of wines of a cheap price segment) to 50-75% (production of wine materials). The volume of large-scale production is about 15 million bottles of sparkling wines per year.
Although modern consumers buy champagne throughout the year for any occasion, nevertheless, the main rapid growth in sales of sparkling wines falls on the period before the New Year holidays.
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