Last time, we left still wine resting in tanks over winter, ready to be turned into champagne the following spring (Read about the first part of the process here).
Around March each year the winemaker and usually several staff from the Champagne House gather together for ‘assemblage’. This involves the arduous task of tasting and testing all the separate vats of wine in the winery and deciding which ones to mix together to make a champagne as consistent with the ‘House’ style as possible. It’s arduous, because the wine at this stage is very tart and acidic.
Bottle are filled from each individual tank and the process of deciding can take several days. It’s perhaps the most complex part of the whole champagne making process; a key part in how the champagne will eventually taste.
The weather in Northern France can be very temperamental, some summers very little sun, too much rain, frost when the buds are at their most vulnerable and hail just before the harvest! Cold summers generally mean grapes high in acidity and if the weather is hot the grapes will have high sugar levels. To blend out high sugar or acidity the winemaker uses ‘reserve’ wines, kept back from previous years. That is why most champagne is non-vintage, ie. it contains grapes from more than a single year’s harvest. Vintage champagnes are only produced when the weather is perfect (because of the issues detailed above).
Quite often, all three grapes chardonnay, pinot noir and pinot meunier are blended together and other times only 100% chardonnay or 100% pinot noir.
Once the blends have been chosen, the selected wines from the individual tanks are blended together into one tank. At this stage more sugar and yeast are added, mixed and then pumped into bottles.
The bottles are then taken to the cellar to become champagne…more on that next time- thanks for reading.