The traditional Champagne method is used all over the world and is a general indication of a certain level of quality. The method is quite complex, and fascinating to study.
Harvest in Champagne happens in October and is done entireley by hand. No machine harvesting is allowed in Champagne.
Pressing is done in the pressoir coquart, a device invented by Dom Perignon, which presses grapes in a shallow pan, that allows the juice to leek away quickly, ensuring that there is no contact with the skins that would add red color to the wine. In the case of rosé champagne, there are two methods used to extract color. In one method, the juice will receive a slight amount of skin contact. In the other, red wine is simply blended in to add color. The pressoir can hold 4,000 kg of grapes, and will extract 2,550 liters of juice from those grapes. Of that juice, the first 2,0050 liters are referred to as the cuvée, which has higher acidity and sugar levels. The remaining amount is called the taille.
After pressing the first fermentation begins. This wine is fermented dry, and is usually done in stainless steel tanks, although there are a few champagne houses that ferment in new oak barrels, to add some oak flavors t the wine.
Malolactic fermentation almost always takes place with Champagne, because the acidity levels are so high.
The assemblage, or blending, is a critical element in champagne production. Each house has developed a particular style of wine, and every year they attempt to match that style by blending anywhere from 70 to 100's of different vintages, vineyards, and grape varieties. This technique of blending is enormously complex and is an art which is only one of the factors that makes champagne so expensive.
The second fermentation, which must take place in the bottle the wine will be drunk from, is started by adding the liquer de tirage, which is a mixture of wine, sugar, and yeast. The bottle is sealed with a bottle cap, and aged either on its side (sur pointe) or while facing down (sur latte). The sur latte method is more expensive because it is harded and less space efficient to store them this way. The wine is then aged in the bottle, on the dead yeast cells, which gives champagne its distintive creamy, yeasty flavor. The process of the decomposition of the yeast cells is called autolysis. For non-vintage champagnes, the bottle must age in this way for at least 15 months, although most of them age much longer. For vintage champagne, the wine must age for at least 3 years, and many are aged much longer before they are released.
After the bottle is done ageing, the sediment from the dead yeast must somehow be removed. This is down through a process called Remuage or riddling. Traditionally the riddling is done by hand. The riddler will take each bottle and shake them slightly while gradually turning them so the top of the bottle points straight down. The entire process takes three weeks, and the riddlers are known for their massive forearms! Today, most of this riddling is done by large gyropallette machines that can accomplish the task in just one week.
After the bottles are pointing straight down and all the yeast has settled to the bottom, the top of the bottle is put into a freezing brine solution. In the Disgorgement phase, the cap is removed, and the gas pressure inside the wine pops out the frozen yeast, leaving only wine behind.
Finally, a dosage, consisting of sugar and wine, is added to the bottle before it is sealed with a cork. The amount of sugar added depends on the type of wine that is being produced. Only extra brut or brut savage champagnes receive no sugar at all. Here is a list of the varying sweetness levels of champagne, and the amount of sugar in each:
Style Residual Sugar (grams/liter)
Extra Brut <6
Extra Sec 12-20