We all know how a cork comes out of your favourite bottle of bubbles, but did you know how it got in there? Me neither until recently. There are several ways that sparkling wine is bottled (another article soon!), but one of the most interesting is the Traditional Method, used to make Champagne and of course English Sparkling.
Here, the wine goes through a second fermentation after the initial wine is made to produce the creamy bubbles that we enjoy. Once this is done (which could take months or several years!), the dead yeast is expelled and the bottle topped with a corked, thorugh a process known as “Disgorging” or dégorgement. Let’s look at how this is done.
Corks look completely different before they are bottled. They take take their recognisable shape by being tightly squeezed and pressed into the bottle, to hold the immense pressure behind it in the bottle.
Traditional method (Champagne) bottles arrive in large palettes upside down after their second fermentation.
Being upside down allows the yeast lees to settle at the neck of the bottle, allowing it to be removed. Note the crown cap!
The cap is popped out, and a little wine along with the yeast is expelled (explosively!). Many choose to freeze the neck of the bottle to slow this process down, but we like to do things the hard way!
The “dosage” (or liqueur d’expédition) containing sugar, wine and sulphites (preservative) is added. This also gives the final sweetness of the wine.
Bottles are then topped up with the same wine to make it back to 750ml. Note that on standard Champagne bottles this is 72mm from the top of the bottle.
A cork is placed in a press which squeezes it to the width of the neck of the bottle, so it can be inserted.
This is the bottle after the press has squeezed the cork into it. As tight as it looks, it won’t stay for very long due to to the immense pressure in the bottle. It needs to be held in place!
The wire cage (or muselet) is pressed on and twisted tight around the neck…
…like so. And we’re done!
The bottle is then foiled and labelled at a later stage before going out the door.
Of course this rather laborious process is largely automated nowadays with high tech doodads and whizbangs but the principles and actions are still the same. However, this is still done by hand by a number of smaller producers!