It’s always exciting to roll out a new product into the market. Exciting and nerve wracking at the same time. 2014 is the year of sparkling wine for Teutonic. We’ve been holding on to a little wine that’s been sitting in tirage for several years and now we want to release these babies into the world!
Back in 2009 which was only our second harvest, Barnaby insisted on taking two barrels of our Crow Valley Riesling and make sparkling wine with it. At that time (and even now really) we need to make and sell as much wine as we can to keep this little company alive. Not only did he want to make sparkling with Riesling, but he wanted it to give it extended tirage so that is creates more complex layers and lets Riesling “do its thing” that is does so well when it has time to age.
If you’re not familiar with sparkling wine and what a pain in the arse it is to make, continue reading this blog post to get an idea. It will either give you a whole new appreciation for bubbles or you’ll think we are completely nuts to take on these projects. You be the judge.
After wine is fermented completely dry, this is the base wine to make sparkling wine. To get bubbles in your wine, it needs to referment in bottle to create carbonation. This is the traditional way of making sparkling wine or Champagne in France. Side note: Don’t call all sparkling wines “Champagne” because it’s incorrect! Only sparkling wine that was produced in the region of Champagne in France can be called Champagne. Everything else is sparkling wine, Sekt, etc. I can’t for the life of me understand why California is the only place in the world that can call their sparkling wines “Champagne.” Clever attorneys and deep pockets I guess, but I digress.
So the first step was to finish fermentation of our Riesling (all the way dry). When it was ready to be bottled into Champagne bottles, (it’s OK to call the bottles “Champagne” ;-) we mixed in a yeast and sugar solution which is added to the wine. When the yeast begins to eat the sugar, it will cause the wine to begin fermentation, however this time the bottles are sealed so no carbon dioxide can be released, causing bubbles to form in the wine. Sounds simple doesn’t it
Since Teutonic has no fancy equipment, most of the work is done by hand. After the solution is poured into the wine, it settles quickly to the bottom making it difficult to ensure that each bottle receives the proper amount of yeast and sugar. So in order to keep the solution evenly mixed throughout the wine, Barnaby’s nephew stirred it non-stop with a stainless pizza paddle while we bottled….for hours.
After all the wine was bottled, we tucked them away in a dark corner of the winery for several years. This bottling took place in early 2010. During these four years, the wine referments and forms tiny bubbles. A cheap and quick way to make sparkling wine is to inject it with C02. The same way you make seltzer water. These sparklers would be your Andre and Cold Duck wines. To make sure you’re getting the real deal, look for “Methode Champenoise” or “Methode Traditionelle” on the label.
Flash forward four years later. The wines which have been now sitting in tirage (with the yeast in the wine, all the sugar is gone by now) needs to be disgorged. Before you can do anything with this wine, the dead yeast cells need to be removed. Because we also don’t own riddling racks (slanted wood racks that hold the bottles by the neck at a specific angle so the yeast can work its way to the top) we put the bottles on point in crates and let them settle outside.
Notice all the yeast has now fallen to the bottom (or top of the bottle). You need to be very careful when moving the bottles so they don’t stir up the yeast making the wine cloudy after you disgorge it.
To remove the yeast from the bottle, you need to freeze the yeast into a plug that shoots out when you pop off the crown cap. Photo below shows us carefully placing the bottles upside down into a styrofoam holder with ice and salt on the bottom, only freezing the very top of the neck of the bottle.
Once the yeast plug freezes, the crown cap is removed and the carbonation from the wine shoots out the plug. Barnaby designed his own disgorging chamber that captures the yeast plugs, crown caps and other messy spills. Then each bottle of wine wine needs to topped off to get it to a proper fill height. Depending on what kind of style you want to make, the topping wine or dosage can be sweetened. We decided to make an extra Brut style so we topped it with dry Riesling.
One of the biggest challenges in our production line was getting the fat Champagne cork into the bottle. Each cork needs to be squeezed down enough to fit half way into the top of the bottle opening, and boy was it a challenge. Meredith and Sterling used their fair share of arm muscles to get them in.
Once the corks where in about half way, I used modified crown caper to compress the corks and wrap a wire cage or hood to hold down the cork. This is done one at a time of course using the same arm movement over and over again. You can imagine how my arm felt the next day.
It’s always fun to work with a great group of people in a production line for several hours. You chat and get to know them better. Before I realized it, the bottles started to line up.
The best part is drinking it right? Well since that day just happened to be my birthday, it was a perfect excuse to crack open a bottle. Tiny bubbles ran up the side of our glass and eventually making into it onto our happy tongues.
We are very pleased with the outcome of our Riesling Brut and excited to get it to you! The labels should be done some time in February so we hope we can start shipping it out in early March.