There is something truly magical about opening a bottle of sparkling wine at a special occasion. The pop of the cork and the first delicate tingle of the wine on the palate are one of life’s greatest pleasures. Blue Pyrenees has made significant contributions to putting Australian traditional method sparkling wines on the world map. Most notably, our 2010 Midnight Cuvée was the world champion at the inaugural 2014 Champagne & Sparkling Wine World Championships, an accolade we are immensely proud of. We are one of the few wineries that take their wine from the vine all the way through to the bottle in one location. It’s complete control over the quality of every step of the process.
They say that a great wine begins in the vineyard, and the cool climate of the Pyrenees is an ideal environment for growing the traditional varieties for sparkling wines; chardonnay, pinot noir and pinot meunier. When Château Remy established our current estate in the ‘60s, the team from France spent three years looking for the perfect place to plant their vineyards. This old world knowledge of viticulture meant that the estate was well placed to produce high quality fruit for generations to come. The sunny days and cool nights allow the fruit to gain optimal ripeness while keeping the necessary levels of acidity in the fruit for a high quality sparkling wine.
But it’s once the fruit hits the winery where the magic begins. To make sparkling wine in ‘méthode traditionnelle’, which is the process used in Champagne, there is a lengthy process to go through until you have a finished bottle in your hand.
1. Base wine
This step is just like how we make your still wines. Each parcel of fruit is fermented to a dry wine and then the winemaker blends them to the wine’s final style. Sometimes base wines from previous years are used to help create a ‘house style’, meaning that the style is kept consistent over the years and it’s most commonly seen in the non-vintage (NV) sparkling wines.
This step is where the base wine really begins its journey towards being a sparkling wine. Once the blend of the base wines is complete, it is bottled with a mixture of wine, yeast and sugars, called the liqueur de tirage. This is what kicks off the second fermentation inside the sealed bottle.
3. Second Fermentation
This fermentation happens inside the bottle and means that the carbon dioxide that usually escapes is now trapped and dissolved into the wine, creating the future bubbles. This makes somewhere between 4-6 atmospheres of pressure, in the final product, which for reference, is about double the pressure of your car tyres. This is why a sparkling bottle needs to be much heavier than your usual bottle. The alcohol has also increased slightly at this point. Once the fermentation is complete, the dead yeast cells, called the lees, settle and remain in the bottle.
And now, we wait. Well, a bit more is going on here than meets the eye. This is where the wine develops some of those toasty, brioche characters. If you were making sourdough in lockdown, you might be familiar with the term autolyse. In winemaking we call it autolysis and it’s where the dead yeast cells are broken down further as the wine ages. This adds to the bakery aromas, the creamy texture and the richness of the final wine. Simply put, the longer it’s aged, the more autolytic characters you get.
The aim of this step is to get the lees down to the neck of the bottle so that you’re left with a nice clear wine. We can do this a couple of ways, by hand or by machine. By hand, the bottles are kept in a riddling rack and quarter turned at regular intervals to encourage the yeast downwards. The other way we use machinery to help us is by using a gyropalette, which simulates the riddling process, but it can do a whole crate’s worth of wine without lifting a finger in a shorter space of time.
Now we come to the most dangerous step in the process! We need to expel the lees that are now in the bottle neck. To do this we use a sub zero solution that freezes the neck of the bottle so that the lees is a solid plug. When we remove the top of the bottle, the pressure in the bottle shoots the plug out with a pop!
The final step is to replace any of the wine that may have come out during the disgorging process and make any adjustments to the final wine. This is called the liqueur de exposition. It’s a bit of a race against time so we do this process in the cool of the cellar. We then add the cork and the wire cage called the muselet and our wine is ready to be labelled and sent out to you!
So the next time you open a bottle of Blue Pyrenees sparkling, take note of how fine and delicate the bubbles are. Take a moment for the long road it’s taken to be in your glass. There’s a reason why they’re such a joy to drink and even open! You can impress your friends with your new found knowledge of how a traditional method sparkling is made. Explore our extensive range of sparkling wines here.