Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Champagne, Sekt, Cava, Pét-Nat ...: Sparkling Wines around the World - A Primer

Picture: Sparkling Wines of the World. See: Salon Tasting at Schiller's Home: Sparkling Wines of the World

Sparkling wine is a wine with significant levels of carbon dioxide in it, making it fizzy. Sparkling wines are made all over the world. The best known sparkling wine is Champagne, which is exclusively produced in the Champagne Region of France.

Production Methods

There are several methods for producing sparkling wine. The key difference is how the carbon dioxide gets into the wine. The carbon dioxide may result from (1) fermentation in a bottle, (2) a second fermentation in a large tank that can withstand the pressures involved (Charmat process), the typical method used for good quality sparklers, and (3) an injection of carbon dioxide, the method used for cheap mass sparklers.

First, the Méthode Champenoise is the most laborious and expensive means of producing sparkling wine. It consists of 2 fermentations of the wine. The first fermentation is the primary fermentation in barrel or tank, just like any other wine to produce the base wine. Following bottling, the introduction of additional yeast and sugar triggers a second fermentation in the bottle that the wine will eventually be sold in. It is this second fermentation that generates the carbon dioxide bubbles responsible for the pop and sparkle.

After the second fermenation, the wine is aged on the lees, the sediment of dead yeast cells that are still in the bottle, for an extended period. The longer the interval of ageing on the lees lasts, the finer the bead of the mousseux.

At this stage, the Champagne is marred by an hazy appearance. Until Anton Mueller, the German cellar master of Veuve Clicquot, invented the system of remuage (riddling), this a how sparkling wine was when opening the bottle. It necessary to either decant the sparkling wine before serving it or to leave it in the glass for some time so the sediment could settle before drinking the Champagne.

Mueller’s remuage (riddling) technique of maneuvering the sediment to the neck of the bottle and then ejecting it revolutionized sparkling wine drinking and remains a key elemement in the Méthode Champenoise production of sparkling wine until today.

The system centers around wooden racks into which the bottles are placed neck first at an angle of 45 degrees. Each day the bottles are turned and tilted so that the bottle points further downwards with each day, the process gradually bringing all the sediment into the neck right behind the cork. The sediment is then frozen to form a "plug" which is then being removed (dégorgement).

Today, maneuvering the sediment to the neck of the bottle can be accomplished far more speedily with gyropallets: 500 or more bottles lie in a cage-like rack, and will be turned at regular intervals in the course of far fewer days, so that the yeasts collect themselves in the neck of the bottles.

Then the spent yeasts are removed. After chilling the bottles, the neck is frozen, and the cap removed. The pressure in the bottle forces out the ice containing the lees, and the bottle is quickly corked to maintain the carbon dioxide in solution. Some liqueur de dosage is added to achieve the desired level of sweetness.

After adjusting the level of fill and setting the sweetness, the bottle is corked, caged and labeled; the sparkler is clear --- without any sediment. Importantly, the amount of sugar added after degorgement determines the sweetness level of the sparkler.

Second, the transversage method is identical to the Méthode Champenoise, except for the disgorgement. After the secondary fermentation is complete and the wine has spent the desired amount of time in bottle on the lees, the individual bottles are not riddled but transferred (hence the name) under counter-pressure into a larger tank. The wine is then filtered, liqueur de dosage added, and filled back into new bottles for sale. This means of production is relevant above all to the bottling of special formats (Jereboam, Rehoboam, etc.). Advantage: the bottles do not have to be riddled, but the indication "bottle fermented" is permissible.

Third, the Charmat Method was developed in the early 1900s. In contrast to the Méthode Champenoise, the second fermenation does not take place in individuell bottles but in large tanks. The base wines are collected in a large, high-pressure tank, sugar and yeast is added to the tank, the second fermenation takes place in the tank, the now sparkling wine is filtered, liqueur de dosage added, and bottled via a counter-pressure bottler. Importantly, there is no aging on the lees.

Fourth, the Méthode Ancestrale is by far the oldest method of making sparkling wine and preceded the traditional method by almost 200 years, or possibly even more. The Méthode Ancestrale involves only one fermentation, which is stopped and then allowed to re-start when the wine is bottled. A single fermentaion starts in tank or barrel and finishes in the bottle. The winemaker bottles the wine  in the middle of its fermenation.

Generally, the last step in the Méthode Ancestrale is the same as in the Méthode Champenoise: Maneuvering the sediment to the neck of the bottle and then ejecting it. But sometimes this step is avoided, which leaves an hazy appearance. There is no harm in this; the dead yeast, or lees, can improve the flavor and texture and also can act as an antioxidant. But you might want to keep the bottle standing up so the sediment settles.

The Méthode Ancestrale generally produces wines with low alcohol content and low pressure.

Fifth, the carbonation method takes the base wine and injects gas in the same way that, for example, coca-cola is made.There is only one fermentation (to produce the base wine) and the corbon dioxide is just added.

Pictures: Mark P. Barth Hand Riddling. See: Tour and Wine Tasting with Lunch, with Mark Barth at Wein- und Sektgut Barth in Hattenheim, Rheingau – Germany-North Tour by ombiasy WineTours (2015)

Degrees of Pressure

Fully-sparkling wines, such as Champagne, are generally sold with 5 to 6 atmospheres of pressure in the bottle. This is nearly twice the pressure found in an automobile tire. European Union regulations define a sparkling wine as any wine with an excess of 3 atmospheres in pressure. These include German Schaumwein (Sekt), Spanish Espumoso, Italian Spumante and French Crémant or Mousseux wines.

Semi-sparkling wines are defined as those with between 1 and 2.5 atmospheres of pressures and include German Perlwein (Sekt), French Vin Pétillant and Italian Vino Frizzante. Many of the semi-sparkling wines are produced with the carbonation method or the Charmat Method. 

For the production methods involving a second fermentation, the amount of pressure in the wine is determined by the amount of sugar added for the second fermentation, with more sugar and sufficient yeast producing increased amount of carbon dioxide gas and thus pressure in the wine.

For the Méthode Ancestrale, the amount of sugar and yeast left in the fermenting wine, when the wine is bottled, determines the pressure in the finished wine. Generally, such sparkling wines have a low pressure.

Finally, as fot the carbonation method, the pressure depends on how much carbon dioxide is added.

Pictures: Ruinart Dinner with Frédéric Panaïotis, Chef de Cave of Maison Ruinart, at Brasserie Beck, Washington DC, with Partner-Chef Brian McBride, USA

Classification of Sweetness

Brut Nature/  Brut Zero: Bone-dry - 0-6 grams/ residual sugar.
Brut: Dry - 0-12 grams/liter residual sugar.
Extra Dry/ Extra Sec: Off dry - 12-17 grams/liter residual sugar.
Sec: Noticeably sweet - 17-32 grams/liter residual sugar.
Demi-Sec: Sweet. 32-50 grams/liter residual sugar.
Doux: Sweetest. 50+ grams/liter residual sugar.

Picture: Visit of a Small, Premium Sekt Producer: Sektkellerei Bardong in the Rheingau, Germany – Germany-North Tour by ombiasy WineTours (2015), Germany

Bottle Size

Piccolo (0,2 l)
Demi or Filette (0,375 l)
Imperial (0,75 l)
Magnum (1,5 l)
Jeroboam  (3 l)
Rehoboam (4,5 l)
Methusalem (6 l)
Salmanassar (9 l)
Balthasar (12 l)
Nebukadnezar (15 l)
Melchior or Goliath (18 l)
Sovereign or Souverain (25,5 l)
Primat (27 l)
Melchisedech (30 l)

Picture: Annette Schiller tasting Ca'Salina Prosecco at Ca'Salina with Owner Gregorio Bartolin in the Conegliano Valdobbiadene DOCG Prosecco Superiore Region. See: Visiting the Conegliano Valdobbiadene DOCG Prosecco Superiore Region, Italy

Pét Nat (Pétillant Naturel)

Pét-Nat is the new kid on the block when it comes to sparkling wine. Literally “naturally sparkling” it is abbreviated to Pét-Nat.  It has “natural” in its name, which is enough right there to make it buzzy. Pét-Nats are hands-off sparklers made in the Méthode Ancestrale. Pét-Nats stand for authentic craftsmanship in mostly small quantities and for a natural handling of wine. You can find them now all over the world by trendy, hands-off winemakers.

The Méthode Ancestrale is the common element for all Pét Nats that you find in the market. Other aspects may vary. Most Pét-Nat producers work their vineyards according to organic or even biodynamic methods. Often, Pét Nats are Orange Sparkling Wines,i.e. until bottling they are fermented on the mash (with the skin). Generally, there is no removal of  the spent yeasts, thus Pét Nats tend to be marred by an hazy appearance.

The Pét-Nats also have less pressure, with an often less pronounced perlage (semi-sparkling). Their pressure in the bottle is usually 2.5-3 bar, while Champagne comes in at 5-6 bar. The alcohol content is also often lower than in other sparkling wines.

Pét Nats tend to be dry but they don't have to be. Most Pét Nats I have had were dry, but they can also have some residual sweetness. The Clairette de Die from the Rhône Valley is always semi-dry. A light filtration of the fermenting wine before it is bottled leave only a few active yeasts in the wine and the sugar does not fully ferment.

The packaging also often differs in one important detail: Champagne is closed with the characteristic, large corks. Pét-nats, on the other hand, are usually crowned with a modest crown cork – similar to a bottle of beer or cider.

France

Champagne

Blending is the hallmark of Champagne, with most Champagnes being the assembled product of several vineyards and vintages (non-vintage, NV). In Champagne, there are over 19,000 vineyard owners, only 5,000 of which are Champagne producers. The rest sell their grapes to the various Champagne houses, negociants and co-operatives.

Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier and Chardonnay are the primary grape varieties used to make Champagne. Champagne may be either Blanc de Noirs (made from red grapes), Blanc de Blancs (made from white grapes, most often Chardonnay - A famous example is Ruinart) or Rose, either by adding red wine to a white blend or sometimes by fermenting the juice in contact with the skins.

Champagne's AOC regulations require that NV Champagne cannot legally be sold until it has aged on the lees in the bottle for at least 15 months and vintage Champagne be aged for three years. Most top producers exceed the requirement for vintage Champagne, holding bottles on the lees for 6 to 8 years.

See:
Champagne – An Introduction, France
Visit and Tasting at Champagne Jean Josselin, a Grower Champagne House in Gyé­ sur­ Seine – Bourgogne (and Champagne) Tour 2016 by ombiasy WineTours, France
Cellar Visit and Tasting at the Champagne House AR Lenoble in Epernay, with Christian Holthausen - Burgundy (and Champagne) 2016 Tour by ombiasy WineTours
Cellar Visit and Tasting at the Champagner House Taittinger in Reims, Champagne - Burgundy (and Champagne) 2016 Tour by ombiasy WineTours

Types of Champagne

The type of Champagne producer can be identified from the abbreviations followed by the official number on the bottle:

NM: Négociant manipulant. These companies (including the majority of the larger brands, such as: Ayala, Billecart-Salmon, Bollinger, Canard-Duchêne, Deutz, Heidsieck & Co., Henriot, Krug, Lanson, Laurent-Perrier, Moët et Chandon, Mumm, Perrier-Jouët, Joseph Perrier, Piper Heidsieck, Pol Roger, Pommery, Louis Roederer, Ruinart, Salon, Taittinger, Veuve Clicquot) buy grapes (hence négociant) and make Champagne themselves (hence manipulant).

CM: Coopérative de manipulation. Cooperatives that make Champagne from the growers who are members, with all the grapes pooled together.

RM: Récoltant manipulant. (Also known as Grower Champagne) A grower that makes Champagne from its own grapes.

RC: Récoltant coopérateur. A co-operative member selling Champagne produced by the co-operative under his or her own name and label.

SR: Société de récoltants. An association of growers making a shared Champagne but who are not a co-operative.

ND: Négociant-Distributeur. . A wine merchant selling Champagne under his own name, but not producing it.

MA: Marque auxiliaire or Marque d'acheteur. Increasingly common, such wines are essentially own-brand Champagnes, bottled for specific retailers under a specific label (usually owned by the retailer), usually produced by a co-operative.

Pictures: Jean Pierre Josselin, Annette Schiller and Gisela Leon. See: Visit and Tasting at Champagne Jean Josselin, a Grower Champagne House in Gyé­ sur­ Seine – Bourgogne (and Champagne) Tour 2016 by ombiasy WineTours, France

Cuvée de Prestige

The Cuvée de Prestige is the top of a producer's range. Famous examples include Louis Roederer's Cristal, Laurent-Perrier's Grand Siècle, Moët & Chandon's Dom Pérignon, Duval-Leroy's Cuvée Femme and Pol Roger's Cuvée Sir Winston Churchill. The first prestige cuvée was Moët & Chandon's Dom Pérignon, launched in 1936 with the 1921 vintage. Then came Taittinger's Comtes de Champagne (first vintage 1952), and Laurent-Perrier's Grand Siècle 'La Cuvée' in 1960, a blend of three vintages (1952, 1953, and 1955) and Perrier Jouet's 'La Belle Epoque'.

History

Champagne first gained world renown because of its association with the French Court. Royalty from throughout Europe spread the message of the unique sparkling wine from Champagne and its association with luxury and power in the 17th, 18th and 19th century.

The Ruinart Champagne House was the first Champagne House founded in 1729, soon followed by Taittinger (1734), Moët et Chandon (1743), Veuve Clicquot (1772) and others.

See:
French Champagne Houses and German Roots
German Wine Makers in the World: Anton Mueller Invented the Remuage Technique Revolutionizing Sparkling Wine Drinking, 1800s, France German Wine Makers in the World: Eduard Werle --- Owner of the Veuve Cliquot Champagne house (France)
Ruinart Dinner with Frédéric Panaïotis, Chef de Cave of Maison Ruinart, at Brasserie Beck, Washington DC, with Partner-Chef Brian McBride, USA

Crémant

Crémant is a sparkling wine produced in the Méthode Champenoise in France, but not a Champagne. Currently, there are eight appellations in France for sparkling wine which include the designation Crémant in their name:

Crémant d'Alsace
Crémant de Bordeaux
Crémant de Bourgogne
Crémant de Die
Crémant du Jura
Crémant de Limoux
Crémant de Loire
Crémant de Savoie

As a new development in the EU, the Crémant designation has started to appear outside of France, including in Belgium, Luxembourg and Germany.

Spain

Under Spanish Denominación de Origen laws, Cava can be produced in six wine regions (mostly Catalonia) and must be made according to the Traditional Method with second fermentation in the bottle and uses a selection of the grapes Macabeu, Parellada, Xarel·lo, Chardonnay, Pinot noir, and Subirat. Despite being a traditional Champagne grape, Chardonnay was not used in the production of Cava until the 1980s.

Italy

Sparkling wines are made throughout Italy but the Italian sparkling wines most widely seen on the world market are the Franciacorta from Lombardy, Asti from Piedmont, Lambrusco from Emilia and Prosecco from Veneto. Though Franciacorta wines are made according to the traditional method, most Italian sparkling wines, in particular Asti and most Prosecco, are made with the Charmat method.

Franciacorta

Unlike the Champagne region, which can look back to several centuries of fame, Franciacorta’s history is very short. It started only 50 years ago, when Franco Ziliani produced a couple of thousand bottles of a sparkling wine for the Guido Berlucchi winery, which sold very well. It sold so well, that over night, the region of Franciacorta was born and the well-equipped and architecturally varied wineries we know today sprang up within a short period of time to establish the region. Franco Ziliani and Guido Berlucchi are considered to be the fathers of Franciacorta. The name Franciacorta comes from the latin Franchae Curtes, or Monastery-controlled courts that were, thanks to the power of the Church, exempt from the taxes of nearby Brescia.

See:
The Up and Coming Premium Sparklers of Franciacorta (#EWBC), Italy
The Premium Sparklers of il Mosnel, Franciacorta, Italy
The 1 Star Michelin Food of Chef Stefano Cerveni from the due colombe Ristorante and the Premium Sparklers of il Mosnel, Franciacorta - Wining and Dining at il Mosnel, Italy

Prosecco

Prosecco,  just as Champagne in neighboring France, is a regional application. Only wine produced in the official Prosecco production zone can be labeled as Prosecco. It can be spumante (sparkling wine), frizzante (semi-sparkling wine), or tranquillo (still wine), depending on the perlage. It is made from Glera grapes, formerly known also as Prosecco, but other grape varieties may be included. The name is derived from that of the Italian village of Prosecco near Trieste, where the grape may have originated.

Prosecco DOC is produced in nine provinces spanning the Veneto and Friuli Venezia Giulia regions. Prosecco Superiore DOCG comes in two varieties: Prosecco Conegliano Valdobbiadene Superiore DOCG, which can only be made in the Treviso province of Veneto on the hills between the towns of Conegliano and Valdobbiadene (north of Treviso), and the smaller Asolo Prosecco Superiore DOCG, produced near the town of Asolo.

Today, Prosecco has two faces: inside the DOCG territory wines are more and more complex, refined and, inevitably, costly. In the DOC part, simplicity is the goal, yields are higher, and costs are low thanks to mechanisation (flat terrain, no steep hills), all produced in the  Charmat Method.

Prosecco is the main ingredient of the Bellini cocktail and can be a less expensive substitute for Champagne. It is also a key ingredient of spritz, a cocktail popular in northern Italy.

See:
Visiting the Conegliano Valdobbiadene DOCG Prosecco Superiore Region, Italy
Italy's Prosecco

Pictures: At Astoria Vini in the Prosecco Superiore Region, Italy. See: Visiting the Conegliano Valdobbiadene DOCG Prosecco Superiore Region, Italy

Germany

Germany is one of the largest sparkling wine markets in the world. 500 million of the 2 billion bottles of sparkling wine produced in the world is consumed in Germany. Sparkling wine produced in Germany is called Sekt. Sekt is made in all German wine regions. All of the 5 production methods are used.

There are three groups of Sekt makers: (i) large and (ii) smaller Sekt Houses, which only make Sekt and (iii) winemakers, who make predominantly wine, but complement their wine selection by a few Sekts.

The Sekts produced by large Sekt estates tend to be in the demy-sweet and sweet range and made by using the Charmat Method, while the Sekts of smaller estates and winemakers are mostly in the brut and extra brut range, made according to the Méthode Champenoise.

At the top, premium and ultra-premium Sekts are made according to the Méthode Champenoise. To indicate that it is made like Champagne the label says "Traditionelle Flachengährung"/ Traditional Method. One of the rquirements is that it has aged on the lees in the bottle for at least 9 months on the lees.

"Winzersekt" is what is called "Grower Champagne" in Champagne, i.e. the grapes come from the producer's vineyard.

A Winzersekt is always a Deutscher Sekt/ Qualitätsschaumwein b.A. (bestimmter Anbaugebiete), a quality sparkling wine from a protected designation of origin wine region. Regional grape varieties like Riesling, Silvaner, and Pinot Noir are used.

Picture: Tasting at Sekthaus Raumland in Flörsheim-Dalsheim, Rheinhessen, with Heide-Rose and Volker Raumland - Germany-South and Alsace 2017 Tour by ombiasy WineTours

On the other side of the quality spectrum, you find just "Sekt" on the label, made at least partially from imported wines from Italy, Spain and France. If it says "Deutscher Sekt", the grapes are all from Germany.

There are also lots of semi-sparkling wines (Perlwein), which can range from really cheap to excellent quality wines.

German production of sparkling wines dates back to the early 1800s, when G. C. Kessler & Co. was founded by Georg Christian Kessler, who had previously worked at the Champagne House Veuve Clicquot. Also, many (French) Champagne Houses have German origins, such as Bollinger, Mumm, Taitinger.

See:
German Wine Basics: Sekt
Tasting at Sekthaus Raumland in Flörsheim-Dalsheim, Rheinhessen, with Heide-Rose and Volker Raumland - Germany-South and Alsace 2017 Tour by ombiasy WineTours
Cellar Tour, Tasting and Dinner at Wein- und Sektgut F.B. Schönleber in Östrich-Winkel, Rheingau, with Ralp and Bernd Schönleber - Germany-North Tour 2016 by ombiasy WineTours
Tour and Wine Tasting with Lunch, with Mark Barth at Wein- und Sektgut Barth in Hattenheim, Rheingau – Germany-North Tour by ombiasy WineTours (2015)
Visit of a Small, Premium Sekt Producer: Sektkellerei Bardong in the Rheingau, Germany – Germany-North Tour by ombiasy WineTours (2015), Germany

Pictures: Cellar Tour, Tasting and Dinner at Wein- und Sektgut F.B. Schönleber in Östrich-Winkel, Rheingau, with Ralph and Bernd Schönleber - Germany-North Tour 2016 by ombiasy WineTours

England

Production of premium sparklers in England – were vine growing conditions are not that different from the Champagne region - started in the 1960s. Today, there are over 100 producers of sparkling wines.

See:
Nyetimber's Classic Cuvee 2003 from England has been Crowned Champion of Worldwide Sparkling Wines

USA

The United States is an important producer of sparkling wine and has agreed to no longer call its sparklers Champagne, although there is a grandfathering clause. In the US, the history of producing quality sparkling wine goes back to the Korbel brothers, who immigrated from Bohemia on the 1850s. The last decades of the 1900s have seen a wave of foreign investments from some of France’s most prominent Champagne Houses, including Moët et Chandon, Louis Roederer and Taittinger.

See:
As Close as You Can Get to Champagne – Claude Thibaut and His Virginia Thibaut Janisson Sparklers at screwtop Wine Bar, USA
German Wine Makers in the World: The Korbel Brothers from Bohemia Introduced "Champagne" to the US

Picture: Francis, Anton and Joseph Korbel, founders of the Korbel Champagne Cellars in California (Source: Korbel). See: German Wine Makers in the World: The Korbel Brothers from Bohemia Introduced "Champagne" to the US

schiller-wine: Related Postings

Upcoming Tours/ Wine Dinners/ Tastings - Annette and Christian Schiller/ ombiasyPR & WineTours/ schiller-wine, Germany, France, USA (Issued: April 2, 2018)

Ombiasy Wine Tours 2018: 3 x France and 3 x Germany - Ombiasy Newsletter December 2017

UPCOMING Ombiasy Wine Tours in 2018 to Germany and Alsace (May/ June) and to Bordeaux and Burgundy-Champagne (September)

Champagne – An Introduction, France

French Champagne Houses and German Roots

Visit and Tasting at Champagne Jean Josselin, a Grower Champagne House in Gyé­ sur­ Seine – Bourgogne (and Champagne) Tour 2016 by ombiasy WineTours, France

Cellar Visit and Tasting at the Champagne House AR Lenoble in Epernay, with Christian Holthausen - Burgundy (and Champagne) 2016 Tour by ombiasy WineTours

Cellar Tour, Tasting and Dinner at Wein- und Sektgut F.B. Schönleber in Östrich-Winkel, Rheingau, with Ralp and Bernd Schönleber - Germany-North Tour 2016 by ombiasy WineTours

Tour and Wine Tasting with Lunch, with Mark Barth at Wein- und Sektgut Barth in Hattenheim, Rheingau – Germany-North Tour by ombiasy WineTours (2015)

Barth Primus is Germany's First Sekt Made with an Erstes Gewaechs Base Wine

As Close as You Can Get to Champagne – Claude Thibaut and His Virginia Thibaut Janisson Sparklers at screwtop Wine Bar, USA

Visit and Tasting at Champagne Jean Josselin, a Grower Champagne House in Gyé­ sur­ Seine – Bourgogne (and Champagne) Tour 2016 by ombiasy WineTours, France

Salon Tasting at Schiller's Home: Sparkling Wines of the World

German Wine Makers in the World: The Korbel Brothers from Bohemia Introduced "Champagne" to the US

The Amazing Champagnes of the St. Pancras Grand Champagne Bar in London – But no English or Other Sparklers

Champagne in Russia

Barth Primus is Germany's First Sekt Made with an Erstes Gewaechs Base Wine

In the Glass: Volker Raumland Sekt Estate - The Discovery of the Year, Eichelmann 2010

German Wine Basics: Sekt

Nyetimber's Classic Cuvee 2003 from England has been Crowned Champion of Worldwide Sparkling Wines

Visiting Rotkaeppchen-Mumm - the Second Largest Producer of Sparkling Wine in the World - in Freyburg (Saale-Unstrut), Germany

Saint Valentine's Day: French Champagne, German Sekt or Virginia Sparkler!

The Up and Coming Premium Sparklers of Franciacorta (#EWBC), Italy

The Premium Sparklers of il Mosnel, Franciacorta, Italy

The 1 Star Michelin Food of Chef Stefano Cerveni from the due colombe Ristorante and the Premium Sparklers of il Mosnel, Franciacorta - Wining and Dining at il Mosnel, Italy

German Wine Makers in the World: The Korbel Brothers from Bohemia Introduced "Champagne" to the US

German Wine Makers in the World: Anton Mueller Invented the Remuage Technique Revolutionizing Sparkling Wine Drinking, 1800s, France

German Wine Makers in the World: Eduard Werle --- Owner of the Veuve Cliquot Champagne house (France)

German Wine Makers in the World: Robert Alwin Schlumberger--the Father of Austrian Sekt (Austria)

Visiting the Conegliano Valdobbiadene DOCG Prosecco Superiore Region, Italy

Italy's Prosecco

As Close as You Can Get to Champagne – Claude Thibaut and His Virginia Thibaut Janisson Sparklers at screwtop Wine Bar, USA

Blogging, Wining and Dining at the European Wine Bloggers Conference (#EWBC) October 2011 in Brescia, Italy – A Tour D’ Horizont 

Monday, May 21, 2018

How a Barrel is Made: Visit of the Cooperage Berger & Fils in Vertheuil – Bordeaux Tour by ombiasy WineTours 2017, France

Picture: At Cooperage Berger & Fils in Vertheuil

A very special stop during the 2017 Bordeaux Tour by ombiasy WineTours was the one at Cooperage Berger et Fils. Until very recently, and for a long time, the company was a family-company, run and owned by René Berger and his wife Valérie Berger. Cooperage Berger & Fils in Vertheuil was recently acquired by the TFF Group.

When I first visited Cooperage Berger & Fils in Vertheuil the company was still owned and run by the Berger family. Valérie Berger was our guide and we met René Berger durng the tour. At that time the web site of Cooperage Berger & Fils contained a very detailed description of the whole barrel making process, which I used for my block posting.

In this posting, I kept the text of René and Valérie Berger. The pictures are from the 2017 Tour.

The Managing Director of Cooperage Berger & Fils was our guide.

TFF Group

TFF Group, formerly Tonnellerie Frany detacois Freres SA, is a France-based company that manufactures and distributes oak barrels. The Company has four core businesses: stave milling, cooperage, cask manufacturing and oak wine-aging products. The Company has operating units in France, the United States, Spain, Hungary, South Africa, China, New Zealand, Australia and Ireland.

Cooperage Berger and Fils

René Berger: My passion was born from that of my father and grandfather. I am the proud descendant of a family of coopers, based in the Médoc, a truly exceptional land, since the beginning of the last century. From a very young age, these two men breathed into me the love of manual work and craftsmanship. They raised me in the pure artisanal tradition of master coopers, passing down their ancestral savoir-faire. It was therefore a natural conclusion that I should become a cooper in my turn.

Picture: Cooperage Berger & Fils in Vertheuil

When my father passed away in 1991, my first aim was to preserve and perpetuate his work, transmitting the craftsman’s skills to my own children. My mother’s full support was very important to me then, as it is now. It was also important to me to fight against an increasing standardization of production within the profession.

Picture: Welcome

Making a Barrel

The Managing Director of Cooperage Berger & Fils took us through the whole process of producing a wine barrel.

Valérie Berger: A wine barrel is made up of staves which have been shaped into a bulging cylinder, and flat heads or ends. The staves are held in place by metal hoops. Six to eight hoops encircle the barrel spaced along the length. It takes approximately eight man hours to produce a single wine barrel.

Selection of the Oak

Valérie Berger: We choose the wood for our barrels with the help of well-known professionals, selecting slow-growing French Haute Futaie oak trees which become fine grain timber.

French oak is considered to be the most desirable wood for making wine barrels. Most French Oak comes from one or more of the forests planted in the days of Napoleon for ship building. Five of those forests are primarily used for wine barrel making: Allier, Limousin, Nevers, Trancais and Vosges forests. American Oak is considered to have too much influence on the content of the barrels. But usage is on the rise as the larger influence is sometimes desired and as American barrels are substantially less expensive than the French barrels. Hungarian Oak is also being used for barrel making.

Pictures: Natural Seasoning for 36 Months

The Stavemaker’s Work

Valérie Berger: To achieve the best blends, we acquire stave wood coming from different forests in the centre of France. For the same reason, we work in collaboration with different stave makers in the various areas ensuring a diversification in our supplies. Since 2003 we have developed a partnership with one of them who now prepares staves exclusively for the Tonnellerie Berger.

The selection of the stave wood is extremely important because it essentially determines the quality of the finished product. Wood is selected based on many criteria, including tree shape and growing conditions. These factors determine the textural variety of wood fibers, the fineness of grain and tannin content. Tight grain and fine tannin content are found only in the best wood.

Coding the Wood

Valérie Berger: Each pallet is coded by computer on arrival at our cooperage in Vertheuil, thus allowing the traceability of the barrel. The staves are then carefully stacked in the timber yard.

Natural Seasoning for 36 Months

Valérie Berger: Following the coding the staves are washed and then dried in the open air for at least 3 years in our 16,000 M2 timber yard. The wood will free itself of its harsh tannins and will gain the maturity and complexity necessary for the making of a great barrel.

Preparation of the Wood

Valérie Berger: Pallets of staves will be selected according to their origin, and assembled to create a personalized blend corresponding to the needs and wishes of each customer.

Pictures: Assembling

Assembling

Valérie Berger: Once selected, the staves are prepared and then assembled on a pattern table where the cooper “raises the barrel”, forming a daisy shape. The wood fibres are softened by pre-heating. Then comes the hooping that, thanks to the effects of fire and water, transforms the daisy into a barrel.

Pictures: Assembling

Toasting

Valérie Berger: The crucial stage of our art. Only the complete mastery of wood and fire makes the difference between a simple container and an exceptional barrel ready to age the wine. The “bousinage”, adapted to respect the particularities requested by each client, exults and nuances the aromas expressed by the wood. The hand-crafted nature of our cooperage enables us to create a tailor-made barrel for each and every one of our customers.

Pictures: Toasting

Hand-fitting, Marking and Scalding

Valérie Berger: The barrel heads are then individually fitted and each barrel is stamped to ensure traceability. A code records the origin and blend of the wood. An impermeability test is carried out by scalding. 10 litres of water heated to 70° C is pumped at high pressure into the barrel which is moved around so that the water is in contact with the whole surface of the inside of the barrel. This process allows us to check for possible leaks but also to collect test water to be analysed for each finished barrel in the aim of receiving the “Excell Inspection” certificate.

Pictures: Finishing

Finishing

Valérie Berger: At this stage we take great care of the aesthetic appearance of our barrel. They are thus sandpapered or hand-scraped for customers who prefer the “guistrage” finish. And the final galvanized steel hoops replace the assembly hoops. And last of all, according to the type of barrel, pine bars held in place by chestnut pegs are set on the heads for the Château Ferré, and four chestnut hoops, bound with a type of wicker are installed for the Bordelaise Traditionnelle. This last step is carried out only by very experienced craftsmen. It is a true heritage of ancestral expertise that can only be mastered after years of practice.

Picture: Barrels Ready to be Filled with Wine

While on the tour I detected on the wall a list of the orders Cooperage Berger et Fils was working on while we were there. This was an impressive list and included, interestingly, Boxwood Winery and RdV Estate, two highly regarded wine producers in Virginia.

Picture: Orders including from Boxwood Winery and RdV Estate in Virginia

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