Disgorging Traditional Method Wines
Stellaris has been coming and going in the store as we disgorge each batch. But what does it mean to disgorge a traditional method wine? And why the wait?
Most often, we get a wine into the bottle and that’s it. Job done. Not so with sparkling wines like Stellaris or Zephra. Both of our sparklers are made using the traditional method. This winemaking method is synonymous with French Champagne, but it’s also used to make sparkling wines in other parts of the world like Italy (Franciacorta) and Spain (Cava). BC producers are also employing the technique and Vancouver Island’s cool climate makes for some of the best examples in the province.
In traditional method sparkling wines, autolytic yeast particles (or lees) coalesce into a kind of beneficial sludge after the wine has undergone its secondary fermentation. The lees remain in the bottle for a period of many months to many years, lending key flavours and aromas to the wine as it ages.
While lees are harmless to consume, they result in a cloudy wine if they are not removed; so the bottles are riddled (placed at an angle in a special frame and turned incrementally over a period of weeks to encourage the lees down into the neck of the bottle). When all the yeast particles have gathered in the crown cap that temporarily seals traditional method wines during the aging period, the bottles are disgorged. Disgorging removes lees in a very fun, but very messy and labour-intensive process: the neck of each upturned bottle is rapidly chilled, creating a frozen plug of wine and lees in the bottle’s neck. Next, the crown cap is quickly removed, and the bottle turned upright. The pressure that builds up behind the frozen plug–remember each bottle contains about 90psi–is enough to force it straight out of the bottle.
The bottle, now upright, is topped up with a ‘dosage’–a small amount of wine, typically sweetened to balance the wine’s acidity. The bottle is then sealed with a cork, wrapped with a metal cage, and given a few turns to help integrate the dosage. The bottle is then washed, labelled, and boxed, ready for sale within a month or two.
While riddling and disgorging can be automated in large Champagne houses, we do it by hand–20 cases at a time. It’s a methodical process that resists expedition. And while we are sorry that Stellaris takes a little longer than most wines, we assure you that good things come to those who wait.
STELLARIS IS BACK IN THE STORE (ONLINE, AND AT THE WINERY) from mid-December. $42.50+tax.