Once the secondary fermentation is complete, and our winemaker deems the sparkling wine, “Champagne,” those beautiful bottles are pulled from their slumber. This takes place anywhere from a minimum of 18 months to 36 months +, as the wine ages in a temperature and light controlled environment. During this time period, these bottles lie horizontally in wooden crates allowing the yeast cells to maintain contact with the wine. It is the yeast that imparts a complex, brioche [or yeasty] flavor to the wine. Those yeast cells eat the sugar in the wine, and give off carbon dioxide and alcohol, creating the tiny bubbles that Champagne drinkers know and love.
But as the yeast cells complete their work inside each individual bottle, they die, leaving a
sediment, which is known as lees. During their extended time in the cellar, the lees settles down to the full length of the side of each bottle. Once the wines have reached perfect maturity, the bottles must be turned to displace this sediment. While the lees itself isn’t harmful, it would leave the wine, cloudy looking, hence visually unappealing, and could alter the exquisite taste.
Thus, the need to riddle the bottles, also known by the French term, “remuage.”
In the time-honored traditional method, Champagne bottles are placed into wooden racks, known as pupitres, with the neck tilted downward, allowing gravity to push the sediment toward the cork. Every day, the bottle is riddled [twisted] in both directions and tilted at a more severe angle until all of the lees is collected in the neck of the bottle at the very top next to the crown cap. Remuage proceeds by carefully orchestrated rotations of the bottle, right and left, a quarter turn, an eighth of a turn, or a sixteenth of a turn. This effect combines the lees in suspension, slowly descending in stages towards the neck. Riddling is critical for obtaining a perfectly clear wine.
A person who is responsible for manually turning each bottle is known as a “riddler,” and the best riddlers can riddle as many as 40,000 bottles a day. However, many wineries, including Nostra Vita, now utilize machines to perform the riddling process, or automated remuage.
The advent of the gyropalette [an automated rotating cage for the riddling of Champagne bottles] has revolutionized the riddling of all sparkling wines. It is a now widely accepted and a seriously used tool in the rigorous quality-control processes applied by Champagne houses throughout France, Europe and the United States.
At our production facility, each Champagne bottle is removed from its wooden crate and hand loaded into stainless steel cages, 504 bottles per cage. Each cage is then loaded onto the gyropalette and the cages are suspended in air. This machine performs the same task as the riddler, but on many more bottles at the same time, and in a much shorter time frame. At specific intervals, the loaded cage twists, slightly shakes and progressively moves the bottles to a vertical position, again, ultimately with the neck of the bottle pointing downward. While an experienced riddler can complete the remuage process in 6-8 weeks, the gyropalette takes 7-10 days, a fraction of the time, in a much smaller space.
Overall, not only has the invention of the gyropalette made the remuage process far more efficient, it has also made labor easier for the cellar workers, many of whom suffered health problems due to the repetitive nature of their task. To watch a gyropalette at work, visit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iMy8j3IblZ4
Next up: Once the bottles have completed the remuage process, we then prepare for disgorging the lees plug formed in neck of the bottle.