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Champagne Production - Pressing the Grapes

Champagne is a big subject; controversial and emotive with nearly everyone having a different opinion as to which champagne they prefer and why. Certainly with 8,000 producers in the region and each producing probably three different styles, there is plenty of choice!


Champagne grape pressing


We are often asked which is the “best” champagne; what a question and where to start? Vintage or non-vintage (a debate for another day), pink or white, single grape variety or traditional mix (Chardonnay only champagne is a blanc des blancs), with food or without?


Unfortunately (or fortunately) because taste is so very personal and subjective, I am not sure there can ever be a definitive answer to that question. Origin and quality of grapes, age in bottle, experience of oenologists, etc., will all play a part as a comparison for quality – but ultimately the consumer has to decide for the themselves. We like well made and well aged champagne that pleases most of the people most of the time – and we think our champagnes fulfill this brief perfectly.


A champagne grape press from the side


But still the harvest continues where all of this debate really starts. The 100,000 or so harvesters load their 50kg buckets into lorries which head to pressoirs, which press the grapes. Traditionally a basket press was used by all but now presses up to three times that size are common in the rush to press the precious baubles.


The basket press holds 4,000kg of grapes (roughly an acre’s worth of yield) and a maximum permitted 2,550l of juice is extracted: 2,050l of first pressing or cuvee (best) and the remainder as taille, all kept separate. Any remaining juice is sent off to become industrial alcohol. The pressing is quick (4 hours) so that the dark skins of the pinot grapes do not rupture and thus tint the clear white juice – unless pressing for pink champagne. A mystery explained: why champagne is a white wine when a majority of grapes used to make it (typically) are black.