Red grapes but white champagne - how?

by Alastair Harrison May 26, 2018 265 Comments

Red grapes but white champagne - how?

Thought we would cover off a frequently asked question that does mystify many people:  why is champagne white when red grapes are used in the mix?

To recap, three grapes (mainly) can be used for champagne production and are grown in the 30,000ha Champagne region of France:

Chardonnay grape for champagne productionChardonnay - all white and an old friend known the world over

Pinot Noir grape for champagne productionPinot Noir - all red (black) and again very well known

Pinot Meunier grape for champagne productionPinot Meunier - all red (black) but much less common (and mainly grown in the Champagne region)

Champagne, being blended, can be any combination of all three grapes and sometimes the bottle label gives a clue:  for example, Blanc de Noirs would be champagne made exclusively from black grapes with NO chardonnay in the blend.  It could be all Pinot Noir or all Pinot Meunier (unlikely but a possibility) or most likely a mix of the two.  Blanc de Blancs on the other hand, and as the name suggests, is made from only white grapes (the chardonnay).  However, most normally Non-Vintage champagne is a mix of all three grape varieties, subject to the wine maker's blending skills and his various vineyard plots.

So how come the champagne is predominately white (or pink which requires its own note on another day) when a good chunk of the grapes involved are black which theoretically produce red juice?  Well - there is a fairly simple explanation:  the pigment for the colour is all contained in the skin of the grape.  Thus when the grapes are pressed at harvest time, this is done relatively quickly (4 hours typically);  this means that the juice is squeezed from the grapes, but the speed doesn't allow time for the colour to seep out of the skins and taint the juice.  So from those red grapes comes clear juice, that ultimately becomes delicious champagne over the course of many months and years.

Traditional basket press loaded with grapes at champagne harvest time

And on that bombshell - stand by for video footage from the harvest of 2018...

Pip pip

Alastair Harrison

Alastair Harrison founded Park Lane Champagne in 1995. The focus has always been on supplying excellent quality champagnes to customers under their own brand and in small quantities.


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