Fact Friday: Sparkling Wine

The practice of making sparkling wine is unique from still wine making, so we’re taking this Fact Friday to explain a bit about the process and what we’ll be doing on Saturday!

The first step is, of course, harvesting the grapes. Typically, winemakers aim to harvest the grapes at 17 to 20 brix, steering away from high sugar levels that are usually harvested for still wine making. At Donkey & Goat we pick around 22.5 brix and there is still sugar left at bottling.

After harvest, primary fermentation begins like other wines, but some winemakers use specially cultivated sparkling wine yeasts. Like most things at Donkey & Goat, we keep it simple and do not add any yeast. We use native no matter what, so in this case, Anderson Valley floor yeast.

Secondary fermentation is what really distinguishes sparkling wine from the rest of its wine counterparts, for

Lees everywhere.

Lees everywhere.

it’s the stage that gives it its bubbles. Generally, to trigger this fermentation the winemaker takes the wine and adds a few grams of sugar and a few grams of yeast. The fermentation then takes place either in the bottle or the fermentation tank and the sugar and yeast combination converts into carbon dioxide. At Donkey & Goat we don’t do a secondary fermentation, instead we bottle the wine during primary fermentation.

Now the fun begins! In most wineries a machine called a gyropalette is used for riddling the wine. We undergo the riddling process, but with our good old fashioned hands. We turn the bottles upside down and shake them in order to push all the sediment to the neck of the bottle. Sometimes we stop there and you can buy our sparkling wine with the lees still in the bottle. Some people, including Jared, prefer this non-disgorged sparkling wine, but it can be a little trickier to open. (See our instructional video: http://culture.donkeyandgoat.com/pet-nat/)

DIsgorged bottles ready for labels.

DIsgorged bottles ready for labels.

Tomorrow we’ll be disgorging some of our sparkling wine, which means that we’ll open the bottle upside down and remove the lees that are now at the neck of the bottle while still maintaining the dissolved carbon dioxide gas (and the rest of the wine that’s in the bottle). Disgorging is our final step, because we don’t add a dosage. Many winemakers choose to add a dosage to the wine, which is a little sugar, after disgorging and before final corking. The amount of dosage as well as the aging determines the sweetness level of the sparkling wine. The wine will change in bottle, and drinking our vintage sparkling young it will be demi-sec. Allowed to age, it will be closer to brut.

We’ll be sure to add pictures after our disgorging on Saturday, as some messiness is sure to ensue. So stay
tuned!