Visionary choices for Champagne

The art of champagne is extremely complex: its sensory qualities, its image, and its desirability are centred on values that require expertise, discipline, and above all, passion. But producing excellent wine is not as simple as that, because quality alone is not enough. A champagne producer must also cultivate its brand.

The Vranken brand name was the first mark of our identity, but we quickly became associated with the Demoiselle and Diamant names. Once we established our reputation in France, we had to make our name in Europe, the Americas, and Asia. International expansion takes patience and determination. 

 
   
 

Soil and subsoil

The subsoil in the Champagne region is predominantly chalky. Seventy-five percent of the sediment just below the surface is chalky (chalk, marl, and limestone). This type of subsoil encourages soil drainage. The Côte des Blancs, the Côte de Sézanne, and the Vitry-le-François vines grow on soils with chalk just below the surface. The Montagne de Reims rests on deeply buried chalk. The Marne Valley and the low mountains around Reims have soils made mostly of marl, clay, and sand. Finally, the Côte des Bar is predominantly marly. 

 
     
 

The Vine

The vines are worked all year round, and at the end of winter, they are pruned so that only the most promising shoots are left to grow. These branches are guided so that the sun can reach the bunches of grapes and help them grow to full ripeness.

  • Step 1

    Step1     Dormant bud
     

    Step 1 : Dormant bud

    The leaf bud from the previous year is almost fully covered by two brownish protective scales.

  • Step 2

    Step 2     Bud scales opening
     

    Step 2 : Bud scales opening

    The leaf bud swells, its scales spread open, and the filaments are highly visible. This stage follows bleeding.

  • Step 3

    Step3     Budburst
     

    Step 3 : Budburst

    The leaf bud continues to swell and lengthen. The young shoot is visible in the form of a green tip.

  • Step 4

    Step4     Leaves opening
     

    Step 4 : Leaves opening

    Rudimentary leaves appear, bunched together in a rosette. Their base is still protected by the filaments, which will gradually be rejected out of the scales.

  •  
 

Pruning and harvesting

Pruning is the action of removing leaves. It is done 24 hours before the harvest to make it easier to reach the bunches. Mechanical pruners may be used.

The grapes are harvested exclusively by hand, so that the best bunches can be selected and kept intact. The harvesters go through each vine looking for the best specimens. Thanks to this careful selection, several million bottles of champagne are produced each year. 

 
   
 

Three varietals are harvested

• Chardonnay, a touch of finesse and vivacity, 28% of the wine growing surface (Côtes des Blancs) Grown on slopes with the best sun exposure, and in chalky soils. Early budbreak (sensitive to spring frosts). Late ripening.

• Pinot Noir, full-bodied and powerful, 38% of the wine growing surface (Montagne de Reims). Good resistance to winter frosts. Early budbreak (sensitive to spring frosts). An ideal varietal for northern conditions.

• Pinot Meunier, round and fruity, 34% of the wine growing surface (Marne Valley). Late budbreak (adapted to frost-prone ground). Ripens at the same time as the other varietals. Very regular production. A hardy varietal that adapts to the harshest situations. Makes wines round and fruity.

 
     
 

Initial alcoholic fermentation and malolactic fermentation

Initial alcoholic fermentation turns the grape juice contained in the vats into wine, under the action of selected yeasts. This process lasts a full week, with the sugars turning into alcohol and into carbon dioxide, which evaporates, leaving behind still, non-sparkling wines.

Malolactic fermentation is the second fermentation that helps reduce the wine's acidity by turning malic acid into lactic acid. This fermentation occurs in stainless steel vats, at a regulated temperature of 16 °C, to preserve the wine's aromatic potential.

 
 

Blending

Champagnes blends mirror the diversity of nature, reflected in differences between crus, varietals, and years. Each blend is a harmonious combination of wines from the current harvest and our reserve wines. The house has the equivalent of a half year's harvest of reserve wines to maintain regularity each year, no matter what the harvest was like.

In December, the cellar director meets with a team of professionals to taste the year's wines. Each wine is assigned to the year's cuvée or to the reserve wine, or it may be excluded if it does not meet the company's quality criteria. Their objective is to make a harmonious blend of different crus, different varietals, and different years (except for vintage champagnes), so that the result is greater than the sum of its parts.

 
   
 

Racking, the second alcoholic fermentation, and aging

Racking consists in bottling blended wines and then adding sugar and yeasts. But beforehand, the blend must be stabilised, so the wine is first quickly chilled to -3 °C for 4 to 5 days, which enables tartaric precipitation. It is then filtered and then enriched with selected yeasts, riddling additives, and a small amount of sugar, known as the liqueur de tirage, before bottling.

Once they have been racked, the bottles are stopped with metal capsules and placed in the cellar. They are kept in a horizontal position to encourage foaming. This is the second alcoholic fermentation. Under the action of the yeasts, the sugar and the liqueur de tirage undergo a transformation, releasing carbon dioxide that, when trapped inside the bottle, dissolves into the wine, resulting in a foam when the bottle is opened.

 
   
 

Riddling

Riddling is done to bring amalgamated yeasts towards the neck of the bottle, helping the wine remain clear. Sediment forms in the bottles during the foaming process. After the aging period comes the riddling process, which involves turning each bottle at least once (1/4, 1/8, 1/16 rotations) daily, to move all the sediment, or lees, towards the bottle necks. The bottles are increasingly inclined over the course of riddling until the bottles are upside down. Two movements are called into play during riddling: rotation and inclination.

Riddling is a totally physical operation that has no effect on the wine's quality, only its clarity. Today, most riddling is mechanised using equipment called gyropalettes, which ensure flawless precision and regularity. The mechanised process is much shorter (3 to 4 days), for a high-quality riddling result.

 
   
 

Tasting

Tasting a wine is the only method for judging it, since two wines that are identical in analysis may appear very different to the senses. Wine tasting is a three-step process that calls upon the senses of sight, smell, and taste.

Look
The wine is examined visually once the taster picks up the glass.
Then, the wine is assessed for limpidity, which means its transparency and clarity.
By observing the wine's surface, the taster can evaluate its brilliance.
Iridescent reflections in a wine are signs of its acidity.
The more reflections a wine has, the more it will be fresh and tart on the palate.
Colour is an important source of information, most notably the wine's age and its body.


Smell
A wine's aroma can be appreciated by plunging the nose into the glass.
The first inhale corresponds to the top nose.
Then, the wine is swirled around in the glass to bring out the most volatile molecules.
The taster inhales again to get the middle nose, the stronger aromas. This time, everything is bolder and more concentrated. Swirling the wine gives the taster a better idea of the wine's intensity and richness.

 
   

Champagne

Provence

Camargue

Portugal

Sparkling Wine

 

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