From the vineyard to the bottle

Winter is the season for pruning, carried out patiently by hand until the end of March. Then comes the tying up: the vine stocks left over after pruning are tied to a trellis. In May, those shoots with little or no grapes are cut off in what is known as ébourgeonnage, or bud pruning. All throughout the spring, the vines are protected if necessary in a reasoned way from disease and pests. The appearance of blossoms, around 20 June, is considered take place 100 days before the beginning of the harvest. While waiting for the harvest to take place, the branches of the vines are raised to a vertical position and tied to the trellis and the budding shoots are trimmed to guarantee optimum photosynthesis.

All the stages

The harvest

Harvesting takes place between mid-September and early October. The date is set every year by order of the Prefecture, on the recommendation of professionals and according to the ripening of the berries.

Grapes must be picked by hand throughout the Champagne region.
Veuve Clicquot employs more than 1200 grape pickers every year. Every precaution is taken to ensure that the grapes remain intact right up to the moment of pressing. A network of Veuve Clicquot pressing centres, with a press in each sector, cuts the distance and time between the vine and the presses to a minimum.

Pressing

In the six Veuve Clicquot pressing centres, entire bunches of grapes are pressed together, making it possible to fraction the juices so as to obtain an uncoloured must from black grapes.

To take full advantage of the specific characteristics of each Champagne terroir, Veuve Clicquot carries out separate winemaking processes for each grape variety, fraction and cru. As a result, beginning with the pressing process, the unique character of each grape’s provenance is carefully taken into account.
The maximum authorised yield of must for every one "marc" (the pressing unit for 4000 kg of grapes) is 2550 litres. This can then be broken down into 2050 litres of "cuvée" (the first and best-balanced juice) and 500 litres of "taille". In the interest of quality, Veuve Clicquot generally uses only the "cuvée".

Fermentations

The musts obtained from the presses rest for between 15 to 24 hours in the vats for “débourbage” (the process by which the solids - or bourbes - suspended in the musts are left to settle to the bottom of the vats).

In order to trigger alcoholic fermentation, natural yeasts are added to the clarified musts in the stainless steel vats, maintained at a steady l6°C. After eight to ten days of this alcoholic fermentation, we obtain a still wine - or in other words, non-sparkling wine - which is then subjected to a first blind tasting by our wine makers. Approximately 700 samples are tested.
Veuve Clicquot then conducts a second fermentation, which is not mandatory in the Champagne method but which helps to reduce the wine’s acidity by transforming the malic acid into lactic acid. This process, known as malolactic fermentation, plays a vital role in determining the Veuve Clicquot style.

Art of blending

 

The team of oenologists, led by the Cellar Master, meets from early December to the end of January to taste the year’s wines. Blending is a subtle art: it requires not only assessing the wines as they are today, but also the ability to anticipate how they will develop in the future.

The blending team must also comb through the reserve wines, kept for 10 to 20 years, to uncover the typical flavours that will uphold the Veuve Clicquot style in light of the wines of the year’s harvest.
Veuve Clicquot Brut Carte Jaune is blending using approximately fifty different crus, to which is added between 25 to 40% of reserve wines.
In good harvest years, the Tasting Committee, made up of the Cellar Master, the oenologists and the President, decides to create a vintage wine, i.e. a champagne composed exclusively of wines from that harvest year: Vintage, Vintage Rich, La Grande Dame... These wines share the potential to age exceptionally well.

 

 

The ageing process

The wine is then drawn, or put in bottles, before a dosing liquor is added along with yeasts in order to trigger the "prise de mousse", the step in which a still wine becomes sparkling.

The second alcoholic fermentation creates excess pressure in the hermetically sealed bottle, causing the wine to become sparkling. Then the bottles are laid horizontally on lees to age. This step is extremely important as the slow autolysis of the yeasts is essential for quality. The bottles are aged in the Veuve Clicquot Gallo-Roman and medieval chalk tunnels in Reims, safely away from any light and vibrations, at a constant temperature of 10-12°C. At Veuve Clicquot, all non-vintages are aged for a minimum of thirty months and vintage wines for a minimum of five years.

The last steps

Following the ageing period, comes the riddling process, in which the sediment formed during ageing is collected in the neck of the bottle, thanks to a technique invented by Madame Clicquot in 1816.

The bottle of the neck is then cooled to a minus 26° C. Trapped in a block of ice, the deposit is forced out by the pressure when the cap is removed. This process is known as disgorging. The next step is dosing the champagne, which at this point is still a dry wine. The quantity of dosing liqueur (or liqueur d’expédition) will determine the type of champagne obtained. Veuve Clicquot champagnes are very lightly dosed (10 grams/litre for the Brut Carte Jaune). Once disgorged, corked and wired shut with what is known as a muselet, the bottles are laid to rest in the cellars for three months before being individually inspected and labelled and then packed in cases for shipping.