Emile holding up a bottle to the light so we can see the sediment before riddling.
The other day when we arrived at Chateau Gaudrelle there was a large machine on a trailer parked outside the cellar door. I was excited to see that it was a disgorging machine, for removing the sediment from sparkling wine. I've never seen one of these in action. Unfortunately my hopes were dashed, as the technician was only setting it up and checking it. The real fun was to be the next morning.
The disgorging machine with technician.
Wineries here rarely own big expensive machinery such as the disgorger. They are a huge capital investment and they take up a lot of space for something that is only used once every month or so. Instead they hire the machine. That way it comes with its own technician, making it unnecessary for anyone at the winery to have to learn the intricacies of running the thing. Also if it breaks down, it is the hire company's headache and expense.
This section does the actual disgorging.
The bottles of sparkling wine end up with a sediment of dead yeast which needs to be removed because makes the wine cloudy (less visually appealing) and spoils the mouthfeel (it's slightly sandy). The process of riddling, turning and inclining the bottles over a period of a week, gets all the sediment down into the cap of an upside down bottle, forming a soft plug. It is at this point that the disgorging machine is called for.
The bottles are put into the machine from the left. The first section slowly turns the bottles upright, removes the crown cap they are sealed with, and the bubble of air in the bottle (the gap between the cap and the wine) has enough pressure behind it to shoot the plug of sediment out.
Of course, a little wine is lost when the sediment exits, so the bottle is quickly moved along to receive a dose of wine and syrup (or ideally just sweet wine). This dosage amounts to about a tablespoon of liquid, and the level of sweetness will dictate whether the sparkling wine ends up extra brut, brut, or demi-sec.
Then the cork is banged in and the wire cage tied over the top. The bottles go back into the cellar to calm down and relax after all this excitement. Labelling is left until just before sale, as cellar conditions are not kind to labels.