Thursday, 2 February 2012


The maiden vintage (so to speak) of the new Dragonridge cellar, is bubbly, or as it is more properly known, Methode Cap Classique or MCC.  We hope to end up in 2015 with 4 barrels or about 1100 bottles.  But first a slow and complex process.

Ordinary sparkling wines involve simply pumping carbon dioxide into wine and bottling. This generally gives you something rather uninteresting with big bubbles. Traditionally made sparkling wine requires a much longer and more complex process involving two fermentations. The product is called Champagne in France, Method Cap Classique (MCC) in South Africa, Classic Method in the UK and Cuvee in Australia.

To make our MCC we picked Pinotage (40%) and Chenin Blanc (60%) at very low sugars and very high acids. These conditions are necessary to kill off bacteria, since sulphur, ordinarily used for this purpose, would also kill off all the natural yeasts residing on the skins. And this would prevent the two fermentations necessary in the making of MCC.

Whole Bunch Pressing
Once picked, our grapes were immediately whole-bunch pressed, as opposed to first de-stemming and crushing, as happens in ordinary wine making.  Skipping this first stage minimizes juice contact with the skins which have in them polyphenols (plant chemicals) which can lend bitterness to the finished MCC.  However the down side of this is that the juice yield is halved. (In our case 4 tons of grapes have yielded just 900 litres.) This is part of the reason why MCC’s are more expensive than ordinary sparkling wines.

First and second fermentations
Once pressed the juice is fermented in French oak barrels for about 2 months. After settling (whereby the now dead yeasts drift to the bottom of the barrel), grape juice from vine-dried Chenin Blanc is added, and the mixture is immediately bottled under crown caps (usually beer caps). The added grape juice together with its natural yeasts, will set off the second fermentation which happens this time in the bottle. The crown caps are used to allow for a different way of getting rid of the second lot of dead yeasts.  This most exciting part of making Bubbly (other than drinking it) and is called Riddling.

After about three years of maturing, the bottles previously laid on their sides, are slowly turned and elevated into an upside-down position. This takes about a month and a half.  The neck with the now settled dead yeasts, is first frozen and then uncapped, and the pressure in the bottle shoots the frozen debris out.  After this a certain amount of sweet wine is added (depending on the style of MCC made) and the bottles are given champagne corks.

Our Dragonridge MCC should be ready early in 2015. We shall keep you posted.


Chris Ballantine said...
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Chris Ballantine said...

What a process ... You gotta love it!