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Champagne pressing

After The Harvest… The Process For Champagne Pressing

Champagne pressing kicks off hot on the heels of the harvest… the grapes are picked and transported straight to the pressing houses.

I am truly fascinated by the champagne pressing process… not in the least because despite using predominantly red grapes (about 2/3 of the harvest) to make champagne, you end up with a white sparkling wine. This is achieved thanks to the fine pressing processes which are (you guessed it!) heavily regulated.

The key to pressing is to limit contact between the skins and the grape juice so no red colour taints the wine. It also avoids picking up any tannins and histamines which are contained in the skin and introducing them to the wine (which is highly undesirable).

Five key factors to champagne pressing 

  1. Pressing immediately after picking ….  And there is actually a standard unit measure for a “press-load”… a 4,000 kg “marc”.
  2. Pressing the grapes when they are still in their clusters and attached to the stems… the stems act like a natural filter for the juices to pass through.
  3. Only a very gentle increase in pressure is applied to the grapes … the presses have very large surface areas for the weight of grapes they press specifically so the juices drain away without picking up too much tannin from the skins of the grapes.
  4. Low juice extraction – houses are limited to extracting 25.5 hectolitres of juice per 4,000kg marc.
  5. Fractionation or separating the juice from the first and second champagne pressing – only 20.5 hl can be taken from the first press (the cuvee) and 5hl from the second pressing (the taille).
  • The cuvee is the best quality juice and is richer in sugar and acids which produces a fresh palate and long ageing. A lot of producers will only use the first pressing in their wines.
  • The taille has lower acidity and higher minerality producing more intense wines that are fruitier but won’t age as well. Producers who don’t use the second pressing in their wines, will sell them to a big house that will.
  • There is also a third and sometimes a fourth pressing. They can’t use these to make champagne but as part of the commitment to sustainable viticulture, solid residues that remain after pressing (the ‘aignes’) are given to distilleries to make other products like ratafia, Marc de Champagne, Fine de la Marne – read more about them here.

Let’s take a look at a champagne press

The use of the traditional basket press (see left below, with me sipping champs in front of the oldest basket press in Champagne at Champagne Joseph Desruet NOT during harvest, and then in action during harvest 2018 in the centre) has given way to steel tanks with air filled bladders for the champagne pressing (final image) … not as romantic but they are less labour-intensive and still tick all the regulatory boxes.

Have you visited Champagne for a harvest and seen champagne pressing in action? If you have, tell me about it in comments below or post a pic and tag @bubbleandflute #bubbleandflute #happychampers on facebook and instagram.

Bubble & Flute promotes the responsible consumption of alcohol for individuals of legal drinking age in their country.


AUD: Australian dollar (AUD$)