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Apr 21, 2022
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I have read several members threads concerning carbonating champagnes. I wish to add to this discussion and share what I know or think I know so far. I have been making Champenoises for 4 years now so I don't claim to be an expert. Firstly it is important not to follow the wine kit instructions regarding additives and Finings. They all contain Sulphites and this will kill the secondary fermentation in the bottle. Find a Finings that doesn't contain much or any sulphite. After fermentation is complete and you have cleared your wine bulk prime according to the volume and add another pkt of Lalvins EC1118 yeast, stir well and bottle. If you are making your wine in September in the UK then carbonation will be very slow unless you have brought your wines indoors. I believe that 1 year is the minimum conditioning period before proceeding to riddle and disgorge your wine. 2 years is preferable. The longer you leave the wine on its lees the better flavour profile you will enjoy. I never riddle or disgorge more than 3 bottles at a time. This is a good tactic because the rest of the wine goes on maturing.
Priming is the big question. Champagnes aim for 6 Vol CO2 in each bottle. You must use the heaviest Champagne bottles. Ask all your friends to save their bottles for you and weigh each bottle. Discard any that are less that 750g (empty and dry). What is a Vol of CO2? Goodness knows it's too long since that science lesson but I can say that 13.05g/L wine equals 6.003 Vol CO2 if fully fermented. The calculation I use is 13.05*0.46=6.003. This I looked up and believe to be correct. So 13.05*23L wine=300.15g sugar (normal table sugar, sucrose). I dissolve the sugar in about 500ml boiling kettle water, stir and cover until cooled a little. I don't want to throw scalding water into my wine but warm is OK. Then I stir it into the wine and dry pitch another packet of Lalvins EC1118. The yeast isn't hydrated but this doesn't matter so long as you get a good amount into each bottle. Keep stirring the wine with your bottling jug as you are filling up your 30 bottles. Make sure you care for your bottle collection. Any serious clink or bash could weaken the glass. You don't want that when you are creating the pressures you want with champagnes.
Riddling or remuage needs a pupitre or desk. You need to sit your bottles (securely corked and wired) at an angle of 30 degrees to the vertical. ie not fully upside down but close to it. each bottle needs to be turned a half turn each day with a tap. What I mean is you lift the bottle a few inches off its resting place, turning clockwise half a turn, then tap it back in place. The next day you reverse the half turn to anticlockwise and tap it back in place. I have found that 3 weeks of daily turning and tapping is plenty. The sediment gently rocks to and fro down the bottle neck until it's mostly inside the plastic hollow cork. I'm thinking 10 days is enough but have yet to confirm this. I have a beer mat with a clockwise arrow on one side and anticlockwise on the reverse side so each morning after riddling I turn the mat to remind me the direction needed tomorrow.
Disgorgement or degorgement needs to be carried out at the coldest possible temperature you can manage. The colder everything is the better. You will loose less wine if it's very cold.
WAIT UNTIL AUTUMN to begin riddling. Then when the bottles are ready to disgorge it will be colder in your cellar or garage. "The colder everything is the better"
Once you have an ice bath mixture that works well why throw it away? Keep the salt bath, about 10cm deep, in a large enough jug to fit three inverted bottles at -20°C
in the chest freezer . Next time you disgorge, place the inverted bottles directly into your ice bath jug. Allow the champenoise to chill at -20°C until the bottle necks are frozen.
This takes about 1 hour. Chill the 'top up wine' for 1 hr also. Eventually you need to remake your ice /salt bath because it's potency declines.
Preparing your ice bath:-
In a 5L plastic jug, pour 250g salt onto 750g crushed ice. (ie. ratio 1:3 Salt:Ice) Add enough water to make a slush 10cm deep. NB. Size of jug should fit 3 inverted bottles.
NB Cover & store this large plastic jug, in the freezer at -20°C until next time. Eventually you will need to remake the ice bath because it looses it potency.
In the Chest Freezer:-
Sit 3 bottles of riddled wine upside down in the jug so that the necks of the bottles are immersed in the ice bath.
Place whole jug (& the 3 bottles) into chest freezer at -20°C. Also put top up wine in freezer. The colder everything is the better, CO2 is highly soluble at low
temperatures. Set timer for 1hr. When you hold bottles up against a bright light you should be able to see crystals of frozen wine in the neck of the
bottles. If not replace in freezer and check again after 15min. Keep checking every 15min until bottle necks are frozen.
Get prepared:-
Place 3 new plastic stoppers (sterilisation isn't necessary), 3 new wires, 3 pieces kitchen roll, rubber mallet, long nose pliers and the 'top up wine' wine on the bench.
The 'top up' wine can be any white wine but Chardonnay works well. Must we well chilled before using. The colder everything is the better.
Disgorging outdoors is best:-
Remove a bottle from the ice bath and still upside down, hold the bottle firmly at 45° downwards whilst removing its wire. Then tease out the cork
which will pop, expelled by the gas, approximately 2-5 metres away. IMMEDIATELY press thumb on top and RIGHT the BOTTLE to prevent further loss of wine.
Disgard old cork/wire. Wipe inside neck with tissue. Top up with cold wine. Use mallet & pliers to re-cap & rewire bottle. It is best if each bottle is disgorged, topped up and then
recapped/rewired before starting the next. This minimises the time for the opened bottle to get contaminated by airborn microbes.
Liqueur d'expédition or sweetening the wine
After disgorgment and before topping up you may want to sweeten the wine by adding a mixture of 'top up' wine, sugar, sulphur dioxide, citric acid and copper sulphate.
Add LACTOSE (g/L) to make >>> Brut: 0g/L (0g/bottle) Sec: 24g/L (17g/bottle) Demi Sec:46g/L (35g/bottle) Doux: 70g/L (52g/bottle)
Using Lactose assumes it is 2.5 times less sweet than Sucrose. Lactose will not ferment if there is any residual yeast. Sec: add 17g in 50ml (conc: 340g/L or 85g/250ml water)
Re-corking and re-wiring:-
Carefully wipe the inside neck of each bottle with kitchen paper to remove any smears of salt, yeast or lees.
Top up each bottle with 'top up wine' eg Chardonnay, so there is a 4cm gap above the wine. Usually, depending on the 'loss' 50-100ml will suffice. How much wine is lost
depends on practice, skill & how cold everything is. Use a rubber mallet, placing the bottle onto your knee (+or- cushion/folded tea towel to protect knee) to soften the
blow of mallet on cork. It takes 5 good impacts to embed the cork fully. Use long nosed pliers to 'wire' the cork safely under the bottle neck's rim.
Wash & wipe the bottle thoroughly before drying and applying label. Labels won't adhere properly on a chilled, wet wine bottle.
The wine is ready to drink now or it can be stored (horizontally if using cork stoppers) for up to 5 years. Plastic stoppered wines can be stored vertically or horizontally.
Well I hope that helps some of you home wine makers. My costs are averaging about £1.50 per bottle and some of the wines are really quite good. I prefer the red Champenoises rather than the whites. Remember that although we all credit the French with Champagne it was the English who first tried carbonating wines that were less than good condition imported from France and in need of refreshment. By carbonating these poor quality French wines we gave them new life.
Thanks so much for all that info!

Any thoughts on using swing top bottles for bottle conditioning and disgorging them? I have a batch of mead in swing top champagne bottles currently. I was planning on just keeping them upright in the fridge for a while and just not pouring out the sediment when ready to serve but now I'm wondering if I would be able to/if it would be worthwhile to disgorge them. I can't seem to find much info on the topic.