Possibly the single most important day in sparkling wine production is tirage bottling day. The French term tirage means to “draw off’ the blended wines into bottles ready for a second fermentation. Literally, months of hard work go into this day. And if something goes wrong during tirage bottling, months – even years – can be wasted. What is tirage bottling, you ask? Well, tirage bottling is when the base wine is combined with yeast and sugar, and then bottled. Once inside the bottle, secondary fermentation begins. In other words, this is how the bubbles get into your favorite sparkling wine. Let us break it down…
The base wine selected must be extremely clean and the highest of quality. This begins at the grape. (Check out our “Whole Berry Press” blog to learn more how we press our grapes for our base wines.) Any off-aroma or flavor in a base wine will be magnified tenfold in a sparkling wine; those CO2 bubbles that we love so much become our worst enemy if there’s a problem in the base wine.
In the days leading up to tirage bottling, our winemakers build a yeast culture (pictured, in full yeasty glory, above). To do this, he mixes a precise amount of wine, sugar and yeast. The yeast begins their lush life of eating and reproducing. After a couple of carefully monitored days, we have a thriving culture filled with trillions of yeast cells hungry and eager to build some bubbly.
Right before we are ready to bottle, winemaker Mark or Sarah adds a small amount of sugar and the yeast culture to the base wine. This final mixture is called the liqueur de tirage and is now ready to bottle. We pump the mixture over to our semi automatic filler where we will fill the bottles (pictured at the top of this page). After we fill each bottle, we insert a bidule (which will capture yeast during riddling…but that’s a different blog) and seal the bottle with a crown cap. Secondary fermentation will now begin within the bottle.
AGING EN TIRAGE:
After the bottles are filled, we stack them in our cave where they will finish fermentation. Our traditional method sparklers will then age en tirage for many months. This creates the unique flavors and structure we desire for each vintage.