First Friday Fizz: Frankenstein and fatcork Growers: Great Minds Think Alike

“It’s only considered ‘Frankenstein’ if it’s created in the Frankenstein region of France. Otherwise, it’s a sparkling monster.” - The Twitterverse

What do Champagne and our favorite no-name Halloween monster have in common? Besides the likely response to each when it pops out at your next dinner party, quite a lot, actually. In Mary Shelley’s famous gothic novel, Dr. Victor Frankenstein is a young scientist mourning the loss of his mother when, in his madness, he discovers a way to create life — assembling stolen body parts, adding some strange chemicals and using electricity to jolt the creature to life. Dr. Frankenstein keeps his creation a secret, until one day, it escapes. Although their methods are decidedly less grotesque, Champagne producers are, in many ways, like the mad scientist in the story. Guided by complex procedures and strict rules and standards set by Appellation d'Origine Contrôlée, these vignerons press, ferment and blend the juices from the grapes, add their desired mixture of sugar and yeast and, effectively, shock the bubbling beverage into life with a violent pop! It’s as if Mary Shelley wrote the scene herself, n’est-ce pas? 

There is a method to the vigneron’s madness, and every bottle of fatcork Champagne — whether you buy it online or in person or receive it as part of your club allocation — comes with a dissection of its “geeky details'': dosage, vintage, the cépage or grape varietal and the date of disgorgement. These particulars are part of each producer’s unique approach to making delicious Champagne, and while they’re not typically available to consumers, fatcork’s personal relationship with our growers gets us a peek behind the curtain. The Methode Champenoise can get a little weird, but just like you, we love a good story. So pour yourself a glass of your favorite fatcork bubbles and join us — if you dare. Spoiler alert: You haven’t heard the last of Frankenstein’s monster.

 

Resting with the fishes, er … the lees
After the juice has been bottled, the vigneron reaches for their “liqueur de tirage,” a secret combination of wine, sugar and yeast. They add the mixture to the bottle’s aromatic contents and lay the bottle down to rest “sur lie” — French for “on the lees” — and on its side like the ill-fated Rose waiting to be drawn like one of Jack’s French girls. Alone and immobile in a cold, dark cave, the wine feeds on sugar and yeast, gaining strength as it undergoes a second fermentation in the bottle. Carbon dioxide reaches a fever pitch, and with nowhere to go, the pressure builds and carbonates the wine. It’s alive! But it’s not ready just yet. According to AOC rules, most Champagne must rest sur lie for a minimum of 15 to 18 months, and at least three years if it’s to be a vintage cuvée. Fatcork’s growers let their Champagne slumber sur lie for two to three years on average, but some will rest for decades imbuing the cuvée with more complexity and uniqueness.
Death becomes her
 
As the bubbles age in their bottle, their profiles morph and change with each passing year. The yeast eventually dies and begins to break down, releasing autolytic characteristics like richness and creaminess and such aromas as butter, fresh baked bread and toasted nuts. The longer the wine sits on the lees, the more the decomposing yeast works its dark magic. 

Brut force

When the vigneron feels their bubbles are ready, it’s time for the finishing touches. The bottles go through a slow, meticulous practice called riddling, where they’re tilted and repositioned until the dead yeast cells collect in the neck of the bottle.  The glorious disgorgement process follows. The vigneron plunges the neck of each bottle into a freezing cold brine to solidify the yeast bundle at the neck behind the cap. Remember that violent pop? This is it! Quickly and with force, the vigneron removes the cap, and the built-up pressure expels the frozen clump of yeast out of the bottle, leaving behind a sparkling, crystal clear liquid. With their creation nearly complete, the vigneron adds a small amount of wine and sugar, called dosage, and seals the bottle with a cork and cage.

It’s all for you, fatcork Champagne drinkers

We send a forecast to our vignerons up to a year in advance, and all fatcork cuvées have been disgorged just for us. This practice has a double purpose, ensuring low waste for our growers and providing a guarantee of quality for fatcork customers. The longer the bubbles rest on the lees, the longer the Champagne will last post disgorgement. This also allows our growers to make custom fatcork cuvées.

Time is on our side … 

At fatcork, we ask our growers to lock the cuvées up in their caves for at least three months post disgorgement before they are snatched up for delivery to fatcork. Add another three to four months in transit to our Seattle Champagne cave, and at six months post disgorgement, they’re ready to drink! While we recommend going that route (our motto is Celebrate Every Day!), you can hold onto Champagne for eight to 10 years post disgorgement. At 10 years, the relentless exchange of gas means what’s in the bottle will be a totally different experience — little to no bubbles, rich, old and almost sherry-like. Rosé ageability is a different beast. Always drink it when it’s fresh.

Armed with the date of disgorgement, you’ll know exactly where your bubbles are in their life cycle. A bottle disgorged six months ago will look and taste different than the same cuvée disgorged two years ago. You’ll also know if your bottle has had enough time to settle and for the dosage to become properly integrated. Finally, if you pair the vintage or blend of vintages with the disgorgement date of a cuvée, you’ll be able to piece together an idea of when it was bottled and how long it has aged before disgorgement. Subtract the disgorgement date from the current date, and you’ll uncover just how long the bubbles have aged under their cork. And because, now, we know you can’t live without them, we’re working with our growers to get these geeky details printed on the back label of each bottle by next year!

We hope you enjoyed learning more about the fantastical Methode Champenoise and its parallels to Mary Shelley’s eerie masterpiece, Frankenstein. Want to know more? Email us or visit us at our Champagne cave in Seattle. Team fatcork could truly talk about disgorgement for hours. Because when it comes to our infatuation with bubbles, we’re all a little mad. MUAHAHAHAHA … 

Cheers,
Team fatcork

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