Champagne

This weekend I decided to explore Asheville. Its a small city nestled in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina. Known for its breweries, live music, and passion for anything local, I went there to investigate a possible home base for the 2014 season. Why leave Greenville? I’m not quite sure. But it never hurts to look.

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I suppose that is the same philosophy that made me decide to strap on my walking boots for a two hour hike up and down, over and around the Biltmore House. The Biltmore House is brobdingnagian. It boasts 250 rooms, 178,926 square foot, more than 3 dining rooms, one of the first home bowling alleys, and a disappointingly under sized kitchen. The whopping amount of staff in each room and hallway didn’t allow any pictures to be taken inside the house, but the wine tour of the Biltmore vineyards afterwards encouraged it. Yup. First wine tour ever.

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I learned how to taste wine. I learned that wines can be aged in oak or stainless steel barrels. And I learned that the traditional method to making champagne is quite complex. After the grapes are pressed and the first fermentation process is completed, the wine is bottled along with sugar and yeast. Everything is sealed using a crown cap (think beer) and a second fermentation process occurs. The yeast easts away at the sugar and creates the bubbles that set the wine apart. This is where things get wild in a process called riddling. Riddling is when the wine bottles are placed upside down in a riddling rack and slowly rotated about ten degrees each day for two months in order to loosen and move the dead yeast cells and sediment into the neck of the bottle without disturbing the champagne.

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After two months, the sediment is removed in a technique called disgorgment. This involves submerging the neck of the bottle in a cold brine, freezing the deposit there. When the temporary crown cap is removed, the pressure from the CO2 pushes the frozen plug out and voila, the champagne has been disgorged. Finally the bottle is corked for a final time until it is ready to be shaken open and sprayed all over a podium in celebration.

During the champagne lesson of the tour I was reminded of an amusing story from the team’s Europe trip in the spring. We had won best team at Fleche du Sud and each rider was presented with a bottle of champagne on the final podium. Some riders have had a lot of experience opening champagne. For example, I think Joe Lewis and Robin Carpenter had their bottles open and the wine flowing before mine was even in my hand. There were a couple factors like adrenaline, champagne in the face, laughing, but I could NOT open my damn bottle of champagne. I shook the hell out of the bottle. Unscrewed the wire topper and…just…could…not…get…that…damn…cork out! Eventually I just gave up and took a full bottle of champagne back to the van for us to drink on the drive back to the hotel. Hashtag Fail.

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 Alder.

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