Boschendal winemaker talks bubbles!

The bubbly Lizelle Gerber and one of her bubblies!

Never one to limit winemaking to the cellar, Lizelle Gerber – winemaker at Boschendal and one of South Africa’s brightest wine stars – believes in getting her hands dirty in the vineyards so that she is able to truly appreciates the fruit of the vines. Gerber’s passion for Méthode Cap Classique (MCC) has seen her refine and evolve the estate’s bubbly into a highly sought after product.

But let her explain the intricacies of producing a bottle of MCC “magic”.

What is your winemaking philosophy?

Respect what nature has given us, capture this and protect it until you have a little piece of art in a glass.

What is South African Méthode Cap Classique?

Cap Classique is made in the exact same way as a French Champagne. It is a uniquely South African term used to describe the bottle-fermentation process that produces delicious bubbly. Only premium quality juice is used and the second fermentation happens inside the bottle creating the very fine bubbles which are characteristic of quality MCC. This is definitely not “sparkling wine” which refers to wine that has been carbonated artificially.

Is making MCC science or art?

There is no real fixed formula so it is an art. I am constantly working with the wines and tweaking where necessary to really enhance what nature has provided. You need patience and the ability to conquer the challenges that constantly face you as a winemaker. Sometimes the hours are long during harvest time – but this is all part of the magic. Seeing the transformation of the grape berries into a glass of spectacular wine!

Where do you start?

The process begins in the vineyards long before the grapes are picked. We identify the best vineyards and take special care of them through nurturing and careful vineyard management. Our viticulturist Stephan Joubert is an expert at selecting only the very best vineyard blocks for Boschendal wines and works relentlessly to ensure that a sustainable approach is taken throughout the process.

Do you work closely with the winemaking team?

Yes – you definitely need to get dirty before you can truly appreciate the fruit of the vines. One of my beliefs is that the team working with me needs to understand what it is all about and this one only really achieves by working hands on and closely together.

Is Méthode Cap Classique capturing the younger market?

It is amazing to see how the palates of our younger consumers are maturing and gaining a real appreciation for superior quality MCC’s. Those ‘in the know’ cannot live without their bubbles and believe that opening a bottle of MCC in itself is an occasion. Boschendal Méthode Cap Classique offers elegance, finesse and a memorable tasting experience which can be enjoyed at length.

THE 10 STEP MCC WINEMAKING PROCESS

1. As a first step in creating the fine mousse of the MCC, grapes are harvested slightly less ripe than those harvested for other wines. During the ‘first fermentation’ the aim is to have a base wine with an alcohol of about 11 Vol%.

2. In the course of ‘assemblage’, only the finest wines are selected and then blended to form the final base wine before the bottling.

3. In the ‘fining and stabilising’ phase, the wine is protein and cold stabilised and the base wine is then sterile filtered.

4. On the morning of the bottling, residual sugar is lifted to 24 grams per litre, enough to generate 6 bar of pressure – this process is also known as ‘liqueur de tirage’. The Liqueur also contains the yeast cells that would initiate and maintain the fermentation in the bottle to complete. The added sugar will create another 1 Vol% alcohol and the aimed 6 Bar of pressure.

5. ‘Second Fermentation’ occurs with the bottle lying horizontally – the bottle is capped with a crown cap, which looks similar to a beer bottle closure.

6. ‘Lees aging’ then takes place: at Boschendal our NV products will be left on the lees in the bottle for a minimum of 12 months, Vintage for 36 months and the Blanc de Blancs for 60 months.

7. During ‘remuage or riddling’ the wine goes through a turning and tilting program to collect the sediment in the neck of the bottle.

8. This process takes place prior to ‘disengorgement’, whereby the yeast sediment is removed after the 2nd bottle fermentation. Normally the neck of the bottle is frozen capturing all the sediment in the ice plug formed - the crown cap is removed and the pressure in the bottle pushes the ice plug out.

9. The sugar level of the final product is adjusted during ‘dosage’ which determines whether the product becomes Extra Brut, Brut, Demi-sec etc.

10. Once the dosage has been added, ‘closure’ takes place, whereby the cork is inserted in the bottle and secured with the wire hood. “Did you know,” says Lizelle “that the average pressure of a Cap Classique can be up to 5.5 bar? – Think of this in comparison to the tyre pressure of a vehicle which normally lies between 2.5 -3 Bar!”

END