The Modern Method
At Bellangelo, we emphasize the production of sparkling wines using a variety of methods. This VinePair article offers an excellent look at the primary methods winemakers use to produce sparkling wines.
Of particular note here, is the Ancestral Method, a style of wine our winemaker, Chris, fell in love when he visited Limoux, the region in France famous for pioneering this style. The biggest difference between wines made from the ancestral method and the traditional method, has to do with when the grapes are picked, and the conditions for the secondary fermentation that happens in bottle.
When it comes to the traditional method, the wines are picked at levels where the potential alcohol from a secondary fermentation would not get too high. Using the brix scale, a scale commonly used when monitoring the sugar in grapes, sparkling wines will be picked at around 17-19 brix, meaning the potential alcohol of a wine fermented dry from this harvest will be 9-10.5% alcohol. This is important because picking much higher will result in a base wine that is too high in alcohol to make a balance sparkling wine. Once the wine is fermented dry, the wine is chaptalized to 24 grams per liter. This number is important because every 4 grams per liter of sugar will provide us with 1 bar of pressure in the bottle for the bottle fermentation. 24 grams per liter will provide us with 6 bars of pressure. The reason why this is important is because too much sugar in the bottle for the secondary fermentation may result in too much pressure, thereby exploding the bottle. Too little sugar will result in not enough effervescence. After the secondary fermentation, the alcohol should range between 11-12.5% alcohol, resulting in a balance wine with an appropriate level of alcohol.
For the ancestral method, grapes may be picked at a higher level of ripeness, primarily because the second fermentation that happens in bottle does not rely on chaptalizing, but on the sugar found in the grapes at harvest. As a result of picking at between 20-22 brix, the grapes have not only produced more sugar, they have also produced riper flavors. In warm climates this may be an issue, because it may mean that the grapes have precipitated a significant portion of their tartaric acid, meaning the the must of the fermenting juice would have to be amended. In any event, the fermenting wine picked at this greater level of ripeness is generally stopped early using a winery cooling system. As the sugars in the fermenting wine near 24 grams per liter, the wine is cooled until fermentation stops. This gives winemakers some measure of control, but with an active fermentation, it is not a perfect method.
Our winemaker, Chris Missick, devised what he calls the modern method as a means of dealing with some of the inconsistencies from the ancestral method. Using two key pieces of technology: 1) a spectrophotometer, and 2) a crossflow filter, he is able to precisely measure the exact amount of residual sugar left in a wine, and then crossflow filter that wine at exactly 24 grams per liter to ensure fermentation ceases. The cessation of fermentation gives Chris and his team the opportunity to prepare for bottling the wine, and choosing the yeast for the bottle fermentation, and accomplish this task of laying the wine in tirage (the period where the wine is fermented and aged in the bottle), at exactly the right points in time.
Additionally, the benefit of being a Finger Lakes winery, means working in a cool climate region where we are able to achieve ripeness, and maintain great acidity. These unique sparkling wines are riper and more hedonistic than the traditional method Chris employs for wines like our Brut, or Blanc de Blanc, but also extremely versatile for food pairings.
The Modern Method is an extremely unique take on producing sparkling wine. These wines may be largely non-interventionist from a winemaking perspective (when it comes to additives, sugar, fining, etc.), but serve up an entirely new category of wines that take advantage of modern technology. These wines have gained impressive results in the press, being hailed for their intense flavor profiles, rich texture, and amazing effervescence.