A Happy Accident

Posted by No 1 Family Estate on April 20, 2017

You may find it hard to believe, but there was a time when bubbles in wine were seen as a fault in the winemaking process and the sign of an inferior product, rather than the result of the skills of a master craftsman like our own Daniel Le Brun.

Bubbles have been observed in wine since biblical times, but until fermentation was understood, there were no explanations for this ‘aberration’ except to blame the moon or the spirits, both good and bad.

The most common (and plausible) reason is, in fact, a 17th century distribution issue. In England during the 17th century, when a young playwright called William Shakespeare was attracting rowdy crowds of revellers to his new plays, the wine they drank was transported from Champagne in wooden barrels and bottled by local merchants when it arrived in England.

In Champagne, the cold winters would undoubtedly have halted the fermentation process prematurely, leaving residual sugar and dormant yeast in the wine. After shipping to England, fermentation would start again when the wine was bottled and stored in the warmth of the English taverns. When the bottles were opened as if by magic (or sorcery), the wine would be bubbly.

A significant step forward was made in 1662 when the English scientist Christopher Merret presented a paper detailing how the presence of sugar in wine led to it to become fizzy, and that by adding sugar before bottling nearly any wine could be made to sparkle. Merret was describing, for the first time, the process of secondary fermentation.

So while you may have heard the delightful story of Dom Pérignon – the blind monk who accidentally made sparkling wine and cried, “Come quickly! I am drinking the stars!”, there is no evidence that it is true. It is more likely that Dom Pérignon spent most of his time trying to get rid of the bubbles that appeared naturally and by chance in his wine as they caused havoc in the cellar, the pressure inside the bottles causing many to explode.

As the popularity of sparkling wine began to grow, the problem for winemakers was to learn how to control the natural process of secondary fermentation and make it consistent. From the insights described by Merret to a truly commercial scale process, took almost 200 years and several sophisticated innovations that are what we now know as Méthode Traditionelle.

At No.1 Family Estate, all our wines are made in the Méthode Traditionelle way that was accidentally discovered all those years ago. Purchase yours here... You may still believe you are drinking the stars.