As far as homebrewing projects go, some seem more accessible than others. Cider and kombucha are some of the simpler processes, with the more confident homebrewer tackling beers and wines. But you can up the DIY level once again by making homemade champagne! Whether you want to show off your homebrewing skills at your upcoming nuptials or are just a serious fan of mimosas, homemade champagne can wow your guests and delight their taste buds.
What Is Champagne?
It should be noted that we are using the term “champagne” a bit incorrectly. Instead, this should be an article on homemade sparkling wine. Unless, of course, you live in northern France! Champagne actually refers to a very specific type of sparkling wine. Champagne is always sparkling wine, but sparkling wine is not always champagne. Like all wines, the type of sparkling wine depends on both the type of grape and the region it is produced. For example, champagne is classically made with a blend of three grapes: chardonnay, Pinot Meunier, and pinot noir. Additionally, it is produced in the north-central region of France historically known as the province of Champagne, known for its cooler temperatures. For the purposes of this article, we’ll use both sparkling wine and champagne interchangeably.
Types of Sparkling Wine
Other types of sparkling wine include prosecco, cava, and U.S. sparkling wine. Prosecco and cava are from Italy and Spain, respectively. Different sparkling wines may use different varieties or blends of grapes. When shopping for sparkling wines, you might notice an additional label on the bottle that specifies blanc de blancs or blanc de noirs. This indicates that the sparkling wine was made exclusively of chardonnay or pinot noir grapes instead of a mix.
A Specific Process
In addition to the grapes and region, champagne also is made using a specific process that often sets it apart from other sparkling wines in both quality and price point. Called the methode champenoise, it involves a more complex and demanding method to achieve champagne’s delicate bubbles. Unlike prosecco or other sparkling wines in which the carbonation is added in a large vat during the second fermentation (the Charmat method), champagne requires a bit more hands-on technique. In contrast, methode champenoise requires a secondary fermentation after bottling. More sugar and yeast are added to “still wine,” then are subsequently bottled and capped so the second fermentation can begin. In general, this process requires more effort with each individual bottle but tends to produce higher quality beverages.
How to Make Homemade Champagne?
To make homemade champagne, the start of the process is very similar to winemaking. Just add an extra fermentation to achieve the delightful effervescence, and you’ve got champagne. Below, we’ve outlined the steps for making your own homemade champagne.
Harvest and Juicing the Grapes
The first step to making homemade sparkling wine is making the juice. If you have your own vineyard, you first have to harvest the grapes at the peak sugar content. The best time to harvest depends on the growing conditions specific to your region. If you don’t have your own vineyard, you can either make a sparkling wine from a type of fruit that’s more accessible to you, like blackberries. If you are set on using the proper grapes, you can purchase wine grape must and juice from a wholesaler.
There are two parts to the juicing process: crushing and pressing. First, the grapes are crushed either mechanically or by stomping. For white sparkling wines, remove the skins immediately after this step. If you want a red variety, leave the skins in the mash. After crushing, the grape mash is then pressed, usually using a commercial wine press to separate the juice from the pith.
During the first fermentation, the yeast converts the natural sugars to alcohol. The process is usually done in a large vat or jug with an airlock to release CO2 buildup at temperatures between 65-68°F. To start the initial fermentation, add your chosen yeast to the grape juice. In general, fermentation is the process of yeast converting sugars to CO2 and ethanol (alcohol). For the first fermentation, you are trying to capture the ethanol, while letting the CO2 escape. The process usually slows after a couple of weeks, signifying the yeast has done the best it can to process the sugars. Since ethylene is poisonous to yeast, once the alcohol content reaches a certain level, the yeast will begin to die off. At the end of this first fermentation, you will have wine.
Bottling & Secondary Fermentation
The purpose of secondary fermentation is to capture the CO2, creating homemade sparkling wine’s beautifully effervescent bubbles. To stay consistent with the methode champenoise, the second fermentation happens in the individual bottles. First, make a liqueur de tirage. This is the fancy term for sugar and yeast dissolved into the finished wine. The most common varieties of champagne yeast include prise de Mousse, Pasteur Champagne, or Epernay. All three of these yeast varieties do well at a cooler fermentation. The CO2 buildup can be quite intense, so be sure to get the specific glass bottles that are rated to withstand the pressures of highly carbonated wine.
Aging Homemade Champagne
Storage is an important component of homemade sparkling wine. For both fermentations, homemade sparking wine benefits from cooler temperatures between 60-68°F. Luckily, it’s not too difficult to create a temperature-monitored fermentation room in your own house! Coolbot can help you convert a space in your house into the perfect cool and controlled wine cellar. Typically homemade champagne ages between two to six months to allow for plenty of CO2 and flavor to develop.
Home Fermentation Regulations
In 1978, Jimmy Carter signed the bill H.R.1337 into law, legalizing homebrewing at a federal level. However, the bill does stipulate that states have the power to regulate homebrewing. Be sure to check with your state for specifics, but most allow an individual to produce up to 100 gallons of beer or wine, or 200 gallons per household.
Now you are on your way to homemade champagne! Once you have just a few quintessential pieces to your homebrewing setup, the world of fermentation is your oyster! While you may have to wait a bit before the champagne flutes clink, you can start on a batch of sake or kombucha to fill your time![Featured Image by Clarinta Subrata on Unsplash]