As I drive out to the Yarra Valley for Chandon’s Behind the Bubbles experience, a question keeps popping into my head. How do they get the bubbles into sparkling wine? And what else don’t I know about sparkling wine? Do I actually know anything?
Chandon wine experience manager Joe Foo is the man with all the answers. He’s also the man with all the wine, so it’s no surprise guests follow him outside onto the lush winery lawn. The spring sun filters through the sprawling limbs of century-old oak trees. Rows of grapevines converge outside the winery restaurant, and just farther on, in the background, are the Yarra Ranges.
“We want to bring people one step closer to what we do,” says Foo. “But we also want to help you explore what you’re looking for. Because it’s through tasting and learning how to taste that you appreciate what you like and what you don’t.”
This year, gift them a dinner to remember with a Broadsheet Gift Card.SHOP NOW
The experience takes place in the riddling hall, a cavernous cellar lined with 40,000 bottles of upturned wine bottles in racks, each with a chalk mark on their base. It’s here Chandon reveals a few of its secrets.
At Chandon, the winemakers use the traditional method, pioneered by champagne makers hundreds of years ago, that takes time and patience. A second fermentation creates the bubbles and the wines are matured for a minimum of 18 months, or sometimes up to 11 years.
But before the wine is bottled and this process begins, the wine blend has to be made. This is the critical part, and where the fun of the experience really starts.
Chandon’s Vintage Brut is a blend of chardonnay, pinot noir and meunier base wines, painstakingly blended by the winemaker to create their master blend. At Behind the Bubbles, you become that winemaker.
Base wines are constructed meticulously from different grapes picked at different times, in different locations. “The winemakers work with a huge painting palette of wines to create the master blend,” says Foo. Because the base wines are made from grapes picked early in the season, they are more citrusy. Lips pucker as guests sample the chardonnay, fresh and zesty, with hints of lemon and green apple.
The pinot noir is not red. It’s white. Foo explains the grapes have been squeezed and fermented without skin contact, hence the lack of colour.
“People hardly ever see a white pinot noir, or even know that it exists,” says Foo. “It blows people’s minds.”
After training your palate on the flavour profiles of the base wines, it’s time to create your own master blend. Measuring tubes and notebooks are produced, and the most enjoyable science experiment of your life begins. Sometimes teams are pitted against each other, tasked with trying to create a wine as close to Chandon Vintage Brut as possible.
Chandon senior winemaker Loïc Le Calvez says behind-the-scenes experiences like this are hard to come by in Australia. “You get to taste wines you shouldn’t really be trying. The base wines are unfinished wines, so it’s a foreign experience. But it helps people understand the process, and it’s fun.”
For Dan Buckle, Chandon’s winemaking director, it’s about giving guests an appreciation of the complexities and art behind the making of sparkling wine. “There’s a lot of things you can measure in wine, but measuring what’s going to happen with a base wine once it goes into a bottle for secondary fermentation is not possible. Having a feel for it is something you develop, through seeing and tasting.”
This article is produced by Broadsheet in partnership with Chandon. The Behind the Bubbles experience costs $85 per person and is available on Saturdays. Book your spot.