How Pol Roger Is Made
In the Vines
From the beginning, the Pol-Roger family has owned vineyards, but it was the high price of grapes in 1955 that showed the need for direct control over such a high proportion of their own grapes if top quality supplies were to be ensured from one year to the next.
The company now owns 87 hectares (217 acres). These are essentially within 13 miles of Epernay and Aÿ, at Trelou-sur-Marne and Chouilly in the Marne Valley, Trepail and Ambonnay on the Montagne de Reims, and also in Cuis, Cramant and Grauves on the Côte des Blancs.
Viticulture follows the designated methods in Champagne.
Unlike Burgundy, the names of the villages are not made familiar to the consumer, as the essence of champagne is that it is a blended, branded wine, whose reputation is that of the maker, more than the vineyard itself.
Pol Roger draws upon three grapes – Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier and Chardonnay for the blends.
From the Winter pruning, through the late Spring flowering and Summer growth, the grapes ripen until the chosen vintage time around mid-September. Once the grapes are picked, the vines take on a golden amber appearance, as the leaves turn and wilt under the increasingly chilly air and frosty winds of late Autumn.
In earlier days, the vast army of pickers at vintage time came from the coal-mining towns of northern France and the Belgian border. Today, the pickers tend to be travellers, working their way up France from the South, ending up in Champagne. Mechanical picking is not allowed under the Apellation d’Origine Contrôlée rules.
In the Cellar
The champagne vinification begins with the pressing of the grapes, and is tightly controlled, with only 2,550 litres per 4,000 kg of grapes permitted for the complete pressing cycle. It is conducted in two stages.
The first 2,050 litres are the best and are known as the cuvée. The next 500 litres from the second pressing are known as the première taille. After pressing, the must is allowed to rest for 10 to 24 hours at the press house, so that any impurities and solids can settle down. It then undergoes its first fermentation in the ultra-modern, thermo-regulated stainless-steel tanks beneath the Château, during which the sweet grape juice becomes dry wine.
The wines then rest for some months over the winter, all undergoing a malolactic fermentation, and the taste of the wine loses its sharp, green acidity, becoming smoother and fuller.
In February comes the most critical part – the assemblage or blending – when the Pol-Roger family determines the exact blends. It is the work of experience, since the base wines are acid, loose-knit and unappealing at this stage, and may have come from up to forty vineyards. The skill is to project the character and taste of the wines years ahead. The selection is conducted by family members – Christian Pol-Roger, Christian de Billy, Hubert de Billy as well as the winemaker Dominique Petit and the Président du Directoire Patrice Noyelle. Through this continuity down the generations the house style is ensured and loyal customers know they will always enjoy the finesse and distinctive character of Pol Roger.? ?
The wines are blended and then cold-stabilised to rid them of any harmless but unattractive tartrate crystals – and then bottled. The last act before the crown cap seals the bottle is the addition of the liqueur de tirage – a mixture of young wine, sugar and yeasts that will induce a secondary fermentation in the bottle.
Once bottled and capped, the wines are stored deep in the Pol Roger cellars under the Avenue de Champagne – which stretch for 7 kilometres, and at the present time hold some 7.5 million bottles for around five years sales.
In these cellars the second fermentation takes place, triggered by the yeasts which consume the sugars and raise the alcohol level by a further one per cent.
This fermentation produces carbon dioxide – at a pressure of between five and six atmospheres – and this is the sparkle for which the wine is famous.
Once the second fermentation is completed, the yeasts die, and are deposited on the side of the bottle, helping still to give the wine depth and complexity of flavour (even though inactive) by means of a slow enzymatic breakdown.
How to remove these deposits from the bottle without disturbing the wine is solved by a process called remuage or riddling. To eject the sediment cleanly, the bottles are placed horizontally in wooden pupitres or desks. The bottles are then turned by hand-remuage (both turning and jolting) and gradually moved to the vertical over a four week period. At the end of this time the dead yeast has collected and settled in the neck of the bottle.
The ejection of the deposits from the bottle is achieved by freezing the neck and removing the crown cap. Pressure ejects the plug of sediment.
The space left in the bottle is now topped up with the liqueur d’expedition – a dose of sugars in solution with the same still wine, and the dosage determines the dryness or sweetness of the style. The wine is then corked and labelled as necessary.
Champagne should be chilled between 2-4 hours prior to serving to a temperature of around 8ºC or placed in an ice-bucket for 30 minutes. This chilling has the purpose of allowing its taste to be at its best, whilst it also subdues the sparkle, thus making it easier to open safely (under less pressure).
How to open a bottle of champagne:
- Point the bottle away from your body at an upward angle. Unwrap the top of the foil and carefully remove the wire muzzle.
- Put one hand over the cork and grip it tightly. Holding the bottle near the base, gently turn the bottle against the grip of your hand upon the cork.
- This motion will free the cork upwards, and you can readily ease it out. It is much better to hear a hiss as the air escapes than a pop which releases the bubbles too rapidly.
- Pour a little into a flute glass carefully to restrain the foam from rising excessively. Let the foam settle and then top up to fill the glass between half and three-quarters.