Lizelle Gerber explains the winemaking process behind Boschendal’s MCC
Never one to limit winemaking to the cellar, Lizelle Gerber – winemaker at Boschendal and one of South Africa’s most sparkling wine stars – believes in getting her hands dirty in the vineyards so that she is able to truly appreciate the fruit of the vines. Gerber’s passion for Méthode Cap Classique (MCC) has seen her refine and evolve the estate’s bubbly into a highly sought after product. We asked her to tell us about the intricacies of producing a bottle of MCC ‘magic’…
Q: What is your winemaking philosophy?
A: Respect what nature has given us, capture this and protect it until you have a little piece of art in a glass.
Q: What is South African Méthode Cap Classique?
A: Cap Classique is made in the exact same way as a French Champagne. It is a uniquely South African term used to describe the bottle-fermentation process that produces delicious bubbly. Only premium quality juice is used and the second fermentation happens inside the bottle creating the very fine bubbles, which are characteristic of quality MCC. This is definitely not ‘sparkling wine’, which refers to wine that has been carbonated artificially.
Q: Is making MCC science or art?
A: There is no real fixed formula so I think of it as an art. I am constantly working with the wines and tweaking where necessary to really enhance what nature has provided. You need patience and the ability to conquer the challenges that constantly face you as a winemaker. Sometimes the hours are long during harvest time – but this is all part of the magic: seeing the transformation of the grape berries into a glass of spectacular wine!
Q: Where do you start?
A: The process begins in the vineyards long before the grapes are picked. We identify the best vineyards and take special care of them through nurturing and careful vineyard management. Our viticulturist Stephan Joubert is an expert at selecting only the very best vineyard blocks for Boschendal wines and works relentlessly to ensure that a sustainable approach is taken throughout the process.
Q: How is a sustainable approach ensured at Boschendal?
A: Boschendal was recently awarded WWF Conservation Champion status, presented to South African wine farms that are committed to addressing environmental concerns and meet a set of rigorous conservation criteria, including a comprehensive eco-friendly management plan with detailed targets to encourage continuous improvement. All farming on the estate is done in a sustainable way with minimum negative impact on the natural environment. Farming practices include raising free-range animals to reduce food miles and contribute to soil productivity; the use of cover crops in the vineyards to enrich the soil, inhibit weed growth and preserve soil moisture; and water saving strategies such as conservation-efficient irrigation systems for vineyards and fruit trees. Being awarded Conservation Champion status by the WWF is an endorsement of all Boschendal’s efforts over the years to conserve biodiversity and to protect the special environment.
Q: Is Méthode Cap Classique capturing the younger market?
A: It is amazing to see how the palates of our younger consumers are maturing and gaining a real appreciation for superior quality MCC’s. Those ‘in the know’ cannot live without their bubbles and believe that opening a bottle of MCC in itself is an occasion.
The 10-step MCC winemaking process
- As a first step in creating the fine mousse of the MCC, grapes are harvested slightly less ripe than those harvested for other wines. During the ‘first fermentation’ the aim is to have a base wine with an alcohol of about 11 Vol%.
- In the course of ‘assemblage’, only the finest wines are selected and then blended to form the final base wine before the bottling.
- In the ‘fining and stabilising’ phase, the wine is protein- and cold-stabilised and the base wine is then sterile filtered.
- On the morning of the bottling, residual sugar is lifted to 24 grams per litre, enough to generate 6 bar of pressure – this process is also known as liqueur de tirage. The liqueur also contains the yeast cells that initiate and maintain the fermentation in the bottle to completion. The added sugar will create another 1 Vol% alcohol and the target 6 bar of pressure.
- ‘Second fermentation’ occurs with the bottle lying horizontally – the bottle is capped with a crown cap, which looks similar to a beer bottle closure.
- ‘Lees aging’ then takes place. At Boschendal our New Vintage products will be left on the lees in the bottle for a minimum of 12 months, Vintage for 36 months and the Blanc de Blancs for 60 months.
- During remuage or riddling, the wine goes through a turning and tilting programme to collect the sediment in the neck of the bottle.
- This process takes place prior to ‘disengorgement’, whereby the yeast sediment is removed after the second bottle fermentation. Normally, the neck of the bottle is frozen capturing all the sediment in the ice plug formed, after whichthe crown cap is removed and the pressure in the bottle pushes the ice plug out.
- The sugar level of the final product is adjusted during ‘dosage’, which determines whether the product becomes Extra Brut, Brut, Demi-sec, etc.
- Once the dosage has been added, ‘closure’ takes place, whereby the cork is inserted in the bottle and secured with the wire hood.
“Did you know,” says Lizelle “that the average pressure of a Cap Classique can be up to 5.5 bar? Think of this in comparison to the tyre pressure of a vehicle which normally lies between 2.5 – 3 Bar!”
For more information about Boschendal Wines, visit www.boschendalwines.com
For more information about Boschendal Estate, visit www.boschendal.com
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