How English sparkling wine is made, Bloomsbury style

Ridgeview Wine Estate, English Sparkling Wine Grapes

It’s the perfect celebration drink. But what makes sparkling wine (specifically English sparkling wine, even more specifically Ridgeview Bloomsbury NV) such a joyful companion to good times? The secret, of course, is in the sparkle. When corks pop and that luxuriant cascade of bubbles hits your glass, you can’t help but feel like you’re in a special moment. But have you ever wondered what it took to get this glass of effervescent nectar into your hand? 

In many ways, it’s the intricacy and precision of how English sparkling wine is made that makes it so special. So we’d like to take you on a whistlestop tour of the production method for Bloomsbury NV, which is arguably the epitome of the English sparkling wine style. 

From grape to glass, here’s the lowdown…

Ridgeview Wine Estate, English Sparkling Wine, Chardonnay Grapes

1. Stick to the method

Before the tour starts, a quick word on the Classic Method of making sparkling wine. This is how all premium English sparkling wines are made – they have to follow all of the steps below to earn the Classic Method designation.

Elsewhere it’s called the traditional method; here we call it classic. And since sparkling wines have been produced this way in England for over 350 years (longer than Champagne in fact), we think it deserves a mark of distinction!


2. Grow your grapes like royalty

You need just the right grapes, grown just the right way, reaching just the right level of ripeness, to make Classic Method English sparkling wineWe use a blend of the three so-called Champagne varieties – Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier – to make our Bloomsbury NV. They ripen slowly in our cool climate, retaining high levels of essential acidity right through to harvest.

When the time comes to pick them, we do so carefully and sustainably, by hand, so that the bunches arrive at the winery in perfect condition.

Ridgeview Wine Estate, English Sparkling Wine Juice

3. Squeeze the juice out gently

There are many ways to juice a grape. For Classic Method sparkling wines, gently does it. We don’t want any bitter flavours from the seeds, stalks or skins in the final wine, which can result from pressing too hard.

So we load our harvested grapes into our three presses in whole bunches and squeeze them with the utmost care, releasing only the highest grade of juice for fermentation.


4. Add yeast, start the party

The next critical stage is the first of two fermentations. This ‘primary fermentation’ produces a series of ‘base wines’ which are quite neutral in flavour, relatively low in alcohol (about 8-10%) and very high in acidity – not something you’d want to drink with canapés!

For our Bloomsbury NV, we add a carefully chosen strain of yeast to the juice and ferment in stainless steel tanks, at lowish temperatures (18-20oC) to keep the delicate fruit flavours of the grapes front and centre.

Ridgeview Wine Estate, English Sparkling Wine Blending

5. Perfect your blend

Blending is a crucial stage in non-vintage sparkling winemaking. The goal is consistency, to make a wine in an identifiable and inimitable ‘house style’. The difficulty is that we’re working with a changing kit of parts year on year. So we need lots of blending options – different varieties grown in different vineyards in different years, with subtly differing characteristics related to how they were managed during winemaking.

Each blend is an intricate recipe: Bloomsbury NV contains over 50 separate base wines!


6. Bring on the bubbles

Once we’ve hit our formula, we blend the required amounts and proportions of base wines, bottle them with a small dose of yeast and nutrients, pop on a crown cap and let nature slowly take its course. As the yeast consumes the remaining sugar in the bottle, it releases CO2, which dissolves in the wine and lies dormant as bubbles-in-waiting. This second fermentation also adds a further 1-2% alcohol, which is why Bloomsbury clocks in at 12% ABV on release.

Ridgeview Wine Estate, English Sparkling Wine Cellar

7. Get the most from the yeast

Even after the second fermentation, a Classic Method sparkling wine is still a long way from completion. That’s due to a fascinating process called autolysis. Once the yeast in the bottle has consumed all the sugars, the cells expire… but their work isn’t over. As they break down, they produce chemicals that add signature toasty-brioche flavours to this style of wine. Autolysis doesn’t happen overnight: Bloomsbury NV typically spends 18 months bottle-ageing in our eco-friendly, naturally cool underground cellars.


8. Prepare yeast for evacuation

Nobody wants their Classic Method cloudy. So once autolysis is complete, we have to remove (or ‘disgorge’) those spent yeast cells (or ‘lees’) from the bottle. First we need to get them tightly packed into the bottleneck, in a plug that will effortlessly pop out once the crown cap is removed. We do this by gradually inverting the bottle from horizontal to upside down, gently shaking and twisting as we go, so that the lees slide into position. This stage is called ‘riddling’.

Ridgeview Wine Estate, Bloomsbury English Sparkling Wine

9. Finish with a flourish

Bottle ageing is all about time and patience. By contrast, the final stage in the Classic Method is a flurry of activity, over in a flash. We need to disgorge the riddled lees, make a couple of final flavour adjustments, top the bottle up and seal all that effervescent goodness under a pressure-resistant cork. In days gone by this was a drawn-out and messy procedure. Happily our winery is equipped with a state-of-the-art machine that seamlessly carries it all out in seconds.


10. Time for a well-earned rest

The last step is something of a shock for the wine, so it needs a little time to recover. In the case of Bloomsbury, this period of ‘ageing on cork’ lasts around six months. After that, our signature English sparkling wine is ready to be released into the world. Let the celebrations begin!


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