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Towards the end of their long resting period, the bottles must be moved and rotated to loosen the sediment (a mixture of dead yeasts and riddling aids) thrown off by second fermentation.
Known as ‘remuage’ (ridding), this process causes the sediment to collect in the neck of the bottle in preparation for disgorgement: the ejecting of the sediment under pressure that then leaves the wine perfectly clear.
Riddling involves the gradual tilting of the bottle neck-down (‘ sur pointe’), meanwhile rotating it by small increments, clockwise and anti-clockwise. As the angle of tilt increases, the forces of gravity draw the sediment into the neck.
Remuage is still sometimes done manually, using a shaking and twisting technique practised over the centuries by skilled cellar masters. A good ‘remueur’ (bottle turner) can handle roughly 40,000 bottles a day, with the bottles placed neck down in a wooden ‘pupitre’ (A-frame-shaped riddling rack).
The bottles are rotated by stages, 1/8 or 1/4 of a turn at a time, to the right or left, with a chalk mark on the bottom of the bottle for reference. The objective is to consolidate the sediments and leave the wine crystal clear. Manual remuage takes 4-6 weeks and involves on average 25 turns per bottle.
Automated remuage is now much more common, using a machine called a ‘gyropalette’ that can process 500 bottles in a single operation. Gyropalettes work 24 hours a day and take a fraction of the time (one week instead of six,) at no expense to quality.
On completion of remuage, the bottles are neck-down (‘sur pointes’) and ready for disgorgement.