Monday, January 21, 2008

South Coast Today newspaper Lauds Westport Rivers

Celebrating the details
Not all sparklers are created equal
By Tyra Pacheco
Standard-Times correspondent
December 26, 2007 6:00 AM
With New Year's Eve just around the corner, SouthCoast party hosts are no doubt stocking up on bottles of bubbly to toast 2008.

Before you reach for that bottle, there are some things to consider about the sparkling wine inside. They are not all created equal, and for the true wine connoisseur, the tiniest details make the difference.

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If that all sounds complicated, there is a good reason. It is.

According to winemaker Bill Russell of Westport Rivers Vineyard & Winery, there are four widely used methods of carbonating wine.

The least expensive and easiest method involves force-carbonating wine by injecting carbon dioxide, similar to the way soda is made. It is then bottled on a pressurized bottling line and the resulting sparkling wine will have soda-sized bubbles, unlike its more expensive competitors.

"The base wine is probably a little harsh, and it will have tons of sugar to mask the defects in the wine," said Mr. Russell.

Using the Charmat method, winemakers take a wine and naturally carbonate it in a stainless steel tank by adding more sugar and yeast to the tank. This creates a secondary fermentation.

"The yeast consumes the sugar and produces alcohol and carbon dioxide," said Mr. Russell. "It is naturally carbonated, but in bulk. Then it is filtered and bottled under pressure."

The Charmat process produces a sweeter wine.

"Whenever you cheat in sparkling wine you tend to have to cover it up using sugar," said Mr. Russell. "It's a slightly more refined wine than the fake one."

A similar method is used in large-bottle carbonation. Instead of re-fermenting the wine in a tank, it is done in large bottles and later filtered and rebottled.

The traditional Champagne method dates back to the 1700s and was developed in the Champagne region of France. Only wines produced in that region can be labeled as Champagne. Carbonated wines produced elsewhere are generally called sparkling wine, but the label will indicate the Champagne or traditional method was followed, as is the case with Westport Rivers sparkling wine.

"In the Champagne method, the wine is fermented and aged in the bottle it's going to end up in for sale," said Mr. Russell. "In this case, we do something really different. You have to have the right grapes. You have to have the right equipment. There's all kind of finesse points you earn by doing things the right way."

Doing things the right way not only requires patience and skill, it requires a lot of specialized equipment, which many small wineries do not have the resources to support.

When Running Brook Vineyard and Winery decided to bottle Celebration, a sparkling wine bottled in honor of the new millennium, they were very particular about wanting it done in the Champagne tradition.

"We had it done for us at Westport Rivers," Mr. Ellms said. "It's much more time-consuming, and if you're going to do it in the Champagne tradition, you can't have any sediment. You can't have any cloud. It's got to be sparkling."

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