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Disgorging by Hand Without Freezing the Plug

A few years ago Kathy and I were visiting wineries in Quebec, Canada. At the winery, Le Cep d’Argent we met one of the owners and winemaker François Scieur who is a 6th generation winemaker. His family still owns a Champagne House in Champagne. François demonstrated how to disgorge a bottle of sparkling wine by hand. It was fascinating to watch him take a bottle and a bottle cap opener, aim it into an old barrel that had a cut out, and remove the cap with just a bit of a fizz sound. If you blinked your eyes you missed the disgorging. I decided then that I would like to try disgorging a bottle by hand.

052715aThat dream came true while in the Penedés region of Catalonia, Spain. We were visiting Fèlix  Massana Ràfols and were asked if we wanted to disgorge a bottle by hand. I jumped at the opportunity. Unknown at that time, I was to disgorge the bottle without freezing the plug in the neck. This is more challenging. You don’t want the cava in the bottle fizzing out after you opened the cap. I have previously observed cava producers disgorging bottles by hand. They froze the plug in the neck of the bottles. They could take a bottle with a frozen plug and tilt it slightly upright and quickly open the cap. This time I had to keep the bottle pointed down until the last moment before removing the cap and then cover the bottle’s opening with my thumb. All had to be done quickly.

Fèlix demonstrated how to remove the cap. Very little of the cava escaped his bottle. Of course he had a lot of practice. Donning an apron and a pair of gloves, I held the bottle tilted downward. I held the bottle by its neck with my left hand ready to plug the opening with my thumb. With my right hand I took a special designed bottle opener and place it on the cap. Here’s the trick. You have to look at the bubble in the cava bottle. Since the neck of the bottle was pointed down, the bubble was at the bottom of the bottle which was pointed up. You quickly, or in my case slowly, begin to raise the neck of the bottle and watch the bubble. As soon as the leading edge of the bubble reaches the neck remove the cap and cover the bottle opening with your hand.

I did not work fast enough. But given a case or two of cava, I am sure I would improve. As soon as I removed the cap, a shower of cava spray hit me. I did lose about two inches more cava than Fèlix, who topped up my bottle with cava from the bottle he opened.

052715bIt was then Kathy’s turn to cork the bottle. Using a hand corker similar to ours at home, Kathy followed the steps and corked the bottle. She then put a wire cage (muselet) over the cork and went to another machine that had a wheel to tun by hand. Kathy needed to turn the wheel three times but became a bit carried away, because it was so easy to turn, and gave it an extra turn. Turning the wheel causes the little circle of wire to twist and tighten around the cork and under the ridge of the bottle. I then placed a capsule over the cork and used a double heater to heat and shrink the capsule. This was a two-step process and worked much better than a heater at a winery where I attached capsules to our wine. Fèlix then took the bottle and used a section of a bottling machine to affix a label to the bottle. He signed the bottle and gave it to Kathy and me. We will cherish and remember this bottle that we disgorged and corked.

We are going to visit several more cava producers over the next several weeks. If any of them want help disgorging by hand I’ll volunteer. I’d like to increase my speed and lose less cava.


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