Riddling. A dying art with gyropallets in full swing?

28th February 2014

On our recent visit to the Champagne region and our search for new wonderful Champagnes, my wife bought me a birthday present. I was the lucky recipient of a 36 bottle pupitre, often referred to as a riddling rack. For those not familiar with a pupitre, it is the traditional wooden rack which is used to safely store bottles during the second fermentation of the wine. That fermentation is where the yeast, or lees, is slowly moved into the neck of the bottle ready for disgorgement. The bottles are placed in the rack and gradually turned towards an upright position but never actually reaching a full upright position. The process enables the lees to make their way from laying along the side of the bottle into the neck. The job of turning the bottles and slowly altering the angle of storage was  done by hand by a remueur, and working down in the chalk caves, bottles would be turned a 1/8 or 1/4 each day. A good remueur could handle up to 40,000 bottles in one day! The manual process took between 4-6 weeks and each bottle would be turned on approximately 25 times.

As with many manual tasks, automation was seen as a “step forward”. Large motorised racks have been developed to perform the process and replace the manual riddling. Now, in seconds a 500 bottle gyro palette can turn all the bottles and increase the angle. I am sure that there are quite a few remueurs still out there working their riddling racks and using their hands to perfect the wines as they mature on their lees, I certainly hope so. I’ve worked much of my life in technology and appreciate the value it brings, but I’m probably not alone in thinking how technology does take away some wonderful craft and tradition. During our tour of the winery producing the Francois Lavergne champagnes, we were shown the gyro pallets in operation. I managed to switch on the camera and catch the process on video, it’s a quick process but the video shows how it works. On my next visit I’ll find a remueur and do my best to capture the traditional work in progress.

I guess we all have to see the benefits of the gyropallets and the control these offer. Turning can be fully programmed so there is no need for any human intervention. At set times during the day the huge pallets clunk into action and turn automatically. Riddling itself must have been an arduous task for the remueurs, imagine spending all day underground just turning bottles. But it was a skill, you had to know where you where and what had been turned. You had to be sure the bottles had been turned consistently and correctly or the Chef du Cave would be after you. For me, much of my passion for champagne is about the production and the methods used. Riddling has that romantic element to it, the care and attention given to each bottle by the hands of the remueur being as much a part of the creation of that wonderful wine as anything else.

So just like my last blog and my suggestion that you raise a glass to the men in the vineyards pruning the vines, open a new bottle and raise a glass the remueur. Think of the turning the bottle has gone through and the precise nature of that process which has helped produce what’s now in your glass.


Pete from Champagne Collection

Glass of Bubbly

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