From grape to glass the entire process of producing a Graham Beck Cap
Classique relies on meticulous attention to detail, dedication to
authenticity, precision timing and plenty of patience. At Graham Beck our team is
passionately pursuing the perfect bubble – a golden thread of excellence runs
throughout the entire process and portfolio. The term Cap Classique has been used in
South Africa since
1992. The name is derived from the fact that, by law, sparkling wines are not
allowed to be called “Champagnes” in SA, although we use exactly the same methods as
in France – giving rise to: Cap (Cape) Classique (classic French method). It has
become a prestigious category that’s exclusive to South Africa. Our Graham Beck
bubblies have received numerous awards and accolades both locally and abroad,
testimony to the fact that they are serious contenders in the international arena,
often setting the quality benchmark in terms of forging a unique style and
THE IMPORTANCE OF
With its natural limestone deposits and huge diurnal temperature shifts between day
and night Robertson is one of the most important wine regions for base wines and the
making of Cap Classique. For our Cap Classique, 80% of all fruit (Chardonnay and
Pinot Noir) comes from Graham Beck’s own estate. The balance of the grapes is
sourced from seven other geographical areas including areas renowned for their cool
climate and close proximity to the oceans. This assists in pursuing consistency and
The two classic varieties of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir are used. Chardonnay,
considered to be the noblest of all white grapes, with its traditional flinty
character often produces buttery, lemon flavours, (occasionally nutty flavours),
often with a strong hint of tropical fruit. This cultivar contributes to finesse and
elegance with the brightness of acidity.
Pinot Noir (predominantly raspberry and strawberry flavours, with a hint of
cherries) lends mouthfeel, palate weight and texture. Intensive work is done on
clonal selections for both Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.
Chardonnay clones are planted for their ability to express unique aromatic and
palate profiles. Some clones that are specifically earmarked as sparkling wine
clones originate from Champagne, in France. Our Chardonnay clones therefore
contribute specific aromas and structures to the different styles of Cap Classique
we make. They display consistency year on year, and are only influenced by vintage.
The Chardonnay clones that the team prefers are Clone 548, 277 CY5, 95 & 96.
When selecting Pinot Noir clones they enjoy working with Clone PN52, 777, 113 & 115.
These different clones contribute different flavour profiles and aromas with some of
them even contributing a little colour, which is ideal for their Rosé program.
The key to quality is the final preparation done by the viticultural team and
the winemakers when deciding on exactly the precise time to harvest the perfectly
‘ripe’ grapes. The team is adamant that no blocks are harvested before they have
walked through them, and tasted the grapes.
One of the vital and pivotal elements ensuring quality. Each bunch is carefully
selected and picked by hand to avoid any damage. The hours are long and picking in
heat of the day is avoided. The grapes are then transported to the winery where they
begin their winemaking journey. Entire grape bunches are pressed very gently to
extract the juice. This minimizes the amount of harsh malic acid and astringent
tannins that naturally exist in the skins, seeds and stems. The difference is that
the winemaking team can separate the cuvée fraction from the press fraction, as the
juice is gently pressed in the press.
Whole bunches are taken directly into Pera Pellenc presses for immediate extremely
pressing. At this point the cuvée (highest quality) juice is separated from the
press fraction. The first cuvée is 450 l/t and the balance of pressings is 200 l/t.
Depending on each press cycle the team, will decide where this fraction is used.
Should the press fraction of 200 l/t be too coarse or have phenolics they don’t
like, it will not be used in any of the bubbly base wines. The fractions are then
cold-settled overnight in stainless steel tanks before racking them for
Various specially selected yeast strains are used for the primary fermentation at
controlled temperatures in stainless steel tanks. The team prefers to have a cool
and clean fermentation and temperatures of between 14°C and 16°C. Most of the
Chardonnay and Pinot Noir components are fermented separately. Once the fermentation
is completed (between 10 and 18 days) the tanks will be filled to capacity and the
cooling is switched on to cold settle at 10°C. The base wines will remain on the
fermentation lees for up to three months. A portion of Chardonnay is fermented in
Piece Champenoise barrels (French oak). The contribution from the barrels is a
signature of the Graham Beck Blanc de Blancs style of bubbly.
INFLUENCE OF OAK
Piece Champenoise – a French oak wine barrel holding only 205 litres – is very
special and originated in Champagne as a traditional measuring ‘tool’ used during
pressing. The Champenoise were allowed to extract 13 Pieces from 4 000 kg of grapes.
The first 10 barrels is the cuvée juice, barrel number 11 is the Premiere Taille and
barrels 12 & 13 are called the Deuxieme Taille. Today only 3 000 barrels are made in
the Champagne region and Graham Beck is fortunate to receive a small allocation each
year. At Graham Beck a barrel can be utilized for as many as 20 years. More recently
the 2000 litre Foudre has also been included for fermentation. With the introduction
of the Foudre the volume of wine to the volume of oak contact is found to be more
subtle and this has introduced an element of creaminess.
This is a true form of art. Consistency and continuity is crucial for the Graham
Beck house style. Blending is rarely the work of a single person, usually reflecting
the combined talents of a team. It does, however, rely on the sensory experience and
memory of each individual team member. The taster must predict the future
development of each wine in turn, drawing on the sensory impressions stored in the
brain as memory, together with their impressions of the particular growing
conditions that year.
The actual blending process can take from a few days to several weeks, bench-testing
several combinations before assembling the definitive blend. The art of blending is
vital and it can take up to three months after fermentation to get to the final
blends. For the Graham Beck Non Vintage
collection some reserve wines (from previous
vintages) may be added to ensure consistency. In a normal year Graham Beck could
have up to 120 different parcels of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. They represent an
array of different sites on their Estate and also of other geographical areas. A
super selection (cherry picking) is applied for the Vintage
and Icon blends. Only
the very best of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir will be selected to express them as
Vintage and Icon collections.
VINTAGE VS NON VINTAGE
This is a blend of wines from different years.
By combining wines with different sensory characteristics (colours, aromas, flavours)
the winemaking team looks to create a wine that is greater than the sum of its parts – one
with a carefully balanced harmony of notes in which no one note is dominant.
The ultimate Non Vintage objective is the same today as it has always been: to create
a sense of balance that is not found naturally and could not exist without human intervention.
It is the signature of the house of Graham Beck.
The winemaking team brings together
contrasting base wines to create a
cuvée that is different every time and
distinctly superior in quality to
the sum of its parts. It will express
the very best the Vintage
has to offer in the tier of Vintage
and Icon Cap Classique.
When the final blends are made up, the base wine blends are stabilized and prepared
for the secondary fermentation. The tirage (the mixture of base wine blend, sugar
yeast) is then bottled with a temporary crown cap. This seals the mixture in the
bottle and the secondary fermentation takes place inside the same bottle you
eventually see on the shelf.
THE “MAGIC” – secondary
This is where the yeast goes to work and converts the sugar to alcohol and the
magical bubbles (effervescence) develop. This takes 6 – 12 weeks to complete adding
approximately 1,2 % of alcohol and producing 6 atmospheres of pressure – the
equivalent of 49 million bubbles in a bottle.
The bubbles or ‘beads’ of a Cap Classique are a clear indication of its pedigree –
the finer and more delicate the mousse or bubble, the better the overall quality of
the wine. We’re sure you’ll agree our tiny pin-prick bubbles denote a fizz with
superior flair! Considering that a glass-pour in Champagne terms is 110 ml, you
should get six glasses to a bottle. The average number of bubbles in a 750ml bottle
is 49 million once opened. This will mean that a glass of bubbly will contain
approximately 7 million bubbles!
TIME ON THE LEES
A crucial time for each product to maximize the quality while the wine is in contact
with the yeast cells (the lees). The lees mainly consist of yeasts that have
multiplied in the bottle and formed a deposit. By the end of secondary fermentation,
all of the sugars have been consumed and the yeasts gradually die and decompose.
This process is known as autolysis, releasing molecules that are slowly transformed
as they interact with those in the wine. During this time the wine develops its own
unique character as well as texture and complexity. Typical time on the lees for the
Non Vintage Collection is 12 months, the Vintage
collection 40 months and the Icon 60 months.
According to Cap Classique legislation the minimum time that a Cap Classique must spend on the lees is 9
Once the optimum yeast contact time has been achieved, the bottles are transferred
to gyropallets for the riddling process. 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), although not at the expense of quality. This involves turning
the horizontal bottles slowly to a vertical (upside down) position. This moves the
yeast to the neck of the bottle, ready to be removed in a process called disgorging.
This process takes seven days to be completed.
The purpose of disgorgement is to eliminate the deposit that has collected in the
neck of the bottle as a result of the remuage process. The upside-down bottles are
placed in a neck freezing bath that will freeze the dead yeast cells and a small
portion of the wine above the yeast. Now the crown cap can be removed and the
ice-plug will shoot out. At this point the dosage (a mixture of wine and sugar) is
added to finish the wine and then it is finally corked and wired.
LIQUEUR DE DOSAGE
This is a very vital component of the end result. A few months before the dosage is
added, the winemaking team experiments with different dosages, finally selecting the
one with the most complementary characteristics to give harmony and balance. The
role of dosage in the wine’s sensory development varies according to the style of
our various Cap Classiques.
If the winemaking team is happy with the wine as it stands, the liqueur de dosage
will consist of a mixture of sugar and the same wine as the bottle holds.
Alternatively, if a final additional touch of aroma is thought desirable, the
liqueur de dosage may be made with a reserve wine and set aside for long aging in
casks, barrels or even magnums. These add an extra dimension to the winemaker’s
repertoire of flavours, creating a palette of flavours from which to choose the
perfect finishing touch.
The following sugar levels are an international ruling for any sparkling wine:
Brut Nature: 0-3 g/l Residual Sugar (RS) per litre
Extra Brut: 0-6 g/l RS
Brut: 0-12 g/l RS
Extra Dry: 12-17 g/l RS
Dry: 17-32 g/l RS
Demi-Sec: 32-50 g/l
Doux: 50+ g/l RS
RESTING AND LABELLING
After disgorgement the bottles will rest for a couple of weeks before they are
finally labeled. All Graham Beck Cap Classique’s have the date of disgorging on the back
label, informing the consumer and wine experts alike of the character of each of the
Cap Classiques and the time they are on the final cork.