Rose' resting in the riddling racks.

Rose’ resting in the riddling racks.

Riddle me this!

I have tried to recall where I saw my first riddling rack.  I remember being amazed at the rows and rows of A-frame wine racks with bottles sticking out in a very orderly fashion.  I remember clinging on to every word  the winemaker used to explain their purpose. I felt like a child listening to a beautiful medieval folk tale.  Even better than a folk tale, it is true and has a happy ending!   I am amazed at the ingenuity and quite frankly, I think it is just really cool!  I stood in a dark, cold and some may say stinky champagne cave and listened….

This is article from sums it up perfectly…

Champagne is a celebratory beverage that when produced by methode champenoise is very labor intensive.

Bottles of new champagne are stored on their sides in deep cellars in Champagne, France. This wine is now stored sur lie, or “on the lees” (the dead yeast cells and sediments trapped in the bottle). This aging process creates champagne’s texture and the complexity of its bouquet. The amount of time Champagnes spends sur lie bears a direct correlation to its quality: the longer the aging, the more complex the bubbly.

Riddling racks are critical to the process of making Champagne. After the sparkling wine has aged on the lees or it’ s yeast , it is ready to be finished. Remuage or riddling is the process that collects the yeast and sediment in a bottle and concentrate it near the mouth of the bottle.
After initial fermentation in the bottle, the bottles are inclined at a 45-degree angle on a riddling rack, which is made up of two simple rectangular boards hinged at the top. Each side is consists of bored holes, totaling six along ten rows able to hold the neck of a champagne bottle. This means each riddling rack can hold 120 bottles. Some riddling racks can hold more. The riddler puts the neck of a bottle of Champagne in each of the holes. A mark placed on the bottom of each bottle acts as a reference marker, with all markers on all bottles in the rack pointing in the same direction.

Over the next few weeks on a daily basis, the riddler rotates every bottle a few degrees which is an art unto itself. At the same time he raises the bottle’s bottom slightly, lowering the neck maybe a centimeter or two each week. After a few weeks bottles that started at a 45-degree angle are now slanted to a 60-degree angle and are neck-down in their holes.

After riddling is complete, the Champagne bottles are then placed in a sub-zero solution for several minutes forming an ice plug made of the spent yeast and sediment in the necks. They are then are disgorged which means to remove the crown caps from the bottles resulting in the pressure within the bottles shooting out (disgorges) the ice plug (with the frozen sediment trapped in it).  This could have been a good I Love Lucy episode!

When you have riddling racks, you need a Riddler and the Riddler needs a punt. 

The punt is found in the bottom of some wine (traditionally Bordeaux) bottles and all champagne bottles.  It is a divot, dimple or pushed in area on the base of the bottle. 

There are many thoughts on why there is a punt in the bottom of a wine bottle.  The one that makes the most sense to me is to offer reinforcement and strength for the lively sparkling wine and to give the Riddler a place to put his thumb while rotating the bottles. 

And, it is true the bigger the punt, the finer the wine???? Once again, a myth about size – that is NOT true! 

When you walk into Joni Artisanal Wine and Beer, you will find the walls covered in racks that replicate the traditional riddling racks.  It is a beautiful and safe way to keep your wine.  The racks were made by a Saluda Wood Carver Shane Varnadore.  Although these are not his traditional works of art, I think he did a beautiful job.  You can see his fantastic wood sculptures in the shop and art galleries throughout Western North Carolina.

New Beginnings…

New Store Coming Soon

Opening a wine shop is one of the most exciting points in my life! I will put it up there with going to culinary arts school, getting married, sky diving and giving birth! All come with a fair amount of risk and a great amount of satisfaction.

I remember a couple of days before my first day of culinary school, I was issued a knife set and uniform. The checkered pants were too big around the waist and had to be hemmed about 11 inches. When I put on my chef’s jacket and looked in the mirror, it was one of the most exciting moments in my life. Only, I couldn’t figure out how to button it. It had two sides. I decided that women buttoned it to the left and men to the right.

On the first day of school, I dressed in my checkers and jacket (buttoned to the left) and took a high speed ski lift up to the top of Eagles Nest. to where I would spend the next year learning the art of food. On my way, I felt the crisp clean summer air of the Rocky Mountians, saw the snow capped tops (in June) and felt the excitement welled up inside. And that was the beginning of the rest of my life.

That was 20 plus years ago and between then and now, I have filled my time with cooking, eating and drinking wine.

I love wine because it really relates to almost everything in life. Geography, Food, Art, Passion, Life, Heritage, Biology, Science, Gardening….I know I could go on but I’ll finish with great friends and wonderful conversation. Wine is something that has enriched my life and afforded me some of the most wonderful experiences and given me some of the best friends.

My friend celebrated her 95th birthday with me the other day and she stopped by my soon to be opened shop. She told me that everything I had done in my life had lead me to this. I think she might be right.

And on closing, I took away a lot of wisdom from culinary school and some practical knowledge too. The reason there are two sides to a chef’s jacket has nothing to do with which sex is wearing it. It is so that one side stays clean and you can rebutton to the clean side before going out to take your applause!

Johnson and Wales Class of 1994, Vail, Colorado