Bubblies age very well if you do it right, says Church Road Winery senior winemaker Chris Scott.

Church Road's Church Road's Blanc de Noirs 2006 won the Reserve Champion Wine of Show at the 16th Hawke's Bay A & P Bayleys Wine Awards, with a bubbly using the same "methode traditionelle" as the Champagne region in France.

Judges said portrayed the ageability of the style and how delicious it was to drink.

Mr Scott said good bubbly starts with unbroken grapes. The best way to ensure the juicy jewels remain unscathed was hand picking, so the liquid insides had less chance of picking up undesirable (for this wine) traits from the skin.


"If you machine pick grapes you get some damage to the berries," he said.

"It all gets loaded into the back of the truck and you end up with a mix of juice and grapes sloshing around.

"Once that juice is liberated it starts to macerate the skins. Some of the skin compounds cause poor ageing in white wine.

"If you can avoid that by hand picking and bringing undamaged fruit into the winery and then press it very gently - getting the juice away from the skins as quick as possible - you produce something with a more delicate and gentle texture and better longevity."

Once the wine was placed into the bottle a secondary fermentation took place, forcing bubbles into the wine as pressure built.

A by-product of fermentation was a yeast sediment (lees) forming in the neck of the inclined bottle.

"We age the wine on that yeast sediment. As long as you keep the wine in contact with that yeast sediment it will keep the wine very fresh."

Methode traditionelle is usually kept on yeast for between 18 months to three years, but Church Road kept the award-winning wine on for nine years before disgorging.

Disgorging takes the yeast out of the bottle by plunging the neck into liquid nitrogen, freezing the yeast sediment into a plug that pops out of the bottle.

Another variation for Blanc de Noirs was the use of only pinot noir grapes - usually methode traditionelle uses a blend of pinot noir and chardonnay.

Mr Scott said a blend was not necessary for a good champagne.

"The pinot noir is a bit more strawberry and cream and chardonnay is a bit more citrus.

"It is purely a stylistic thing and we were looking for something that had some richness and creaminess and fullness in the mouth, so we went with pinot noir."

Pinot Noir for Hawke's bay bubbly is not a new thing - Montana uses it for Lindauer.

"Pinot noir and bubbly works quite well in Hawke's Bay because one of the things you don't want in a sparkling wine is for it to be overtly fruity. You want it to be quite subtle and you want it to be able to build a little bit more complexity with the yeast-lees ageing and not have too much overt fruit showing.

"When we grow pinot noir on the plains in Hawke's Bay it tends to have quite subtle fruit flavour - it doesn't have a strong aromatic character. Whereas chardonnay can be quite fruity, even if you pick it a very low brix."

Going into the awards earlier releases of Blanc de Noirs 2006 had already won acclaim, including a Pure Silver medal at the Air New Zealand Wine Awards last year.

"We were fairly confident it was a good wine and happy to see it recognised by the judges."