When you google something like winemaking process sparkling wine, you get basically four options: The traditional method, the Charmat method, the Transfer method and the Injection/ Carbonation method. These four winemaking processes are often described as the ones for making sparkling wine. But there is something bubbling under the surface. Something that is not mentioned on this list of four. A method that is rarely used due to its low possibility for control, but will be more and more on the lips of many natural wine enthusiasts – the Ancestral method.One of my favorite wine blogs, the Wine Folly describes the four main winemaking processes pretty well. I will not reinvent the wheel, so go and have a peak at this wonderful article where do champagne bubbles come from to find out more of the more common styles of sparkling wine making. The Ancestral method is an ancient technique for making sparkling wine. It is not commonly used due to the result being very uncertain, but it produces great sparkling nature wines.
The actual process is not too far from the traditional method (method champenoise). The second fermentation is done in the bottles. The difference to method champenoise is that the second fermentation is done without adding any sugar or dosage to kick-start the process. The second fermentation is spontaneous, which adds a whole lot of uncertainty in to the winemaking. The fermentation stops when the yeast-cells have depleted the supply of residual sugar from the grape juice. The other main difference to the traditional method is that the wine is not disgorged to remove sediment or lees, resulting in a beautiful cloudy natural sparkling wine.
The places you are most likely to find wines produced with this method are in France: Gaillac, Limoux and Bugey Cerdon. We also tried a very interesting Italian sparkling, Il Mio Malvasia, made with this method during our visit to Chef & Sommelier last week. That is actually what sparked me to write this post.
The uncertainty of the winemaking process will probably always keep the ancestral method in the range of specialties. Many winemakers are not prepared to lose too many batches, as winemaking is an investment to start with. If you look at the different winemaking processes from a cost and control perspective, I would expect things to be approximately like I have described in the picture. No research to back this up, but t a supply chain specialist this is not rocket science. From growing of the grapes to years of maturation in bottles, there is no instant gratification in this profession. There is only investment, hope and patience. So I respect those who choose this method and salute their bravery (and hopefully their end product).
The end product is something that is very different from other sparkling wines: dry, musty and even a bit funky, in a positive, close to nature type of way. I recommend to give this kind of sparkling a fair try. Even if the taste is not to your liking, you cannot ignore the love and commitment that has gone in to making that bottle.