Cider Musings

The history of riddling

Riddling is the term for the most common way of concentrating the lees in bottle fermented or sparkling wines and cider. (A stage not performed with Pet Nat which sadly means by the end of the bottle if nor carefully poured the wine is cloudy with the lees or spent yeast).

However Champagne didn't always have its crystalline clarity its known for today. Historically, like many other wines, it was bottled with lees like Pet Nat , resulting in a remaining sediment in each glass and often giving the beverage the appearance of cloudy apple juice.

In 1864, a patent was filled by a Mr. Michelot of Champagne for a riddling rack as we know it today, with two slanted pieces of wood holding 120 bottles.

However the history  of concentrating the lees goes back much further. It was a discussion early cider makers of the C17 debated. Worlidge in his book Vinetum Britannicum 1670 mentions some advocating storing the cider in bottles upside down to concentrate the lees in the neck so it can be expelled first. He argues against this as the levees can end up in the first glass! This was before disgorging is documented. However I wonder if early cider makers were doing this too, only that it is not recorded along with the names of those he was debating and writing with.


In the late 17th and early 18th centuries, some French  monks turned to sandboxes as a solution. They initially positioned the bottles horizontally and gradually shifted them to a vertical orientation. This technique aimed to capture the lees in the bottle's neck.  Although the bottles were already positioned at an angle, they were not yet systematically rotated.


The next incidence was of course the probably apocryphal story in  1818 of Madame Cliquot and her kitchen door; and drilling holes in it, prompted by a suggestion from an employee called Antoine Muller.


What is  known is that it was a worker with the House of Morzet called Thomassin who then put the idea into practice.

The current ‘classic’ pupitre of 120 bottle capacity was patent in 1889 by M Michelot. It really did not change  much before the invention of the gyropallette in 1970s. The invention of the pupitre also gave rise to a new skill in its own right: riddling of remuage, which detaches the sediment from the sides of the bottle by a double rotation, to the left, then to the right, while encouraging the deposit to slide down towards the neck by changing the angle of the bottle — as the pupitre is designed to do The holes are not straight through the frame but are designed to allow the bottle handle to change. . The correct flick of the wrist, coup de poignet, takes quite some practice. The best remueurs of the time were important figures in the cellars who could turn as many as 75,000-80,000 bottles in a day and resulted in a lot of RSI ( Repetitive Strain Injury)

The beginnings of automation began in the 20th C. The first crank-operated pupitre made its entrance in 1920 Bottles were placed side by side on trays and raised towards the vertical by crank. In this way, 108 bottles could be turned together. But it was 1966 before the first automated machine appeared. The Pupi-Matic was shaped much like a pupitre, based on vertical panels with a capacity of 240 bottles. The machine was loaded manually. Its plastic containers could be rotated and angled as required, from around 25 degrees to 75 degrees. Vibrations accompanied the movements, driven by two electric motors under programmable control. These motors simultaneously regulated the progressive angling of the bottles.


The new inventions were not readily accepted by the larger Champagne Houses. Nor initially was the breakthrough design and machine; the Gyropalette.

It a began in 1968 when two Winegrowers, the invention-minded Jacques Ducoin and the more practically-minded Claude Cazals, submitted a patent for a riddling cage that would turn not just one bottle at a time, but many, finally 504.


They commissioned a sawmill proprietor M Crozat to make them a cage in oak, and engaged engineering companies Jouglet and Legras to make the metal structure to contain the cage. The very first trials took place in Pierry on the premises of Winegrower Gilbert Lagache who gave the project an enthusiastic thumbs-up. Gilbert was a new champagne producer at the time having established his business only in 1959.However other producers were less impressed and there were no sales. Two new participants then came on the scene: sparkling winemaker Pierre Martin and the oenologist Georges Hardy, who had just joined forces to set up the Station Œnotechnique de Champagne, which opened in 1973.

They quickly saw the potential in this "bottle turning machine," and struck a deal for exclusive rights with the two patent holders. Georges Hardy then enlisted Jacques Doxin, who was a farrier by trade. From this collaboration was born the first-ever prototype: the "gyro", produced in 1973. But still no sales!

Across six years, from 1973 to 1979, the trials and demonstrations piled up. Each year, the "gyro" was shown at the Epernay fair, the main event where professionals would gather to see the latest in winemaking equipment. "They thought we were crackpots," remembers Jean Marie Bouvry. But as they say, a prophet is not without honour except in his own land, and in the event it was Spain  that placed the first order in 1976, for 19 machines at Cava producer Codorníu. It was only at the end of 1978  when the House of Piper-Heidsieck placed its order that France embraced the gyro palette.

                            The gyropalette at TeePee Cider

Now adopted and approved by the whole of the sparkling wine industry in France and worldwide that make sparkling wine by method traditional , the "gyropalette" is today a virtually universal term like Hoover or Xerox . So much so that competing systems are also often called "gyro" even though they carry different brand names and work in slightly different ways


So the invention of the Gyropalette is a sort of success that many not have happened; late to be recognised in their own country. As the saying goes “a prophet is not without honour except in his own land” The company is based in the heart of Champagne and supplies most champagne making needs such as yeasts, and probably to hide this difficult early time and regional pride the history of the first sales to Spain is not on their website and other local sites covering the history of riddling if the mention at all mention Italy! ( Prosecco is made by the Charmat system - quelle horrors)