How does a professional champagne taster stay sober throughout the day? For Moet & Chandon's wine quality manager, Marie-Christine Osselin, water is her best friend.
Some days involve tasting up to 50 wines, she said, noting that there are "no normal days" at the winery, which is owned by luxury goods company LVMH.
Based in the French province of Champagne from where the bubbly gets its name, Moet & Chandon boasts the region's largest vineyard at 1,200 hectares (nearly 3,000 acres). But that only meets 25 percent of the brand's needs, so the firm works with 450 growers in the area, gaining access to a total of 5,000 hectares.
"By having the largest supply, we have the capacity to create consistent wines every year," said Osselin.
At the end of the initial fermentation round, the winery has "nearly 800 different wines to taste," she explained. "We succeed in maintaining quality because we have this large choice. When you have 800 wines, you can find something good."
This year was demanding for the Champagne region due to rainy weather in August, she noted.
"We work as a team so there's no single official taster, but we all have to agree on the taste to maintain standards," Osselin said, adding that the final call rests on Moet cellar master Benoît Gouez.
So, what does it take to become a taster?
"Curiosity and passion: You have to understand the particularities of each year," said Osselin, who studied quality management and learned wine tasting on the job. A sommelier background isn't mandatory, she said.
While tasting, Osselin looks for three distinct factors that define the Moet style: "fruitiness, a seductive palette and an elegant maturity." Any taste of oxidation or big bubbles are signs of a bad batch, she explained.
Many characteristics distinguish champagne from regular white wine.
It's all about attention to detail.
The best wines from each harvest are stored in reserves for two to three years, a process that preserves fruitiness. The brand's flagship product Moet Imperial, made from both harvested and reserve wine, spends two years in cellars, compared to seven years for a Grand Vintage release, which is made from the grapes of a single year.
Moet makes its wines from three grape varieties — chardonnay, pinot noir and meunier — and the fruit is picked "on the best day with the perfect balance of acidity and sugar," Osselin said.
Once the wine is bottled, it's stored in racks with the neck titled downward. A process known as riddling then occurs, in which the bottle is slowly tilted so the neck faces upward in order to remove excess yeast and sediment. That takes one to two weeks by hand or one to two days by machine, according to Osselin.
To ensure environmental sustainability, Moet employs as little chemicals and water as possible, practices zero-waste techniques, creates eco-friendly bottles and labels, Osselin said.