The process of riddling or shaking and turning whereby the deposit in a bottle of Champagne is progressively directed into the neck of the bottle, so as to settle on the wine’s first cork. The bottles subjected to this process are put neck down in slottedpupitres. They do, in fact, look quite like easels or desks: the first pupitre was supposed to have been made at Madame Clicquot’s suggestion from one of her upturned kitchen tables. Remuage involves both shaking the bottle from side to side and turning it, with a special twist, so that the two types of deposit in the wine – the fine and the sticky – are both moved. The wine must be swung right round inside the bottle. When the remueur has finished – each handles two bottles at a time – he both turns the bottle slightly and inclines it at a sharper angle so that, eventually, it is virtually upside down.
The work is highly skilled; so remueurs are highly paid. However, in some wineries making use of the Champagne method, hand labour has been replaced by the use of huge metal frames, into which several dozen bottles can be stacked. These frames have bases with several facets, so that two men can swing the frame to and fro, turning it on the faceted base, and the deposit apparently comes down on to the first cork as required. A further development, now in many sparkling wine cellars, including Champagne, is the use of huge angled bins, which are rotated and turned by programmed power. This shortens the time taken considerably.
Remuage in Champagne lasts from 6 weeks to 3 months, according to the wine. Patrick Forbes, in his great book, states the astonishing fact that a skilled remueur can rotate up to 100,000 bottles in a day and oscillate up to 40,000! Most Champagne houses only subject bottles up to the size of a magnum to remuage – for obvious reasons; but some stars of the cellars manage to handle Jeroboams and at least one man can manage an even larger size. The noise made when the remueurs are at work is like that of giants clicking their castanets.