Bel Lago and Beyond: Vintner Charlie Edson on Sparkling Wine

With a Ph.D. in viticulture and oenology, grape guru Charlie Edson worked as an academic winemaker and research oenologist visiting wine regions around the world before launching Northern Michigan winery Bel Lago Vineyards in Leelanau County in 1997. We caught up with Charlie to talk bubbly basics and the virtues of sparkling Cayuga. The following interview was first featured in the February 2014 issue of Traverse, Northern Michigan’s Magazine.


Let’s get a winemaker’s perspective on the difference between tank- and bottle-fermented bubblies?

In the traditional, or Champagne, method a still wine or cuvée is produced in tank or barrel and then put into bottle; a solution of yeast and sugar, called the tirage, is added and the wine is usually aged at least 12 to 18 months, sometimes years. When the wine is disgorged, the yeast solids are removed and the bottle is topped up with dosage. These wines typically have finer textures, flavors and bubble structure, along with flavors from the yeast. Tank-fermented, or Charmat, method, wines go through the same process in a large tank and are bottled under pressure. This process takes only a few weeks, so they tend to express more fresh fruit characteristics.

Your award-winning Brillante is based on the Cayuga grape?

Cayuga white, when picked at the right time, produces a wine that’s reminiscent of sparkling riesling or prosecco. It’s unique for a hybrid grape in that it has the complete fruit profile and produces pretty aromatics of pear, white peach and tropical fruit.

Do you have a favorite pairing for Brillante and similar tank-fermented sparklers?

These wines make great aperitifs. The bright fruit, acid and little hint of sweetness make them perfect for cheese and charcuterie boards, fresh fruit and even desserts that aren’t too sweet. When fresh peaches are available, we like to slice them up and put them right in the glass.

Watch as Charlie Edson explains the science behind bubbly:


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