Champagne. The name itself evokes thoughts of celebration, romance and special occasions. Nothing is more useful to mark a special occasion than opening a bottle of Champagne. This wine has become synonymous with good times, good cheer and the moments in life that are to be remembered. But in the very midst of celebration, be careful how you term the wine in your raised glass. Is it Champagne, or is it something else?
The terms “Champagne” and “sparkling wine” are often used interchangeably, much to the chagrin of Champagne producers. While all Champagne sparkles, not all sparkling wine is Champagne. The discerning factor is the region in which the wines are produced. Ninety miles northeast of Paris, covering 85,000 acres, is a region called “Champagne.” Produced anywhere else but Champagne, the wine should properly be labeled “sparkling wine.” This is not just a matter of pride within the Champagne region, but a matter of law, as the moniker is protected by the World Courts to designate the exact region.
Based on today’s perception of Champagne, it may be difficult to imagine that Champagne originated as a still wine. Originally planted by the Romans, the vineyards of Champagne have been thriving for centuries. According to history, in 496, the first King of France was anointed with wine from the Champagne region. From 896 to 1825 the crowning of the Kings of France took place in Reims, located in the heart of Champagne. Commemoration of this event was always accompanied by a celebration involving the free flow of Champagne.
It was not until the 17th century that Champagne gained its sparkle. While Dom Pérignon did not invent Champagne, he played a significant role in its development. For 47 years (1668-1715), Pierre Dom Pérignon was the cellar master at the Benedictine Abbey of Hautvillers. Since creating a sparkling wine was not his original intention, Dom Pérignon spent a great deal of time trying to find a way to cure what he called the “mad wine.” Dom Pérignon has been credited with developing the art of blending as well as instating the use of heavy glass bottles and cork stoppers, which helped prevent the bottles from exploding.
Women have played a key role in the history of Champagne with a few key players sharing a common thread: They were inducted to the Champagne trade as widows. Madame Clicquot (1798-1886) of Veuve Clicquot was widowed at the age of 27 after only two years of marriage. She is credited with inventing the first table de remuage (riddling table). Veuve is the French word for widow. Madame Pommery of the House of Pommery was in control of the vineyards after she was widowed in 1858. She was a savvy businesswoman who took her husband’s business to the next step. She foresaw the newly evolving tastes and introduced the first Brut in the history of Champagne, the legendary Pommery Nature of 1874.