A Brief History of Champagne

champagne pop

52 B.C.   Rome conquers Gaul. A short time later, vineyards are planted. Name “champagne” derives from “compagna”, Latin word for “countryside” or “field”.

Champagne with Roman

79 A.D.   Mount Vesuvius erupts, destroying local fields and vineyards. Emperor Domitian orders vineyards in Champagne uprooted and replanted with wheat to address Rome’s bread shortage.

c. 278 A.D.  Roman Emperor Probus revokes Domitian’s orders; Roman soldiers assist locals in replanting Champagne vineyards.  Champagne is a non-sparkling “white” pinkish wine made from the red Pinot noir grapes.

pinot_noir_grapes

Photo: npr.org

987 A.D.   Hugh Capet is crowned King of France at the cathedral at Reims. Local wines are served at the coronation banquet, beginning the association of Champagne and royalty. Kings of France are crowned at Reims for the next 800 years.

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Because of the northerly climate of the Champagne region, grapes often do not fully ripen, making production of rich and full-bodied red wines difficult. The cold winters also halt fermentation, leaving dormant yeast cells that start fermenting again in the spring, releasing carbon dioxide gas.  The pressure inside the weak, early French wine bottles often caused the bottles to explode in the cellars.

17th C.  A.D.   Wine shipped to England in barrels and bottled locally has the same fermentation process. But English glass, produced in coal-fired ovens, is more durable than the French, which used wood-fired ovens. The sparkling wine becomes popular among the English.

At the Abbey of Saint-Piere d’Hautvillers Dom Pérignon perfects producing high-quality white wine from red grapes by limiting the skin contact. The first pressing—the most desirable—was called vin de goutte. Although his efforts focused on producing non-sparkling wines, he set the stage for modern sparkling Champagne production.

18th C.  A.D.    The Duke of Orleans favors the sparkling wines, serving them at the Palais-Royale and starting a craze that spread across the royal courts of Europe. At this time sparkling Champagne wine accounts for less than 10 percent of the region’s wine production.

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19th C.  A.D.   Madame Cliquot develops a process to remove sediment from Champagne. French scientists perfect fermentation, bottle-making, and corking processes, stabilizing bottled Champagne.

Perrier-Jouet introduces “brut” (very dry) Champagne, which replaced sweet sparkling wines as the favored style.

20th C.  A.D.   Fights between vineyard owners and Champagne houses over sourcing and pricing of grapes, phylloxera, and mold and mildew wipes out crops of early years. The region’s location as a crossroads between north and south, east and west, turns it into a battlefield during World War I. By the end of the war Champagne vineyards lay in ruins. The Russian Revolution and Prohbition in the U.S. close lucrative markets. World War II brings more devastation. New life begins when the German surrender at Reims in 1945 is celebrated with cases of Pommery.

1941  A.D.  Comite Interprofessionel du Vin de Champagne established to protect the appellation d’origine contrôlée (AOC) of Champagne, regulate production, and promote Champagne around the world.  Nonvintage Champagne is made from a blend of vintages.  Vintage Champagne is produced from grapes of only that year’s harvest, and only when producers believe the harvest is of the highest quality—about every two or three years.

After 1945 sales of Champagne expanded beyond the aristocratic elite to new social circles. Today it is a multi-billion dollar industry that produces 300 million bottles annually.

Champagne-poured-in-three glasses

Photo: kidsactivitiesblog.com

21st C.  A.D.    The Telegraph, reports that researchers at Reading University (U.K.) find that three glasses of bubbly a day may help ward off brain disorders such as dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.  A compound found in the red grapes of Pinot noir and Pinot meunier, which are used to make Champagne, is believed to prevent forgetfulness.

December 31, 2013 A.D.    Lift your glass! Welcome the new year! (And make that solemn promise to exercise in 2014!)

champagne toast blacksheeponline

Photo: theblacksheeponline.com

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