Click below to listen to my Garden Bite radio show: Champagne history
As we clink glasses to a happy, healthy and prosperous 2017, I thought I’d share a little history of the wine so associated with joyful festivities – Champagne!
What does it take for a wine to get that special designation? Strictly speaking, champagne is a sparkling wine that comes from the Champagne region of northeastern France. If it’s a bubbly wine from another region, it’s sparkling wine. While many people use the term “champagne” generically for any sparkling wine, the French have maintained their legal right to call their wines champagne for over a century. The Treaty of Madrid, signed in 1891, established this rule, and the Treaty of Versailles reaffirmed it. The European Union helps protect this exclusivity now, although certain American producers can still generically use “champagne” on their labels if they were using the term before early 2006.
The bubbles in the wine are a natural process arising from Champagne’s cold climate and short growing season give the grapes more acidity. They are fermented twice, the second time inside the bottle. This new yeast starts doing its work on the sugar, then dies and becomes what’s known as lees. The bottles are then stored horizontally for 15 months or more. Winemakers then turn the bottles upside down so the lees can settle to the bottom, they then remove the yeast, add a bit of sugar known as dosage to determine the sweetness of the champagne, and slip a cork onto the bottle.
For Dom Perignon and many other winemakers, the bubbly was not the desired end product. It was called “mad wine’ and many tried for years to get the sparkle out of the wines, the bottles could explode! However, people liked the bubbly.
Tonight, enjoy the tasty grapes of France but let someone else do the driving!
Here’s to the best year yet!