5 moments in history that shaped Champagne

Written by
Vintage Cellars
September 1, 2017
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It’s the toast to many a celebration, but how did it arrive at the refined bubbles of today? We spotlight five historical events that shaped today’s Champagne industry and discover why only Champagne made in the region can call itself Champagne.

The signing of the Treaty of Versailles

If it doesn’t originate from France, it’s not Champagne. This differentiation between Sparkling wine and the trademarked bubbly from the north-eastern region of France is no mere matter of semantics. It is a legally binding act included in the Treaty of Versailles, the agreement which marked the end of World War I. Today’s celebratory beverage of choice represents a land once ravaged by the Russian Revolution, the Great Depression, religious and political conflict, and a vine disease which killed the last of the already war-damaged vineyards. After suffering years of devastation, the famed grape-growing region of Champagne legally staked a claim on the Sparkling wine produced in Champenoise vineyards, to protect their right to the name and rebuild what they’d lost. Today, unless a Champagne is made in France using the Méthode Champenoise, a secondary fermentation process distinct to Champagne, it cannot legally be called Champagne.

The widow who made the first ever Vintage and pink Champagnes

Despite trade blockages, financial stagnation, and a society which didn’t let women own their own bank accounts, let alone run a business, a widow created a successful and thriving Champagne industry. Madame Clicquot had a brain for innovation; she took over her husband’s Champagne house and blazed a trail in Champagne production. Madame Clicquot created a system of removing yeast lees from wine to create a clearer liquid, designed a more elegant bottle shape, and even created pink Champagne using a blend of red and white grapes.

Madame Clicquot went on to break new ground by creating a wine with grapes from only one single harvest, which became the first ever Vintage Champagne. In 1810, Madame Clicquot trademarked Vintage Champagne. She added a star to the cork of her bottles with the initials VCP for Veuve Clicquot-Ponsardin (‘Widow Cliqcuot-Ponsardin’) – a combination of her husband’s surname and her maiden name, an audacious sign-off to note her mark on the industry.

Dom Pérignon standardised the corking of Champagne

Contrary to popular belief, Dom Pérignon did not invent Champagne. Pérignon played a significant role in enhancing the quality of Champagne and improving production and bottling methods, which were unsafe at the time. In the 1660s, Pérignon appointed a monk at the Abbey of Hautvillers, in the region of Champagne, as his business manager and charged him with rebuilding the finances of the crumbling Abbey. To create superior wine, he planted new vineyards to produce higher quality grapes, worked on perfecting fermentation and made improvements to the ageing processes. After 15 years of unsuccessfully attempting to remove the bubbles from wine – they were considered a fault at the time – he gave in and dedicated his efforts to creating a clearer, more refined, effervescent Sparkling wine. He also created a corking method that sealed in the fizz and flavour. He ensured there was no danger of the cork exploding off the top by tying it around the bottle neck. Upon first tasting his improved Champagne, Pérignon is said to have exclaimed his trademark line, “Come quickly, I am tasting the stars!”

Celebrity endorsement of Pol Roger

What higher hat tip is there than having the Royal Court carry your label? Pol Roger currently hold the Royal Warrant as purveyors of Champagne for Queen Elizabeth II. However, Pol Roger had another notable advocate who had a big impact on the Champagne house’s reputation: Sir Winston Churchill. Famed to have enjoyed a pint of Pol Roger Champagne a day for his “health”, Churchill was known to publicise his preference for the tipple. After the former British Prime Minister passed away, Pol Roger placed a black border around their labels of the Brut NV shipped to the UK as a tribute. In 1975, a blend called Cuvée Sir Winston Churchill was released in commemoration of the iconic British figure.

Pommery’s audacity to go against tradition

Madame Pommery saw a market for a crisper, dry style of Champagne which was preferred by English aristocrats. She decided to go against traditional methods and create the first Brut – an extra dry style of wine. The controversial move paid off and Pommery’s step into dry Champagne with a sugar content − of only 6 - 9 grams took London by storm.