Champagne has to be the king of all wines, drunk across the globe to celebrate special occasions such as births and marriages, to launch ships and crown victorious sports champions.
A War of the Wines
The history of Champagne is an interesting one. This prestigious drink didn’t start out life as a special wine, but rather developed from a “wine war” that raged for many years between the Burgundy and Champagne regions.
Burgundy had long been known for its rich red wines, but the Champenoise, whose land had different soil and climate conditions, were unable to produce anything that came close to the much-sought after Burgundy vintages. Instead, their wines tended to be acidic and a pale, rather than a deep, red colour.
One of the main reasons for this was the colder climate that slowed fermentation. It resulted in the production of excessive amounts of carbon dioxide in the fermenting bottles often causing them to explode – not the desired result! The surviving bottles contained a fizzy wine which was disdained by the French.
Dom Perignon – The First Great Champagne Producer
However, here in England, the rich and nobility rather liked this new bubbly wine and drank it in copious quantities. Dom Perignon, a Benedictine monk, was a key figure in the history of Champagne. He was responsible for developing the first champagne that was a commercial success – even though he still tried to produce a non-carbonated wine. Whilst he did not actually invent the region’s sparkling wine, he did develop a process that made exploding bottles less of a problem.
Wine producers across the region, realising that they had a commercial success on their hands, began producing this new wine in greater quantities, even though they still considered it a poor substitute for “proper” wines.
Interestingly, it was British bottle manufacturing technology that made it possible to produce stronger bottles that were able to withstand the internal pressure generated by the fermentation process.
Bollinger, Moet et al.
By the nineteenth century, Champagne was a huge success across Europe and some of the world’s most famous brands came into existence – Bollinger, Krug, Pommery, Veuve Clicquot, GH Mumm and what is perhaps the most well-known brand, Moet & Chandon.
It was, in fact, the founder of Moet & Chandon who established champagne as the drink of choice for the rich and the famous as they spent much of their marketing effort on establishing the drink as a status symbol.
So there we have it – a brief history of Champagne!