TRAVEL TO CHAMPAGNE WITH US
Leave it to us to guide you off the beaten path of the over-marketed bubbly – you know, the one with a generic personality.
We know you by now and say this:
“You deserve better!”
YOU, with the discerning palate; YOU the curious foody; YOU the
original you; YOU the trendsetter, and YOU and YOU.
After all, you are not who you are by being someone else.
Champagne — the ultimate celebratory wine — is more than merely celebratory. Its character can be more accommodating to meals than is suggested by commercials. Its relevancy to the table can be explained by its location.
Champagne happens to be at the crossroads of two major trade routes: North-South between Flanders and Switzerland; and East-West from Paris to the Rhine. Its position made it prosperous, but also ensured that it would be fought over many times in the course of 1,500 years.
There are many legends concerning early vineyards, but the first serious mention dates from St. Rémi at the end of the 5th century AD – and for about 800 years after Hugh Capet was crowned king of France in Rheims cathedral in 987, the city’s position as the spiritual center of France boosted its fame.
Those early wines did not sparkle — they were light, pinkish
still wines made from the Pinot Noir grape. In the last half of the 17th century, wine-making techniques improved and were led by clerical winemakers — Dom Pérignon, particularly, who transformed the Abbey of Hautvillers into the region’s core of viticulture. Its fame increased in the late 1600s after being introduced to the Court of Versailles both by the Marquis de Sillery, a landowner, and the Marquis de St-Évremond, who introduced champagne to London society having been banished to Britain in 1662.
In the normally cold winters of the region, the wines had a natural tendency to stop fermenting, then to start fermenting again in the spring when temperatures were friendlier to the organisms. For a long time this was considered a nuisance, particularly because the release of carbon dioxide was often so powerful it broke the flimsy bottles that were made at the time. It was the development of stronger bottles by British glassmakers that permitted drinkers to enjoy the sparkling wines. In fact, it was the café society of London, encouraged by St-Évremond, that probably first enjoyed true ‘sparkling champagne.’
Champagne consumption was made popular by the licentious court of the duke of Orléans, who became regent of France Louis XIV died in 1715. Serious winemakers (and their clients) continued to believe that champagne was inferior to still wines (fools!). Plus, even the stronger bottles could not withstand the pressure generated by that second springtime fermentation. So, throughout the 18th century, only a few thousand bottles were produced every year, and half would break.
The champagne business we know today emerged in the first 40 years of the 19th century. Credit for much of this goes to Madame Clicquot, one of whose employees developed a system of turning the bottles to allow the yeast sediment to be collected and removed. Finally, corks were improved, and a corking machine developed. The name “Veuve Clicquot” means ‘the widow Clicquot.’
Understanding and mastering the second fermentation took longer – and it was through the intervention of a scientist and minister named Jean-Antoine Chaptal who understood that ‘sparkling wines owe their tendency to sparkle only to the fact that they have been enclosed in a bottle before they have completed their fermentation’. He’s the person credited with adding a bit of sugar (in a process now known as chaptalization) to the bottle enabling it to have a very thorough second ferment. Next came a pharmacist, André François, from Châlons-sur-Marne. His contribution enabled winemakers to measure the precise quantity of sugar required to induce a second fermentation in the bottle without inducing an explosive force.
Fast forward a little more than 100 years – to 1936. It’s at this point that a group of growers and merchants known as the Commission de Châlons, was set up in 1935 by Robert-Jean de Vogüé, head of Moët. At a time when growers were virtually giving away their grapes, the Commission provided them with some stability. Six years later, the desire for joint action led to the formation of the CIVC, the Comité Interprofessionnel du Vin de Champagne – a pioneering attempt (and copied elsewhere) to provide wine-making regions with an organization that represented everyone’s best interests. It was incredibly successful and lives on to this day.
In the domestic market, nearly half total sales are made by individual growers, co-operatives, and co-operative unions. The first co-ops in Champagne were founded just before WWI. They grew rapidly in the early 1960s and by 1989 140 co-ops represented over half the growers and a third of the area’s vines. Some co-ops merely press grapes; others make wine (much of which is returned to members for sale under their own label, a fact signified by the letters CM before the grower’s code on the label. Two or three co-operative unions that produce up to ten million bottles annually became major forces in supplying buyers’ own brands and uniting to promote their own brands.
Fierce competition from co-ops added to the pressure on the usually family-owned, merchants. In the 1960s and 1970s, Moët & Chandon absorbed the oldest firm in the region, Mercier and Ruinart. Later they added Veuve Clicquot and Krug to their acquisitions, and today represents the dominant force in Champagne.
The growers’ increasing power was reflected in a rapid rise of grape prices during the 1980s and by the inflexibility with which grapes were allotted to the merchants. In 1990, under the impetus of Moët, the market was freed. Since then price has been indicative but not binding. A number of firms, especially those without their own vineyards, experienced difficulties and were sold and resold a number of times – making the trade increasingly concentrated, with the seven biggest houses accounting for 70 per cent of the total.
You are all familiar with the 70 per cent-it’s the 30 per cent we want to guide you through so you experience the same sense of discovery that you applied when you stumbled upon that great California gem that the East coast will never see.
The world of grower Champagne (Grower – the all-important producer of the raw material for wine-making)
This individual may be called a grape-grower, more precisely a vine-grower, possibly even a wine-grower if he or she also vinifies.
Terms in other languages include vigneron and viticulteur in French, and vignaiolo in Italian.
Wine producers who grow their own grapes and vinify them into wine but on a limited scale are often referred to somewhat carelessly and often inaccurately as small growers.
A significant proportion of all vine-growers produce only grapes, however, which they sell to co-operatives, merchant-bottlers (see négociant), or larger wine operations) or recoltant -manipulant that we all experienced through well known blends and incarnations is now more and more available to our taste buds .
We pledge to feature 5 to 7
Grower Champagnes representing their sub-region. These wines should be approached
as wine and enjoyed when possible with a meal to expose their originality and unique qualities. Made and grown in different terroirs, varietal blends and winemaking philosophy, these Champagnes represent the epitome of artisanal product and savoir-faire.
Please enjoy them fully and consume them responsibly.
Stay curious my friend.
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