Bubbles and Burgundy: The Fascinating History of Champagne
Did you know that bubbling wines are among the oldest styles of wine we have? That’s because sealing them into storage before the fermentation process is complete will produce natural carbon dioxide bubbles. With the end of the year approaching fast, however, we’ll soon be toasting a brand new year with crystal clear, sparkling MCC Brut- but how did this particular festive wine come to be in the first place? Today, the experts from Louisvale Wines walk you through the fascinating history of champagne, and how it came to be our celebration drink of choice.
The Champagne Valley
Let’s tackle the most common question we get asked first- why are South African ‘champagnes’ called by the MCC label, instead? That’s because the term ‘Champagne’ is reserved only for those sparkling wines which originate in the Champagne region of France. This is where the first crystal-clear, sparkling wines, free from unattractive clouds as with many older bubbly varieties, were first invented.
It’s credited to Dom Pérignon, cellar master at the Benedictine Abbey of Hautvillers, in the early 17th century. From these humble beginnings, many successful wineries- think Moët, Ruinart, and Veuve Clicquot- would conquer the world and become synonymous with celebration, elegance, and luxury.
Champagne’s wines have a longer history than that, however. First spread to the region by the Romans, as the cathedral at Rheims became the coronation place of French Kings in the 9th century its wines became a popular status symbol. Vy the 13th century, this reputation was international, as people attending trade fairs amplified the prestige of the fantastic regional wines. Rheims came to be an early wine capital, and wine was now a big business! Soon, local winemakers were experimenting with white grapes and different fermentation methods
The Famous Monk
Admittedly, people probably give Dom Pérignon too much credit for the invention of Champagne, as it was more of a collective process of refining the technique. He was a wine master, however, expertly blending wines to make consistent, distinctive wines- a core tenant of Champagne making even today. His successor, Frère Pierre, actually credits him with the first still red wine, too. He also had a hand in the champagne press, the return to cork stoppers, and the introduction of English glass bottles. But most important of all, he found the key to making crystal clear wines from black grapes.
Because it was expensive to make, due to the extra time and effort needed, Champagnes became associated with riches and royalty, and thus also celebration and luxury.
Ironically, alongside the Pinot Noir grape, the classic Chardonnay grape is widely used in Champagnes. Many of the same conditions that make the Champagne Valley so famous for wine- vine-friendly hills, solid but not over-the-top rainfall, fantastic drainage, and lighter chalky soils- are also found in South Africa, which is why our Method Cap Classique ‘Champagnes’ have gained such a fantastic reputation globally.
Champagne has survived wars, revolutions, and even the notorious vine blight of the early 20th century, remaining a status symbol drink and the method of choice to celebrate globally. Why not keep this long tradition going this New Year’s Eve, and buy yourself a bottle of Louisvale Wines’ exquisite MCC Brut to usher in a new year of fun, laughter, and friendship?