A brief History of Champagne

Colin Champagne, Blanc de Castille, Premier Cru, Blanc de Blanc

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A Little History of Champagne.

The most famous sparkling wine in the world is Champagne.  Sparkling wines are produced worldwide, but many legal structures reserve the word Champagne exclusively for sparkling wines from the Champagne region, made in accordance with Comité Interprofessionnel du vin de Champagne regulations. Even the terms méthode champenoise and Champagne method were forbidden by an EU court decision in 1994. As of 2005 the description most often used for sparkling wines using the second fermentation in the bottle process, but not from the Champagne region, is méthode traditionnelle

Ironically, there is much evidence to suggest that sparkling wine was not invented in the Champagne region of France, even though a very famous resident of Champagne, Dom Pérignon, is often credited with developing the Champagne Method. Dom Pérignon (1638-1715) Started as a novice at an abby in Hautvillers in 1668 and eventually became cellar master there. His name is frequently associatedwith many innovations connected with sparkling wine production. However, there is no reference to sparkling wine in any of his notes or those of his successor. If he did make sparkling wine, it was probably the misunderstood result of a second fermentation from previously unfermented residual sugar that was present in whatever container was used to store the wine in. He may have made sparkling wine, but it was most certainly and accident.

By the end of the seventeenth century, it is believed, some people living in the Champagne region, possibly including Don Pérignon, were making sparkling wine by means of the naturally occurring second fermentation after the wine had been bottled, but the second fermentation was not being induced by the addition of extra sugar. It was not until the mid-nineteenth century that it was learned that a second fermentation could be induced by the addition of sugar to the wine, after the work of Jean-Antoine Chaptal, in 1801, and that of Professor André François, who in 1836 invented the gluco-oenométre to provide an easy calculation of how much sugar was needed to create extra alcohol. Even then, it was not until Pasteur's groundbreaking work in 1857 that the relationship between sugar and yeast was fully understood.

Although Don Pérignon's role may have been embellished, he remains an important figure in many ways. He is believed to have contributed greatly to the knowledge of how to get white wine from red grapes.He is also thought to have contributed to the understanding of the benefits to be derived from blending wine from different grape types and from different vineyards in order to create a more complex, more interesting final product. He probably was instrumental in adopting the use of strong English glass to bottle the wine before second fermentation, since many of the weaker bottles that had been used were likely to explode under the pressure created by trapping the carbon dioxide in the bottle. He is also credited with reintroducing the use of cork as a secure closure for the bottles, as opposed to the hemp and oil stoppers widely used at the time. 

He was known to use a rudimentary form of disgorging, or dégorgement, though his technique was probably practiced by most of his contemporaries as a convenient way of a least partially removing the collected yeast sediment immediately prior to consumption. At the beginning of the nineteenth century, another famous Champagne character developed a significant step that provided a way of completely eliminating all of the yeast sediment that was left. After the second fermentation. Even though at that time the method of productions Champagne did not include the intentional addition of sugar and yeast to create the second fermentation, an indomitable and famous widow named Veuve Clicqout (the name Veuve Clicquot means "widow Clicqout") found that she could contain the perfectly clear bottle of wine by using a process called riddling or rémuage prior to dégorgement.

With the assistance of her chef de cave, Antoine Müller, Veuve Clicquot perfected the methods of working the sediment to the mouth of the bottle then removing it without any appreciable loss of gas pressure (which would rid the wine of it precious bubbles).