History of Champagne

CHAMPAGNE WAS A REGION long before it was a sparkling wine. The region lies at a crossroads of northern Europe, the river valleys leading south to the Mediterranean and north to Paris, the English Channel and Western Germany, and thus has been the setting of many dramatic events in the history of the French nation. As a convenient access point, it has been for hundreds of years, the chosen path of many invaders including Attila the Hun. The Hundred Years' War and the Thirty Years' War brought repeated destruction to the region as armies marched back and forth across its landscape. By the 17th century, the city of Reims has seen destruction seven times and Epernay no less than twenty-five times.

But crossroads also bring trade. Champagne gained importance in its own right, during the middle ages as a center of European trade. The medieval counts of Champagne were wise enough to encourage commerce and strong enough to protect the traveling merchants. They created the then famous, Fairs of Champagne. Though these fairs were mainly about cloth, they were of obvious benefit for the wines of Champagne as it gave them easy exposure and access to important wine markets.

Champagne also benefited when the cathedral at Reims was chosen in 987 AD, as the coronation site for the French king Hugh Capet and establishing Reims as the spiritual capital of medieval France. In fact, thirty-seven kings of France were crowned there between 816 and 1825. The monasteries in Champagne with the economic assistance of the crown, were to make wine production a serious venture until the French Revolution in 1789.

Before the mid-1600's there was no Champagne as we think of it. For centuries the wines were still wines and were held in high regard by the nobility of Europe. But the cool climate of the region and its effect on the wine making process was to play an important part in changing all of that.

We owe a lot to Dom Pérignon as any inventor owes those who have come before him. He is not however the inventor of champagne as is often thought. Pierre Pérignon was a Benedictine monk who, in 1688, was appointed treasurer at the Abby of Hautvillers. The Abby is located near Epernay. Included in Dom Pérignon's duties was the management of the cellars and wine making. The bubbles in the wine are a natural process arising from Champagne's cold climate and short growing season. Of necessity, the grapes are picked late in the year. This doesn't leave enough time for the yeasts present on the grape skins to convert the sugar in the pressed grape juice into alcohol before the cold winter temperatures put a temporary stop to the fermentation process. With the coming of Spring's warmer temperatures, the fermentation is again underway, but this time in the bottle. The refermentation creates carbon-dioxide which now becomes trapped in the bottle, thereby creating the sparkle.

For Dom Pérignon and his contemporaries, sparkling wine was not the desired end product. It was a sign of poor wine making. He spent a great deal of time trying to prevent the bubbles, the unstableness of this "mad wine," and the creation of a decidedly white wine the court would prefer to red burgundy. He was not able to prevent the bubbles, but he did develop the art of blending. He not only blended different grapes, but the juice from the same grape grown in different vineyards. Not only did he develop a method to press the black grapes to yield a white juice, he improved clarification techniques to produce a brighter wine than any that had been produced before. To help prevent the exploding bottle problem, he began to use the stronger bottles developed by the English and closing them with Spanish cork instead of the wood and oil-soaked hemp stoppers then in use. Dom Pérignon died in 1715, but in his 47 years as the cellar master at the Abby of Hautvillers, he laid down the basic principles still used in making Champagne today.

Although sparkling Champagne was only about 10% of the region's output in the 18th century, it was enjoyed increasingly as the wine of English and French royalty and the lubricant of preference at aristocratic gatherings. Its popularity continued to grow until, in the 1800's, the sparkling wine industry was well established.

The face of the industry really began to change when Louis XV allowed the transport of wine in bottles in 1728. A year later, Ruinart became the first recorded Champagne house. By 1735, a royal ordinance was instituted to dictate the size, shape, and weight of champagne bottles, the size of the cork they should use and that they be secured with strong pack thread to the collar of the bottle. Claude Moët founded, in 1743, what was to become the largest champagne house today, the House of Moët.

The complexity and capital intensity of making champagne ultimately lead to the replacement of the monastic and aristocratic growers with the champagne merchants. With their capital, the merchant's or maisons, had to ability to perfect the otherwise still unpredictable fermentation process, age, distribute, market and export the wine.

Dégorgement was first practiced in 1813. It was perfected in 1818 by the Widow Clicquot's cellar master Antoine Muller. He developed a process of "riddling" the wine in order to get the sediment of dead yeast cells into the neck of the bottle so it could be removed without the time consuming task of decanting each bottle. This process also saved most of the gas.

The 1820's and 30's saw the use of corking machines and wine muzzles. Finally in 1836, a pharmacist in Chalons-sur-Marne, M. François, invented an instrument, called a sucere-oenometre, to measure the amount of sugar in wine. With this invention, the amount of sugar needed to stimulate the second fermentation could be reliably determined, and the bottle burst-rate dropped to 5%. It was now a little more safe to take a spring walk through a champagne cellar.

In the 1920's four well known houses were established, Bollinger, Irroy, Mumm, and Joseph Perrier. By 1853 total sales of sparkling champagne reached 20 million bottles up from just 300,000 bottles at the turn of the century.

Imported Champagne
Ace Of Spade Armand De Brignac Champagne $299.95
Ayala Brut Majeur Champagne France $39.95
Beau Joie Champagne Brut $79.95
Beau Joie Champagne Sugar King Demi Sec $89.95
Beau Joie Champagne Rose' $109.95
Billecart-Salmon Brut Extra Champagne 2004 $79.95
Billecart-Salmon Brut Rose 750ml $74.95
Bollinger Rose Champagne $79.95
Charles Heidsieck Champagne Brut Reserve $54.95
Cristal Louis Roederer Champagne 2006 95/100 $249.95
Cristal Louis Roederer Champagne 2009 $199.95
Cristal Louis Roederer Champagne 1999 $299.95
Cristal Louis Roederer Champagne Rose 2000 $799.95
Moet & Chandon Dom Perignon Champagne Brut 2004 $169.95
Moet & Chandon Dom Perignon Champagne Brut 2006 $169.95
Moet & Chandon Dom Perignon Champagne Rose' Limited 2003 95/100 Temp Out Of Stock $299.95
Runinart Champagne Brut $79.95
Runinart Champagne Brut Rose $79.95
Dom Runinart Champagne Blanc de Blanc Brut 2004 $139.95
G.H. Mumm Grand Cordon 750ml $34.95
Krug Champagne Brut 1995 98/100 $349.95
Krug Champagne Brut 2000 97/100 $249.95
Krug Champagne Brut Grande Cuvee 375ml 95/100 $99.95
Krug Champagne Brut Grande Cuvee 95/100 $169.95
Krug Champagne Brut Rose 95/100 $299.95
Lanson Champagne Black Label Brut France $39.95
Laurent Perrier Cuvee Brut Rose' $79.95
Louis Roederer Champagne Brut Premiere $49.95
Louis Roederer Champagne Brut 2009 $74.95
Louis Roederer Champagne Brut Rose 2011 $74.95
Moet & Chandon Champagne Brut Grand Vintage 2006 $69.95
Moet & Chandon Champagne Brut Grand Vintage Rose' 2006 $79.95
Moet & Chandon Champagne Brut Imperial 187ml $13.95
Moet & Chandon Champagne Brut Imperial $44.95
Moet & Chandon Champagne Imperial Ice $59.95
Moet & Chandon Champagne Imperial Rose' $59.95
Moet & Chandon Champagne Nector Imperial $59.95
Nicolas Feuillatte Champagne Brut 375ml $14.95
Nicolas Feuillatte Champagne Brut 750ml $29.95
Nicolas Feuillatte Champagne Brut Rose 1.5 liter $99.95
Nicolas Feuillatte Champagne Brut Rose 750ml $49.99
Perrier Jouet Fleur Champagne 2000 $149.95
Perrier Jouet Fleur Champagne Rose 1999 $149.95
Piper Heidsieck Champagne Rare Millesime 2002 97/100 $199.95
Pommery Champagne Brut Royal 750ml $29.99
Pommery Champagne Brut Rose' Springtime $49.95
Pommery Champagne Pop 187 2 Pack Brut and Brut Rose' $24.95
Pommery Champagne Pop 187ml $9.95
Ruinart Champagne Brut Blanc De Blanc Reims France 2004 $159.95
Ruinart Champagne Brut Rose' Reims France $79.95
Taittinger Champagne Brut La Francaise $39.95
Taittinger Champagne Brut Prestige Rose $69.95
Taittinger Champagne Comtes De Champagne 2005 $129.95
Taittinger Champagne Prelude Grand Cru $79.95
Veuve Clicquot Champagne Brut 2004 $89.95
Veuve Clicquot Champagne Brut 1.5 liter $149.95
Veuve Clicquot Champagne Brut Yellow Label $49.95
Veuve Clicquot Champagne Demi-Sec $59.95
Veuve Clicquot Champagne Rose NV $59.95
Veuve Clicquot Champagne Brut 1.5 liter $149.95
Veuve Clicquot Champagne Rose Reserve 2004 $99.95
Veuve Clicquot Champagne Rose Reserve 2008 $99.95
Veuve Clicquot Champagne La Grand Dame Brut 2006 $149.95
Veuve Clicquot Champagne La Grand Dame Brut Rose' 2004 $299.95
Veuve Clicquot Champagne Rich $59.95
Veuve Clicquot Champagne Rich Roose' $69.95
All bottles of Wine are 750ml unless stated otherwise
Robert Parker Rating (Blue) - Wine Spectator Rating (Red) - Temporarily Out of Stock