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The History of Champagne


The winemaking industry of Champagne is an old tradition which dates back to Roman times. The romans planted the first vineyards. The Champagne winegrowing region was later preserved thanks to the care of the clergy, notably the bishoprics of Rheims and Châlons.

In the Middle Ages, the wines produced in the Champagne region were assimilated with the "Vins de France" or "French Wines" produced in the entire Parisian Basin. The only good thing that could be said about the wines from Rheims and Epernay regions was that they were drinkable!

These wines have only been known as they are today since the reign og King Henry the Fourth at the end of the 16th century. In Paris they were, for the first designated "Vins de Champagne" or "Champagne Wines". This term was not easily accepted because, for the inhabitants of Rheims, for example, Champagne represented an area of infertile land where only sheep could graze. People couldn't imagine that grapes would grow well there.

Thoughout the 17th century these wines attracted more and more supporters in both the French and British courts, thanks particularly to their promotion by a large Parisian family who owned vast amounts of land in Champagne. These winelovers are responsible for the development of "vins gris" (lightly coloured "grey wines") from Champagne wines.

However, the winegrowers soon realized that these "grey wines" matured poorly in casks. This is how the idea of bottling wine came about. It is estimated that the first wines were conserved in this manner in the 1600's. The "tirage" (bottling) took place before the end of the first fermentation.

The natives of Champagne discovered that their wine became naturally sparkling, especially if it had a light colour, a low alcohol content, and if it was bottled at the time of the spring equinox.

The British immediately took interest in this new development. It is perhaps thanks to them that Champagne wine stayed sparkling, for it was creating a lot of problems : the bottles exploded!

The Champagne was still not perfect : it needed a father; this patron was Dom Pérignon, a monk from "Abbaye (Abbey) bénédictine d'Hauvillers", who was in charge of the vineyards, wine presses, and wine cellars of the abbey from 1668 to 1715. Another monk from Hauvillers affirmed in 1821 that Dom Pérignon had invented the method of creating sparkling wine. Today there is more of a tendency to believe that he was the first to try this method. Nevertheless, he was certainly a clever oenologist whose wines had a great reputation in their time.

In the 18th century Champagne became known and appreciated worldwide, thanks to celebrity globe-trotters such as Claude Moët, Philippe Clicquot, and Florenz-Louis Heidsieck. In the 19th century Pierre-Nicolas-Marie Perriet-Jouet, Mumm, Bollinger... carried on the tradition. Well-known widows like Mme Pommery, Mme Clicquot, and Mme Perrier, to mention a few, took over their husbands'businesss and continued the promotion of Champagne of irreprochable quality.

An interesting note : "le Champagne Brut" (extra-dry) was created in 1876 by the demand of the British who, unlike the French at that time, preferred to drink dry wines.

Champagne became known as the "vin des sacres" (anointing wine) on June 7th 1654 during the accession of King Louis the 14th.

In 1994 the Champagne merchants (the 250 'maisons de Champagne' (Champagne houses)) made sales worth 14.4 thousand million francs turnover, 70% of total Champagne sales. These merchants buy the majority of their grapes from the 15000 Champagne vinegrowers who control 90% of the vineyards and make up the other 30% of Champagne sales.

In 1995, a total of 250 million bottles of Champagne was produced.