The genesis of French Champagne
In order to understand better what french art of living is, we cannot not mention what French Champagne is. Firstly, its history should be explained. Let’s go back in time a little.
The first traces of Champagne first steps of creation date back to the Gallo-Roman era. When the Romans invaded Gaulle (former territory on which France stands today), they discovered the specific characteristics of the soil of the actual Champagne-Ardenne region of France and brought in vines in order to create wines with new flavors.
At that time, it was rare for wine to be sparkling. After the harvest, the grapes were placed in barrels for the fermentation process to take place in. In winter, fermentation was interrupted by the cold and resumed in spring, when temperatures rose. During this fermentation, the wine “bubbled”, losing some of its sugar, which led to the formation of gas. Some of the gas formed then escaped from the barrel. We therefore obtained a more or less sparkling wine depending on climatic conditions and the period of consumption.
French Champagne is a drink synonymous with celebration and pleasure that intrigues and fascinates. It is the embodiment of French art de vivre. The legend of Dom Pérignon may be controversial for proponents of strict historical truth. Nonetheless here is what we think may be the actual genesis of french champagne.
French Champagne resulting from the inventiveness of Dom Pérignon:
To define the origin of French Champagne in France, everyone agrees that the Benedictine monk from the Abbey of Hautvillers near Epernay, named Dom Pérignon, was the first one to have the idea of mixing different grape varieties. Even today in Champagne, we mix together the three main grapes varieties; chardonnay, pinot noir and pinot meunier.
This revolutionary method, characteristic of French Champagne, made possible the creation of wines with an infinitely subtle aromatic palette. The paternity of other technical processes tending to improve the quality of the wine also goes to Dom Pérignon in an indisputable way, such as fining (operation of clarifying the wine), or the more efficient corking of bottles.
Dom Pérignon: first master of Champagne in France:
However, did this contemporary of Louis XIV invent the method for frothing wine? It’s nice to think that it was by accident that he discovered this famous Champagne method. Testing a new, cleaner and more aesthetic process for capping bottles, he used beeswax. A few weeks later, the bottles had exploded: the perpetrator was carbon dioxide, a product of the fermentation in the bottle, a stage unknown until then.
Some mysteries subsist on how and who made the first French Champagne. Even though the monks used to take note of a lot of things, some other elements can discredit the legend. But more important than the theories on the exact origin of French Champagne, ultimately not of great importance, the legend of Dom Pérignon lives on, in the collective memory and on the bottle with perfect shapes and inimitable labels. The label appears everywhere, from celebrity magazines to cinema to literature. It is a mark of prestige and refinement, of delight and success, true French style and French art de vivre. Dom Pérignon was not without merit. Rigorous and good manager, he was first of all a builder who renovated and enlarged the premises of the abbey. He took special care in cultivating a vineyard, which grew from 10 hectares in 1663 to 24 hectares in 1712, with new and qualitative practices so that the vine produces a delicate wine.
The link between French Champagne and French royalty :
In the Middle Ages, the culture of the Champagne region experienced a significant increase. It is easy to track this evolution because the culture of wine was ensured by the Christian monks, who kept a written record of each of their harvests. The Champagne region took an increasingly important place in the collective imagination when the Bishop of Reims baptized Clovis in 496 with wine from Champagne. From the 9th to the 19th century, during the crowning ceremonies of the kings of France in Reims, wine from Champagne was served systematically due to its reputation.
In the 1715s, at the time of Dom Pérignon great discovery, the luxurious character of French Champagne was multiplied by the advent of the most exuberant of the kings of France: Louis XIV. The “Roi Soleil” (Sun king) tasted French Champagne for the first time at age 16. The drink will henceforth be associated with his passions: fashion and luxury, both qualities that define French art de vivre.
Other members of good society from other countries were charmed by the beverage. The restoration of the English monarchy was accompanied, in small circles, by a frenzy of parties, games, shows, and also an attraction for new and rare products which aroused astonishment in those who consumed French Champagne and experienced French art of living for the first time.
Different types of champagne:
Today, the Controlled Designation of Origin authorizes the use of 7 grape varieties: Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier, Chardonnay, Arbanne, Petit Meslier, Pinot Blanc, and Pinot Gris. But these first three grape varieties represent more than 99% of the grape varieties in Champagne. Different blends make it possible to obtain different types of Champagne. Today there are no less than eleven different champagnes.
An unpredicted discovery, Grey wine:
This was a major oenological innovation: the people of Champagne made a white wine from a black morillon grape, a grape with a black skin and white pulp. This is a real technical exploit resulting from an accumulation of unprecedented practices, from the planting of the vines to the bottling of the wine.
Only a very limited part of the “vin gris” produced was bottled. The period of the draw has varied over time, but always with the concern of promoting effervescence. By pulling towards the end of March, when the sap starts to rise in the vineyard, then often succeed in making the wine sparkling, so that it whitens like milk to the bottom of the glass when it is poured. This grey wine was a great discovery and was sold as an alternative for French Champagne when the demand for Champagne by the rich and wealthy was going through the roof.
For several years, and probably until 1710-1720, the effervescence concerned both white and gray wines. The first one, too acidic, of poor quality and strongly criticized by all lovers of good wines, gradually disappears and only gray wines remain alongside a significant production of red wines to which almost the entire vineyard is dedicated. Consumers are no longer the same, an eccentric and extravagant youth gives way to a traditional, larger clientele from the nobility and the upper middle class. During these years of transition, a distinction is made between sparkling wines and sparkling wines.
The major discoveries in French Champagne and wines led to the French region of Champagne to experience a significant growth as every sorts of trades and special works related to bottles and wines started to move there.
The invention of French Champagne is full of twists and turns but inevitably was a resounding success. The invention of champagne is the power of its symbol. All over the world, this wine is synonymous with celebration, brotherhood, love, peace and French art of living. Champagne is a permanent invention that has been going on for more than three centuries.