In 1713, Prince Friedrich Wilhelm II of Germany tasted French champagne and was curious about the bubbles in it. He asked his staff where the bubbles in the champagne came from. The subordinates could not answer, so some people said that the people at the Berlin Academy of Sciences might know. The news reached the Berlin Academy of Sciences, and the scholars said they did not know, but they expressed their willingness to investigate and hope that His Majesty the King could provide dozens of bottles of champagne for experiments. Hearing the pedantic answer, William II was greatly annoyed. He replied that he would rather spend the rest of his life not knowing where the champagne bubbles come from than having one of his bottles taken away.
In Europe more than 200 years ago, although people knew how to make champagne, no one could answer why there was gas in champagne. Champagne was once considered a ghost wine due to the mysterious gas in the wine. Where does the ghost come from?
Wine has a thousand-year history in Europe. Wine has been made since ancient times. The Romans spread wine technology throughout Europe. As early as the 5th and 6th centuries, what is now the origin of French champagne, the Champagne province is famous in France for its ordinary quality wines. But in the 16th century, something strange happened in the wine region here. When people started to use glass bottles, the glass bottles filled with wine would inexplicably explode. It was called “ghost wine” or “benggai wine” at that time. Winemakers certainly don’t want their wines to explode, but they find that these blasted bottles have a unique flavor profile. In the era when human beings have not tasted soda water, wine with sparkling body undoubtedly gave a surprise to the winemakers at that time.
Legend has it that the monk Pelinon in the church could purposefully create gas in a bottle. As for whether he really masters the secret of gas production and understands that gas production requires adding an appropriate amount of sugar, it is now impossible to test. But at the time people apparently knew how to make gas in wine. But how to control not to fry the bottle is still a big problem. At that time, the situation of blowing bottles was extremely common, and 40% of the wine bottles were fried. The frying phenomenon is due to the second fermentation in the bottle, which is required for champagne gas production. Improper fermentation will fry. The only way to prevent frying the bottle is accurate control of the fermenting sugars in the second fermentation.
Bottling is an important part of the production of wine and champagne. The wine in the barrels is put into glass bottles, the purpose is to create gas. The way to make gas is to add a certain amount of sugar and leavening agent to the wine. Sugar and leavening agents will cause another fermentation in the wine. Fermentation produces carbonic acid within the wine, which is released by decompression. This is the gas people see when they open the bottle. The purpose of winemakers is to find a way to keep the carbonic acid in the wine until it is drunk, and that champagne is not successful. Today, despite the guarantee of modern technology, the wine bottle still has the possibility of exploding.
After the sugar and starter is added, the wine starts to become cloudy, which indicates the start of fermentation. Precipitates are formed in the wine during fermentation. In order to drain the sediment, the bottle is turned upside down so that the sediment slowly collects at the exit of the bottle. This is the peculiar spectacle one sees in a champagne house, with thousands of champagne bottles upside down on the shelves. During this period, the winemaker has to keep turning the bottle every day to help settling. A worker can turn up to 30,000 bottles a day. But now this work has been gradually replaced by computer-controlled machines.
Over a period of six weeks to three months, the sediment will solidify and collect in the mouth of the bottle. At this point, the remaining process is to find a way to remove the sediment without losing the carbonic acid dissolved in the wine to make bubbles. People came up with freezing methods for this. To remove the sediment, people locally freeze the neck of the bottle. Remove the ice cubes and cap again. In order to make up for the reduced amount of alcohol, an appropriate amount of good old wine is added to the wine. At this point the champagne process is generally over.
Production and sales twists and turns
As mentioned earlier, champagne is also a type of wine. Since it is wine, it is limited by nature. Without good grapes, you cannot make good champagne. This is the law in the wine industry. The champagne industry suffered a major blow in the early 1990s by failing to follow this rule. The force of the blow is not from nature, but from greedy fruit farmers. Because of the particularly good year in the 90s, they charged sky-high prices, almost doubling the price per kilo of high-quality grapes to 37 francs. This makes it impossible for champagne producers to market high-cost champagne. Sales dropped sharply for a while, from 250 million bottles to 210 million bottles. Of course, it is not only the champagne producers who are hurt, but also the fruit growers themselves. The winery did not purchase any more grapes in the coming year, and the fruit growers could only suffer losses. All parties involved in this attack suffered heavy losses. Although the sales volume of champagne has already exceeded 270 million bottles, people still talk about the plight of the time. In order to prevent a repeat of the disaster that year, French fruit growers reached an agreement with 280 champagne houses the following year to officially set the price of grapes at 24 francs. In order to guarantee the quality of champagne, it is stipulated that only 2,600 kilograms of grape juice are allowed to be squeezed from 4,000 kilograms of grapes.
In order to maintain the unique status of champagne, the champagne industry has formulated special rules to control foreign powers, that is, local grapes cannot be sold to outsiders. No one can make good wine without quality grapes. This trick is better than anything Turin. But there are no black sheep.
But the development of champagne also has bad luck. Like wine production in other regions, Champagne grapes were hit by insects in the 1860s. When the champagne industry was just recovering and ready to start growing, the First World War broke out again. There are trenches in the vineyards of Champagne. As soon as the war ended, it was a good opportunity for champagne to develop. Unexpectedly, the October Revolution occurred in Russia, and a big buyer of champagne disappeared with it. At that time Russian champagne imports accounted for ten percent of French exports. Louis Rodere, the champagne company that exported the ex-Russian Empire, not only lost a major buyer, but also suffered a huge loss because the bill for the Russian Revolution was not paid. Following the Russian Revolution, Americans implemented prohibition laws in the early 1920s. Prior to this, 7909 U.S. imports of champagne were four times what they were in 1900. With the prohibition of alcohol in the United States, in the late 1920s a global economic crisis was compounded. In the 1920s, there was a cocktail craze in Europe, and it had a tendency to replace champagne.
Hundred years of pursuit by the upper class
No matter what the quality of champagne is, it has been appreciated by the upper class since its birth. Those rising bubbles make champagne especially interesting. The first people to worship champagne were the nobility of the upper classes in Europe, especially those ladies. According to a Parisian socialite, champagne is the only wine that keeps a woman looking good after drinking. It is said that 1,800 bottles of champagne were drank at a ball in Paris in 1793.
European emperors, such as Napoleon in France and Catalina in Russia are all lovers of champagne. Napoleon named champagne both on the battlefield and at his wedding to Marie-Louis. When he came to Remus, the champagne producing area, the place where he collapsed was the home of the owner of the champagne winery. To this day, people still retain the dragon bed where Napoleon slept. Napoleon awarded a gold medal to his favorite Chaxson champagne. The gold medal with Napoleon’s head is still attached to the Shaxen champagne label today.
The Russians are not inferior to the French when it comes to drinking champagne. One of Queen Catalina’s marshals ordered more than 16,000 bottles of champagne from France at a time. At the Paris International Exposition in 1867, the Queen of the Netherlands personally drove to the exhibition hall of French champagne. In order to advertise champagne at international expositions, the champagne house also came up with a trick. A giant cask was shipped from Remus to Paris. There are 20 cows pulling the giant wooden barrel alone. The mighty bullock cart was once a legend. The large wooden barrels of the year still remain in the winery’s cellar.
Due to the appreciation of European royals, champagne mainly appeared in the upper class. When it comes to champagne, people think of festive and jubilant scenes: weddings, balls, celebrating Christmas and New Year’s Day, and so on. In Europe and America, where there are congratulations, there must be champagne. Even in the political arena, champagne has become an indispensable hospitality drink. Champagne drinking is part of any big national event. In today’s political life, the opportunity for champagne to accompany political turmoil is always visible. It is said that the key moment in the British mediation of the Rhodesian conflict was when Champagne lifted the siege. British representative Soames, who chaired the talks, said peace would be reached within 30 days as the meeting stalled. Both sides of the negotiating face looked at him in confusion.
In economic life, champagne also plays a role in adding atmosphere. The launch of the new ship, the laying of the foundation stone of the factory, and the opening of the fair are all accompanied by champagne. With the company of champagne, business at the negotiating table will change from difficult to easy.
It is precisely because of the special status of champagne that airlines in Western countries almost all provide free champagne on the plane, using it as a tool to win over customers. In contemporary industrial countries, from Paris to Tokyo, from New York to Toronto, from the average company employee to the socialite, feasting and festivities without champagne are almost unimaginable. Festive and champagne are almost synonymous.
At the beginning of the last century, the consumption of French champagne has reached 7 million bottles per year. That was the golden age of champagne. Especially in Paris, champagne is indispensable in social life. Drinking champagne back then was not the same as it is now. In those days no one would go to the market to buy champagne and drink it in the small environment of the family. To drink champagne, people have to go to a place where there is a lot of noise, a place with a social atmosphere. Champagne is a purely social drink. People go out of their homes to pubs, restaurants, dance halls, and spend time in the company of champagne. In particular, the darlings of the social world, such as painters, composers, writers, actors, are even more fond of champagne. The American writer Hemingway, the poet Longfellow, and the novelist Fitzgerald all had an indissoluble bond with Champagne in Paris. The British author Oscar Wilde said that drinking champagne requires little imagination to find an excuse. In French writer Zola’s novel “Nana”, the image of the protagonist Nana is always champagne and fruit. This piece of history has given champagne an artist’s color. It is precisely because of the century-old pursuit of the upper class that the noble status of champagne has become a phoenix in wine, standing out from the wine category.
Until after World War II, champagne production tripled from 1945 to 1966. Champagne began to commoditize, or democratize, on a larger scale. It is no longer the privilege of a small group of people, but one of the popular beverages. More and more people can afford champagne. Champagne began to enter the lives of ordinary people.
Britain is the largest buyer of French champagne. In 1987, Britain imported 19 million bottles of French champagne. Its import volume ranked first in the world at that time. Champagne, as well as all wines, is completely dependent on foreign countries due to the inability to grow grapes in the UK. The Queen of England prefers French champagne. In those days, Queen Victoria celebrated her coronation with champagne. Later, there was champagne at the coronation banquet of Queen Elizabeth, and it was high-end champagne. The British love champagne is famous in Europe.
Not only do the British love champagne, they also love horse racing. Then the promotion method of French champagne manufacturers is easy to imagine. In order to promote the export of champagne, French champagne manufacturers strongly sponsor sports events such as horse racing and polo that the British love. Churchill, the former prime minister of the United Kingdom, was also a champagne lover. Wherever he went he was accompanied by champagne. Like Churchill, the Queen of England also loves horse racing. She named her beloved horse after her favorite champagne, POI Roger. Politicians’ fondness for Champagne is the best advertisement for French champagne. Using politicians to advertise is economical and effective. Pol Rogers used to call one of their champagnes simply Churchill. The French are obsessed with his contribution. This relationship continued many years after Churchill’s death. When Churchill’s British estate was damaged by a storm in 1987, the champagne house immediately sent a cheque.
The post-war development of Champagne is related to the economic transformation of contemporary society. Consumption in today’s world is largely more democratized. As long as you have money you can buy any wine. Consumer goods that used to be a minority are now a common part of mass life. For example, every year from January to March, thousands of people in the United States flock to Florida’s seaside vacations, and the arrival of ordinary vacationers has led to a surge in champagne consumption. The same is true in another US state, Colorado. Plenty of vacationers come to ski and drink champagne.
In 2000, Champagne production met the once-in-a-lifetime turn of the century. For the arrival of 2000, Louls Roederer, one of France’s champagne producers, has prepared six liters of large champagne, priced at $2,000 a bottle. The price should be said to be quite high. But there are expensive reasons. In addition to the Godsend opportunity in 2000, the wine used the excellent 1990 grapes. The time to make a fortune is just around the corner, but the quality must also be worthy of the price. It is not the style of the high-end wine manufacturers to only care about the immediate interests. In the words of the manufacturers, they will survive after the turn of the century. $2,000 isn’t too expensive for some wealthy people, and before 2000, three-quarters of the high-priced champagne was sold.
Champagne is produced in the Champagne province of France, hence the name Champagne. Only the sparkling wine produced in Champagne, France can be called champagne. The same type of sparkling wine produced in other parts of the world cannot be called champagne, but only sparkling wine. It is called “Spumante” in Italy, Cava in Spain, and “sekt” in Germany. Many European and American countries simply call it “Spargling wine”. Only a few countries, such as the United States, some companies still call their sparkling wine champagne. But the only real champagne brand is in France.