In 1715, Philippe II, Duke of Orleans, enjoyed a sparkling version of Champagne nightly. Paris’s fashionable society followed the Duke’s example and sought out the bubbly version of the wine, making it a favorite among the French nobility. It was during the 18th century that Champagne houses began to dominate over the vineyard owners. The houses of Louis Roederer, Piper-Heidsieck, Taittinger and Moet & Chandon were founded during this time, creating a new type of business. But at the end of the 18th century, over 90% of the Champagne region’s wine production was still the non-sparkling wines.
Although Dom Perignon is usually credited with the invention of sparkling Champagne, it wasn’t until the 19th Century that the methode champenoise, the traditional method of making Champagne, involving riddling, was used reliably.
Then during the 1860’s, the Great French Wine Blight occurred. Caused by an aphid from North America, the phylloxera epidemic ravaged vineyards throughout France. Over 40% of grape vines were destroyed in a 15-year period, from the late 1850’s to the mid 1870’s. Only after grafting the French vines with the aphid-resistant American grape vines, was the devastation stopped.
With the Twentieth Century came more misfortune, and could have brought about the demise of Champagne. Two world wars almost destroyed Champagne production; vineyards were devastated by war. The Russian Revolution, Prohibition, and the Great Depression closed two of the most lucrative markets for Champagne sales in the world. But since 1950, sales of Champagne have risen steadily.
Champagne is, indeed, a celebratory wine. It is used to commemorate everything, from the launch of a ship, to the joining of two lives in marriage. We use it to celebrate life events, religious occasions, and joyous celebrations. Champagne not only imparts a feeling of joyousness and wonder to an occasion, it’s also a symbol of our approval and admiration for what we are celebrating.
Hmmm…..What an enjoyable resolution for 2013!