Fun Facts about Champagne
Champagne, the drink that makes your hangover classy on January 1st. It’s a drink intrinsically tied to success and celebration, it instantly improves orange juice, and you’ll be pleased to hear the drink has a history as rich and interesting as its flavor.
Contrary to belief, sparkling wine and champagne are not synonymous. Champagne is a type of sparkling wine, and it was not even the first. It came about as a way to revitalize the economy of a local monastery in the Champagne region of France during the 17th century. A monk named Dom Perignon (yes, the brand is named after him) realized that the wealth and well-being of his abbey was tied to the production of wine. The problem, though, was his vines were old and weatherworn. They were far from ideal, and they produced what many of the day considered a serious flaw of viticulture: bubbles. After considerable effort, the good monk could not remove the bubbles, so he tried the next best thing and made the wine taste good with the bubbles. He gently pressed the wine and mixed the grapes to produce a lighter, airier wine, and he used a cork to preserve the bubbles to keep the wine from losing its carbonation. It was a hit. He had created the drink that would change brunch forever.
But before becoming a classy way to drink before noon, it would have to make its way to America. Champagne did not really become popular in the states until the Civil War. A man named Charles Heidsieck left France in 1851 from France for New York. He had a successful champagne house and wanted to make his fortune in the US. He was gaining success, and even garnered the nickname Champagne Charlie – until the Civil War Broke out. He rushed to New York to collect on unpaid accounts, but due to the war the debts were declared invalid. Nearly bankrupt, Champagne Charlie headed south to his next biggest market: New Orleans. Unfortunately, the city was ravaged by war and not in the mood for champagne, so Charlie decided on one last-ditch effort to save his business. He tried to evade the Union blockade on cotton, and even spied for the Confederates. He was not successful, and he was caught by Union general Benjamin Butler as he arrived in New Orleans with a diplomatic cable from France on arming and dressing the Confederate army. The only reason he was not hanged was because Napoleon III interceded on his behalf, and persuaded Lincoln to release him from custody.
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No longer Champagne Charlie, Charles Heidsieck was broke without many options. He left for France in 1862, but a few months later Charles received a surprise. The brother of the man who had declared Charles’ New York accounts invalid tried to right that wrong. The brother was not a rich man, but he did have some deeds to unsettled land in Colorado. Charles was thankful, but the deeds – at the time – were pretty worthless. They accounted for about a third of a tiny backwater village called Denver. Then the railroad came, and Charles cashed in. He used the money to rebuild his champagne empire, and once again became Champagne Charlie.
Champagne has a pretty complicated relationship with America, though, but it’s not because of Champagne Charlie. The reason is Americans call their sparkling wine “Champagne,” even though no one outside Champagne, France is allowed to. The French are none too pleased with this fact, and the reason you can drink a California Champagne is because of World War One, specifically the treaty of Versailles.
The Champagne region of France has steadily worked throughout the 19th century to trademark the name. They had a point, too. The Champagne region had specific techniques and grapes that made the drink unique, but when World War One came around the Champagne region was destroyed. As part of the Treaty of Versailles, the French had Article 275, which stipulated all nations party to the treaty would not use the name Champagne and it would be reserved for the French region. They wanted to revitalize the Champagne economy, and prevent other nations from taking the throne of the premier sparkling wine. The thing is, though, America signed the treaty, but Congress never ratified it. Technically, we are not party to the treaty, and as such can call our sparkling wine “Champagne.”
Hopefully you now have some fun facts to tell all your friends at brunch. Cheers!
Written by: E.M. Caris
Edited by: Lee Gresham
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