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History of Champagne

History of Champagne: A timeline

From the earliest days of Christianity before the middle-ages wine was declared sacred, only for use in celebrating Holy Communion.  The vineyards were then entirely in the hands of the monks.

 

  • In 496 AD, this traditional use of wine, combined with the particular location of the champagne vineyards, secured Champagne’s place in History.  On Christmas day 496 AD the Frankish warrior, Clovis was baptized in Reims Cathedral and crowned the first King of France.

 

  • From 898 onwards, all French kings were crowned in Reims, the effective capital of the province of Champagne.

 

  • Champagne wines are said to have flowed freely at the coronation banquets and were soon much prized for their taste and finesse.

 

  • Champagne wines during this period were still as the Champagne makers had not mastered the process of effervescence.  They were also much sweeter than today’s style.

 

  • The 12th Century saw the wines’ reputation spread beyond national borders, their fame growing with every passing year.

 

  • Kings, princes and nobles were the first to fall in love with Champagne wines – the first to praise them for their excellence and promote their reputation.

 

  • By the late 17th Century, as Champagne makers gradually came to grips with the process of effervescence, the monks lost their traditional hold on production and Champagne became the wine of choice for festive occasions.   

 

  • By the early 19th century, the Champagne Houses were busy creating new outlets for Champagne – braving the perils of land and sea to woo the American and Russian markets … In Europe, the first to be bitten by the Champagne bug were the English.

 

  • Within just a few years, Champagne had made an entrance on the coast of California and in New York. By the early 20th century it was all set to take the world by storm. Champagne became the last word in chic entertaining: partying in style meant partying with Champagne.

 

  • Their excellence remains unchallenged today, prized as the symbol of exceptional quality: no momentous event is complete without Champagne.

 

  • Champagne is the wine people turn to for celebration, regardless of their race, religion or creed.  Champagne is how we celebrate life’s finest moments.  Birthdays, Anniversaries, Weddings, Christmas, New Year’s Eve – whatever the celebration, it has to be Champagne.

 

Source: CIVC

 

THE CREATION OF CHAMPAGNE

Champagne wines are exclusively produced from grapes grown, harvested and made into wine within the Champagne delimited region, in France. The grapes used to make Champagne wines possess characteristics not found anywhere else in the world due to the particular geography, soil and climate of the Champagne delimited region.

A natural winemaking process known as the ‘Méthode Champenoise’.

“Beautiful Champagne starts with beautiful grapes.”

Champagne is created with three authorized grape varieties: The black grapes, Pinot Noir & Pinot Meunier and the white grape, Chardonnay.

From vine to wine, the creation of Champagne requires respect, artistry and humility.

When the grapes have reached full maturity, they are carefully handpicked and swiftly transported to the press.  Once the juices have been obtained and clarified, each grape variety is transferred into a stainless steel vat.  The stainless steel vats are used to have better control of temperatures during fermentation and also to keep the fruitiness of the wine.  The Pinot Noir (black grape), Pinot Meunier (black grape) and Chardonnay (white grape) juices go into their respective stainless steel vats.

“Magic” (primary fermentation)

Each vat now has ‘clear grape juice’.  Yeast is added into each vat.  The yeast eats the sugar in the ‘clear grape juice’.  It then transforms the sugar into alcohol and releases carbon dioxide.  The vats are left open which leads to the loss of the carbon dioxide.  We now have a still wine in the vat.

Note:  If the stainless steel vats were left closed during primary fermentation there would be too much pressure, which could lead to an explosion.

Blending

The still wines from the different vats are blended in a giant vat (2,000 hectolitre capacity)

Prise De Mousse (secondary fermentation)

The clear still wine is then transferred into bottles. Yeast and sugar are added to the bottles.  The bottles are sealed with a crown cap. Here, the secondary fermentation takes place in the bottles. The yeast eats the sugar. The sugar transforms into alcohol and releases carbon dioxide.  As the bottles are sealed, the bubbles are trapped within.

AGEING

The wine is left to age on its lees (flecks of dead yeast cells/sediments) for thirty months.

RIDDLING

Riddling is the act of rotating a Champagne bottle upside down over a period of time. The purpose of riddling is to slowly collect the dead yeast cells into the neck of the wine bottle. The process takes about a week if done by machine (Gyropalettes). It’s more efficient, quicker and qualitative. If done by hand it takes five weeks. The regular bottle (75cl) and magnum (1.5L) are riddled by machine. The half bottles (37.5cl) and Jeroboam (3L) are done by hand.

DISGORGEMENT

Once all the lees are collected into the neck of the bottle. The next step is to freeze the neck of the bottle. This freezes the lees into an ice cube. When the cap is opened the pressure pops out the cube of lees (sediments). We now have a bottle of Champagne free of all sediments.

DOSAGE

After disgorgement, a small amount of wine and sugar is added to each bottle of Champagne.  This is done to replace the liquid volume lost (the ice cube of lees that popped out) during disgorgement and to sweeten the Champagne as there’s no sugar in the bottle.  The sugar added to the bottle during the ‘prise de mousse’ (secondary fermentation) was consumed by the yeast.  The amount of sugar added depends on the cuvée. For Extra Brut its 6 g/l sugar, Brut is 12 g/l sugar and the Demi Sec is 50 g/l sugar.

The bottles are then corked, labelled and delivered for tasting.

FROM VINE TO CHAMPAGNE