Really, what’s not to love about Champagne? The exclusive beverage is synonymous with good times; fun, frivolity and celebration. As Lily Bollinger said “I drink Champagne when I am happy and when I am sad. Sometimes I drink when alone. In company I consider it compulsory. I sip it a little if I’m hungry. Otherwise I don’t touch it - unless I am thirsty of course”. On the back of how many toilet doors have you read this quote?! It’s a win-win wine through out the world and its desirability has never ceased with wine aficionados and layman alike. It’s an excellent topic for a feel good anything and that’s exactly what this book is.
It covers in gossipy detail the history of the region of Champagne. Not all that consecutively, but it manages to get the main points across whilst reimagining and personifying Champagne’s key historical characters.
Aside from the utter heartbreak the region has suffered, what captured me most about the story of Champagne: How the World’s Most Glamorous Wine Triumphed Over War and Hard Times, is the fortuitous marketing decisions made throughout the centuries. For instance, in the very beginning, a Frankish (Germanic tribe), pagan warlord made a kingdom around Reims and was constantly invaded. His Christian fiancé insisted he pray to God for help and he vowed if God did help, he would become a Christian. Miraculously his army was reinvigorated with a fighting spirit and sent the enemy packing. He kept his word and he and 3,000 soldiers were baptized Christian. To celebrate they enjoyed a lavish banquet and, you guessed it, Champagne was served. Thus celebratory wine drink status was achieved. And this was way back when Champagne was a cloudy, red, still wine.
Later on in the 1200s wool producers from Champagne enticed trade visitors to buy their wool with free wine and it wasn’t long before wine sales within Champagne overtook wool sales.
Jumping forward to 1812 and Napoleon’s invasion of Russia. Clicquot’s agent had a shipment to move in Russia. In quiet despair due to the czar’s ban on French wine in bottles (Champagne could only be exported in bottles to retain the bubbles) he told everyone he had sold out but might be able to “oblige a few” thus resulting in a Champagne riot. “I seek orders from no one. I just reveal the number of my hotel room and a line forms outside it” he wrote to Madame Clicquot.
FYI For a super inspiring and capturing read I do recommend The Widow Clicquot for anyone in the wine business industry, this book is fantastic and memorable.
If you’re seriously interested in winegrowing, this is not the book for you. However, if history is your thing, then you’ll gobble it up very quickly. From the Romans to World War 2, the Champagne region and its most successful houses are covered, in mostly short and sweet historical trivia doses. The nature of this writing does keep you progressing rather quickly and (I find) makes it easier to retain. Come at me the next Champagne pub quiz!!!