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Today the supremacy of champagne is assured and no celebration would seem complete without the obligatory ‘bottle of bubbly’. Long associated with royalty and high society today anyone on the up is keen to be seen clutching a bottle of ‘fizz’. Whilst most of us associate it solely with success Churchill typically believed in its efficacy on all occasions, stating, "in success you deserve it and in defeat, you need it".
But it wasn’t always like this; champagne has always had its devotees but in the past they were definitely a minority. Initially it was a still (but rather strong) wine whose tendency to bubble and fizz as it fermented was a source of some consternation. The fact that the vines of this cool northerly region had a tendency to effervesce was regarded not as a virtue but a vice.
In fact it was blamed on a combination of the chalky soils and the local climate, which was just warm enough to ripen the grapes but remains ‘marginal’. Cool summers and short springs meant that the ripening season is always precarious and severe winter frosts can destroy both vines and years of labour. This quirkiness meant that whilst the region was known as a wine-producing area it was not celebrated for it in the way that Burgundy or Bordeaux was.
However advances in processing techniques pioneered by (amongst others) a young monk called Dom Pierre Perignon in the seventeenth century began to alter this perception. He made the fizziness of the wine a quality rather than a flaw and worked out methods to ensure it remained effervescent after bottling. Others followed his work and as the popularity of the wine grew so did its price and prestige. By the 19th century champagne had been accepted as the perfect accompaniment to a life of expensive indulgence.
This century also introduced industrial production processes to the manufacture of this most precious of liquids. Some innovations are still being argued about today and the mysterious alchemy by which champagne is created still has something magical about it.
Champagne has also retained its position as market leader and seen off attempts by both New and Old World wine producers to challenge its supremacy with sparkling wines of their own. In fact the main problem at the moment is meeting rising demand as all available vineyards in the Champagne region are being used and future growth is limited by land considerations.