It was Mark Twain who famously said “Too much of anything is bad but too much Champagne is just right”.
There have been many famous (and not so famous) people throughout history who have made their own rather astute observations about Champagne.
A few of my favorites include Napoleon Bonaparte’s war wisdom “In victory you deserve Champagne, in defeat you need it”, Honore de Balzac’s romantic “Great love affairs start with Champagne” and Talleyrand’s comments on politics and life “Champagne is the wine of civilization and the oil of government”.
There is no denying Champagne is one of the most written about beverages in history and probably the most desired drink in the world today.
The origins of Champagne date back to the Benedictine Monks in France during the sixteenth century when sparkling wines were invented. Today the Champagne we enjoy only comes from approved vineyards in the Champagne region of northern France.
Champagne is confined to pinot noir, chardonnay and pinot meunier grapes with the unique effervescence and taste being the result of secondary fermentation which occurs within the bottle. The aging process for Champagne can be many years and the bottles are turned on a regular basis in a process called remuage.
With that little bit of background, a few years ago I was holidaying in France and had the good fortune to spend a week in the Champagne region. The scenery is spectacular, the people friendly and the communities revolve entirely around their Champagne.
A highlight of our trip was a visit to one of the Champagne houses in Épernay, that of Champagne Mercier. This house was founded in 1858 and is the largest selling Champagne in the French domestic market.
From the outset, the founder Eugene Mercier showed amazing marketing flair as he worked towards bringing his high quality Champagne to as many people as possible. The eleven miles (or eighteen kilometers) of tunnels which comprise the cellars are nearly one hundred feet (or thirty meters) underground and are a major feature of a Mercier tour, partly for the amazing sculptures carved into the chalk walls.
For the 1889 World Exhibition held in Paris, Mercier built a huge 20 tonne Champagne vat which had to be pulled by a team of oxen and horses from Épernay to Paris. This major logistical exercise took eight days and along the way several buildings had to be demolished to allow the precious cargo through. The vat now takes pride of place at Mercier headquarters in Épernay.
At the World Exhibition, Mercier introduced his wonderful Champagne to an appreciative audience, some of whom were able to sip their glass whilst floating over Paris in the Mercier hot air balloon. The Mercier experience was the second most popular at the World Exhibition, just behind the winner, the Eiffel Tower!
Our tour of the Mercier cellars was extraordinary and I will not spoil the event for those wishing to go. The tasting afterwards of Mercier products rounded out a thoroughly enjoyable and highly recommended visit.