Champagne: It’s Not Elitist, It’s Educated

It’s Not Elitist, It’s Educated

So everyone has heard of champagne, be it from personal experience, word of mouth, or rap song. Champagne carries with it an image of luxury and celebration. When someone says they’re getting champagne it is usually followed by “…for my party” or “…because I just got (promoted/married/divorced/etc).” What isn’t taken into consideration though is that champagne is in dire trouble. People of the world hear me out. ALL SPARKLING WINE IS NOT CHAMPAGNE! Surprise! Yes, I know, this may not come as quite a big surprise to many people but it needs to be said outright so it’s out of the way. So many wineries have rudely and maliciously mislabeled their sparkling wines as champagne to make money. This is unacceptable. And please don’t mistake this as a snobbish wino nit-picking at something that the masses couldn’t care less about because, frankly, this is something that you all should care about. As wine drinkers it is our duty to help right this case of mistaken identity. It is our right to not be taken advantage of and lied to as well. We drink wine. We want to get what we’re paying for.
Identity plays a huge role in our lives whether we realize it or not. But what is identity if not the way that people remember who we are. Take South America for example. Peru, Argentina, and Ecuador are all South American countries. Each has a very unique and personal history that has led not only to the development of the nation, but to the shaping of its people as well. To generalize all the people of these three, very individual nations as simply South American would be to ignore the history and culture of each. In this sense Champagne is no different. It is an often-used expression that the grape is merely a vessel through which the earth expresses itself. Soil types change every few feet so even if you plant the same grapes just across the street from each other, the wine produced will still differ. This being said, Champagne, France has been recognized as one of the premier regions to grow sparkling wine. Being an old-world wine country, they label their wines after the area because they understand that what is more important than the grapes is the land on which they are grown. Land isn’t the only important factor though in assessing Champagne’s history of quality. The way that Champagne is made is equally as important as the land on which it is grown. Champagne is made in only one way in Champagne, France and that is in the méthode champenoise, or traditional champagne method.
It is difficult sometimes for people to understand why champagne is so expensive. One way to gain insight into this is to understand the extensive steps taken in creating what we know as champagne. After primary fermentation and bottling, a second alcoholic fermentation occurs in the bottle. This second fermentation is brought on by adding the winemaker’s specific choice of yeast and rock sugar. At this time the Champagne bottle is capped with a crown cap. The bottle is then riddled, or turned a quarter of an inch everyday, so that the lees, deposits of dead yeast or residual sugar, settle in the neck of the wine bottle. The neck is then frozen and the cap is removed. The pressure in the bottle forces out the lees, and the bottle is quickly corked to keep in the carbon dioxide produced during the secondary, bottle fermentation. Sparkling wine from this region can also not be sold until it has aged on the lees in the bottle for at least 15 months. The bottles are stored slightly tilted downward on its side and stored underground in a controlled temperature so that no sunlight can penetrate and spoil the wine. As you can see, there are many conditions that must be met for a bottle of sparkling wine to be called Champagne. It has no less of an identity because it is simply an alcoholic beverage. If anything, Champagne is as much to the history of France as Prohibition is to the history of the United States and its wine industry.
What we see happening, however, are $4.00 bottles of “champagne” on the liquor store shelves. What might be even more deceptive, though, are the more expensive bottles of imitation champagne. For example, Casa Larga Vineyards, located in Fairport, NY, has a bottle of “Blanc de Blanc Champagne” priced at $19.99. If they put Blanc de Blanc sparkling wine on their bottle instead, it can be assumed that it would not sell as well. Champagne has earned all the meaning that come with its name. These other wineries are simply attaching this title in an attempt to sell more wine. In defense of Casa Larga they do make it in the méthode champenoise, but the grapes are not from France, they are not grown in France, and therefore are mislabeling their wines. To speak frankly, they are stealing some of the image that has emerged from the hundreds of years of hard work and experimentation that brought Champagne to the quality and recognition that it now enjoys. There are risks to ignoring this problem of generalization in the wine industry that must be recognized as well to really understand the importance of remembering the identity of Champagne.
If we were to let this continue what might be next? Might we start labeling all sweet wines as Riesling? Or maybe we will refer to all the wine produced in Europe as European wine instead of Spanish, Italian, French, etc. This may sound extreme, but it has already started to happen with Champagne. People are forming their opinions of Champagne without ever really trying it. It seems like the U.S. might be the guiltiest in this degradation of Champagne’s name. Finally though, as recent as 2006, the United States made an agreement with the European Union that no new wines shall be allowed to call themselves “champagne” if not from that region, but wineries that have already been calling their wines champagne may still do so. The truth is, the most reputable producers of the traditional sparkling wine method, méthode champenoise, like California, Oregon and Washington have long ago abandoned the use of the name champagne. They recognized the importance of the name in reference to style, climate, soil type, and even the laws that govern production in that country. We seem, as Americans, to only have begun to catch up with the rest of the world in this view. It appears, also, that we as Americans lack a local identity. This defies us the ability to sympathize with this cause and understand why the designation of the origin of a wine is important, but instead all that interests us is just that it is affordable and delicious. That is not to say that American companies aren’t trying to spread their own falsely labeled “champagnes” around the world. On January 10, 2008, Belgian customs officials smashed 3,200 of Andre sparkling wine that held reference to “California Champagne” (as paradoxical as that sounds) and “Andre Champagne Cellars.” The rest of the world has realized the importance of this view for a long time and it is about time we as Americans caught up to them.
There are some benefits for the commercialization of sparkling wine, though. What is happening is that that particular style is being marketed and publicized and as a result of that more people are trying the wines. There seems to be no roof on where wine can go and how it will develop. The more people that try wine means that there will be more people who continue to drink wine throughout their life. That is good for business and for wine education worldwide. As a “student of the wine industry,” there is really no other goal than to incite the passion of wine in other people and to educate them about some of the intricacies and subtleties that make wine so complicated. So why am I complaining? Shall we blow up the world to prevent any more human atrocities? No, that is an absurd idea. So then shall we generalize wine and rob them all of their personality and uniqueness so that more people might try them? I will leave you to answer that to yourself.
We have seen the history and tradition behind Champagne and heard its cry for help. This isn’t meant to bring down the corporations that still misrepresent their sparkling wines, although that would be ideal, but to simply inform. I don’t expect the average person to take into consideration the culture, history, tradition, laws, climate, and soil type when choosing every wine they might purchase. But what I can hope for is that you at least realize what you are sacrificing and what you are perpetuating by buying these false prophets of champagne. If this only makes one person think twice when choosing a sparkling wine, then it was worth the effort a hundred times over. In a world where everyone is trying to be something else, let us respect and encourage those that would be who or what they truly are. Let us rejoice in individuality rather than wallow in commercial generalization. So, if you’re reading this with a glass in your hand, raise it high and cheers with me to the epitome of class, the star of celebrations, the one and the only champagne. And let’s keep it that way.

Other possible title ideas are:

Stop Identity Fraud: Drink Champagne

It’s Not Elitist, It’s An Identity

I welcome any ideas for other articles or criticisms on this one. Just hit me up yo.

By: Ryan Evans- Wine


2 Responses to “Champagne: It’s Not Elitist, It’s Educated”

  1. 1 sja11391 June 17, 2008 at 11:24 am

    I vote for “Stop Identity Fraud: Drink Champagne”

  2. 2 Alvin Roberts June 17, 2008 at 11:51 am

    Hey some people like Asti Spumante!!! lol But in all seriousness. Try Moet & Chandon “Nectar Imperial”. Best champagne I’ve had to date. I like it better than Rose Moet or even Dom P

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