Unbelievably, this is my eighth Thanksgiving since moving to beautiful Coastal Georgia. No Thanksgiving would be complete in our household without a touch of bubbly — champagne! We celebrate all of the blessings for which we are thankful for with a bottle or two.
I am not a big drinker, but I do love champagne, from the popping of the cork to the way it bubbles up the glass and feels fizzy on the tongue. Most of all, I love the ceremony and celebration associated with it.
The story of champagne, which the British often refer to as "champers," is an interesting one that starts in the land of my birth. It is a little known fact that champagne was originally produced in England, where the technology for bottling and corking drinks containing carbon dioxide was developed in the latter part of the 1500s, according to the book "Wine Science: Principles and Applications." In 1662, British scientist Christopher Merret reported to the Royal Society of London that adding sugar to wine "promoted effervescence," giving champagne its signature sparkle through a second fermentation. In those early days, however, the stability of champagne was low and its likelihood of exploding in the bottle was high.
Before the mid-1600s, still wine (with no bubbles) was aspired to and a valued commodity by the nobility in Europe who could afford to drink it. Uncontrolled bubbles in wine were seen as a major flaw. However, the wine maker Dom Pierre Pérignon changed all that. He was a Benedictine monk who, in 1688, was appointed treasurer at the Abby of Hautvillers in France with a responsibility for the management of the cellars and wine making.
He made great strides in controlling the bubbles in the wine, which occurred naturally from the grapes in the area due to the Champagne region’s cold climate and short growing season. The grapes have to be picked late in the year, not leaving enough time to complete fermentation before the bottling of the wine. After a winter hibernation and with spring’s warmer temperatures, a second fermentation begins in the bottle, trapping the bubbles.
The complexity of making champagne ultimately lead to the replacement of the monastic growers with merchants who could perfect the fermentation process, age, distribute, market and export the wine. The popularity of champagne grew throughout the 19th century, and by the early 20th century the celebratory tradition and famous French champagne houses were established.
Then came several major blows to the industry. The First World War was largely fought in the French champagne regions, devastating them, and was followed by American prohibition and the great depression of the 1930s. However, the industry came roaring back after World War II and, today, champagne is often used to commemorate joyous occasions, from smashing bottles against a ship before its maiden voyage to toasting the happy couple at weddings.
True champagne comes only from the Champagne district of France, and anything else is sparkling wine. In Italy they call it Asti or Prosecco, in Spain Cava, In Germany Sekt, and in France outside of the Champagne region it is called Cremant. Some American sparkling wine is still labelled champagne, in spite of the U.S. agreeing to a 1992 legal agreement banning the use of the term outside of the Champagne region. There are a few American companies, however, that used the term before 1992 and are therefore legally grandfathered in and allowed to continue using the word champagne on the label.
I will leave you with a quote by a great British leader about a great American leader. Winston Churchill once said "Meeting Franklin Roosevelt was like opening your first bottle of Champagne; knowing him was like drinking it."
God bless America and however you celebrate, Happy Thanksgiving.
Francis grew up in London, England, and made Georgia her home in 2009. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or via her PR agency at www.lesleyfrancispr.com.