The Romans were the first known inhabitants to plant vineyards in the Champagne region. The name Champagne comes from the Latin campania and referred to the similarities between the rolling hills of the province and the Italian countryside of Campania located south of Rome.
While vineyards were undoubtedly planted earlier, the first recorded vineyard belonged to St. Remi in the 5th century. For most of the region’s early history, the wines from Champagne were not known as “Champagne” or even vin de Champagne. Rather they were known as vins de Reims and vins de la rivère in reference to the Marne river which provided a vital trade route via the Seine with Paris.
Throughout the 16th and early 17th century, Champenois winemakers tried to produce the best “white” wine they could from red wines grapes though the results were often not white at all but ranged from greyish color to a shade of pink known as oeil de perdrix or partridge eye. It wasn’t until a Benedictine monk named Dom Pierre Perignon from the Abbey of Hautvillers perfected his techniques would the Champenois be able to truly make white wine from red grapes.
In 1662, the English scientist Christopher Merret presented a paper detailing how the presence of sugar in a wine led to it eventually sparkling, and that nearly any wine could be made to sparkle by adding sugar to a wine before bottling it. This is one of the first known accounts of understanding the process of sparkling wine and suggests that British merchants were producing “sparkling Champagne” even before the French Champenois were deliberately making it.
The discovery of his paper upended the notion that the French were the first to use the technique, later known as méthode champenoise.
Dom Pierre Perignon arrived at a Benedictine abbey in the heart of Champagne, a region that had been producing wine for centuries and was already known for its quality red vintages. Perignon became the abbey’s cellar master, charged with expanding the abbey’s winemaking, its principal source of income.
He made several key discoveries that would aid the drink’s development, including separating red grapes from their skins to make white wine. Although he’s considered the “father” of Champagne, Perignon was actually tasked with figuring out how to remove the bubbles, which were considered a flaw that caused bottles to explode. His name later was adopted by Moët et Chandon for the company’s premier Champagne.
A draper by trade, Nicolas Ruinart began making Champagne as a gift to his top customers, launching what’s considered the first Champagne “house.” Ruinart’s bottles were so popular he abandoned textiles to focus on Champagne full time.
Over the next several decades, more Champagne houses popped up throughout the region, including some of today’s big names in bubbly. The houses of Moët & Chandon, Louis Roederer, Piper-Heidsieck and Taittinger were some of the major houses that were founded during this period.
An important advance made in the early 19th century was developing a technique to remove the sediment caused by dead yeast after the secondary fermentation.
Early Champagne producers chose not to remove the sediment, which left the wine cloudy and prone to off flavors if the sediment was shaken up or poured into the glass. At royal courts and banquets, servers would pour new serving of Champagne into a fresh glass to avoid the residue of sediment left over in the previous glass.
During the German occupation of France in World War II, makers decided to band together to protect the Champagne trade. They formed the Comité interprofessionnel du vin de Champagne, the industry’s primary trade group, in part to drum into the world’s consciousness that Champagne only comes from Champagne — any other sparkling wine is just sparkling.
The CIVC continued a tradition of brand protection and marketing savvy that went back decades. The Champagne industry has long been credited with clever, compelling ads, including now-collectible Champagne posters and memorable slogans. Among them, “Come quickly, I’m tasting stars!” which was wrongly attributed to Dom Perignon.
Champagne corks pop all over France after Unesco granted the industry world heritage status.
The United Nations cultural body decided that the “hillsides, houses and cellars” producing and selling champagne were significant enough to merit the award.
The decision, which followed intense lobbying by France, means the production area will receive special protection.