I thought everyone knew about champagne?

The row over the origins of champagne is about who invented the method of making the French wine sparkling, and popularised the effervescent drink.

Dom Perignon, a French Benedictine monk, is credited with champagne production in 1697, although his story is shrouded in myth. The claim that he called to his fellow monks: “Come quickly, I am tasting the stars!” was invented for a late-19th century marketing campaign.

Bolstering the English case, it has also been claimed that Christopher Merrett, a West Country scientist, invented the second fermentation technique required to produce champagne, and the bottles to contain it, documenting his discoveries in 1662.

It’s the bottle that’s the crucial invention, not the second fermentation. Anyone familiar even with beer would know about second fermentations. It’s having a bottle that’s sound enough to be used to store something under pressure that’s important. Further, being able to make that regularly – that is, mass production of the bottle strong enough to contain the pressure.

That’s definitely an English invention. And yes, the bottles used to be exported from England to be filled and then returned.

This is all well known. Well, well known enough that I’ve read about it in some popular history or other so it must be pretty well known.

It’s even entirely logical – you can’t have bottled fizz until you’ve a bottle that can withstand fizz now, can you? So it’s got to be the bottle that’s the crucial invention.

6 thoughts on “I thought everyone knew about champagne?”

  1. No surprise. Haute cuisine owes its existence to the English. Escoffier may have pioneered it but it was done in London. He couldn’t sell it to the French. They couldn’t affords it. It becomes established in France at the time of the Paris Exposition. And half the chefs cooking it there were English chefs who’d adopted French names.
    Always the same. if you want innovation, UK every time.

  2. ha, went to a tasting evening (with my Pa)- forever imprinted on me Dom Ruinart was the real inventor though doubt has started to creep in that it was all just marketing.

  3. Getting the cork to stay in was also an “inventive step” if they had patents back in the day, which they didn’t.

  4. It is cider, not champagne, that was the original fizz (Henry Jeffreys, Empire of Booze). Much of the technology that would create sparkling champagne came from the cider industry – development of very strong glass bottles (verre anglaise, credit Sir Kenelm Digby 1603-65), strong enough to take the pressure produced during bottle fermentation – a problem noted in Matthew 9:17, “Neither do men put new wine into old skins; else the skins break.” While the English are credited with being first to make wine sparkle, it was the French in the form of Madame Clicquot and scientists such as Pasteur and Captal that perfected the technique and enabled champagne to be mass-produced.

  5. Initially, many (if not most) of the bottles broke under the pressure — which accounted for the high price asked for the champagne that survived.

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