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Champagne Legends and Myths

033115aIt seems today that people, including journalists, ignore the facts and make stuff up. If the fiction is mentioned enough times, it becomes true. This process can lead to legends, myths and marketing. The world of wine has its share of legends, myths and creative marketing that tends to stretch the truth. For example, there is a wine myth that white grapes make only white wines and red grapes make only red wines. This statement is so common that it is believed. Imagine a consumer’s shock when they are introduced to a white Pinot Noir, white Merlot or white Cabernet. Just as shocking was the puzzled tasting room staff at Black Prince Winery in Picton, Ontario when consumers asked for their red Chardonnay. A neighboring winery made a red Chardonnay and the consumers did not realize the blend or labeling laws. If you say something enough times, it becomes true.

What are some of the legends, myths and creative marketing used in the Champagne region? Perhaps one of the oldest myths centers around the coronation of French kings in Reims and saying they celebrated the coronation with champagne. The royal linkage in Reims is said to have started with the baptism of Clovis in Reims in 496. That is roughly 1,300 years before champagne evolved. During the centuries from 1223 until 1824, 27 French Kings were crowned in Reims. Most of those coronations may have had wines made in Champagne, some of which may have had a bit of effervescence, but they were still wines. Champagnes would only have been served during the last century or so of coronations. The wine industry marketed the concept of a “royal drink.” If you say something enough times, it becomes true.

How much truth there is in facts about events lends itself to forming legends. While in Toscana, I asked if there was any truth to the legend of the black rooster. Our guide, Catherine Leiner at Fèlsina simply stated, “Isn’t there some truth in every legend?” Champagne has the legend of Dom Pérignon, the blind monk at the Abbey of Hautvillers who invented champagne. The only truth in this legend is that there was a Dom Pérignon and he made wine. He probably wasn’t blind and he probably tried to stop effervescence in still wines not deliberately create it. Besides, the method of deliberately creating fizz with a secondary fermentation was already established prior to Dom Pérignon becoming the cellar master at the Abbey of Hautvillers. The first intentional crafted sparkling wines made in Champagne occurred about 15 years after Dom Pérignon’s death. But, if you say something enough times, it becomes true.

There may be more truth in the concept that champagne is a luxury beverage. One would have to scrutinize the definition of luxury and see how well champagne fits the definition. If one of the criteria is costs, it becomes difficult to classify champagne as a luxury drink in some areas. Much of the champagne sold in Champagne is sold by vignerons for around 12.50€ or about $13.50. The average price for champagne throughout the rest of France is 14.00€ or $15.00. If cost is the sole factor of luxury, champagne does not fit the category in France. Export it to the United States and the cost rockets. During my recent visit to a local wine shop, I observed prices of champagne in the $50.00 to $75.00 price range. At Total Wine a Veuve Cliquot Brut NV runs around $42.00 whereas a Napa Valley cabernet can cost over $100. For example a 2011 Caymus Cabernet Special Selection at $130.00. Of course there are less expensive and more expensive champagnes as well as Napa Valley Cabs. But the concept of luxury is suspect if the criteria of cost is taken into account. If you say that champagne is a luxury drink enough times, it becomes true.

Champagne marketing often uses words such as success, status and seduction. Champagne is a drink for all of those. If you want to feel good, drink champagne. If you win something, celebrate with champagne. Even if you lose, drown your sorrows with champagne. If you want to seduce someone, drink champagne. The winemaker at Barberani Winery in Umbria makes a sweet wine, Calcaia Orvieto Advanced Classic Sweet DOC “Noble Mildew.” Bernardo said, “This is a wine you can use to seduce women and girlfriends.” I asked his girlfriend if it worked, she said, “No.” How about champagne? Since fizz gets alcohol into the blood system more quickly than still wines, one can usually feel good sooner drinking a champagne than a still wine. There may be some truth to this concept.

The wine industry should seize the opportunity that myths, legends and marketing affords consumers. The wine industry can gently educate consumers. Wouldn’t it be great if a consumer asked what red wine was blended into Chardonnay to make the red Chardonnay?


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