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History Haunts Champagne

040515aThe narrator in the film A Year in Champagne says, “History haunts the Champagne region, like a ghost at a party.” During my 2013 visit to the Champagne region, I did not have a sense of history. That visit was more about the vineyards and winemaking. This year, however, will be different. I have a better sense of the history of the region and the many wars that plagued the generations. I heard a remark that a war was fought in the area about every 25 years.

Some wars were bloodier than others, so much so that vineyards were watered by blood. Not only is the Champagne region a challenge by Mother Nature to grow wine grapes, it is a challenge for human survival. The crayères, Roman-Gallo caverns that now hold champagne, were used as a refuge for the war weary. “History haunts the Champagne region, like a ghost at a party.”

Not all the history is unpleasant. Reims became a royal city as 27 kings had there coronations in the city. Champagne producers, in what may seem like an unusual thought, turned some of the modern-day wars into marketing. Get the invading soldiers hooked on champagne, and they will turn into ambassadors for champagne when they return home to their countries. This also worked for allies. Walking through a vineyard, one gets a sense that what is there now includes the hard work of those that came before. The ancestors of the land spent their lives tending vines and making wine. “History haunts the Champagne region, like a ghost at a party.”

In was during the autumn of 2013 that my eyes were opened to the concept of history. Kathy and I were in a vineyard in Kakheti in the country Georgia harvesting Rkatsiteli when I began thinking of the thousands of people to harvest grapes from this land for several millennia. Like Champagne, Georgia has seen its share of invading armies. The one constant was wine. Both areas bear witness to the endurance of the vine and winemaking. In both regions, “History haunts the region, like a ghost at a party.”

On this trip to Champagne, I plan to take the time to really see the land and reflect on its past along with the present. During those lighter moments that are more party-like and less pressure to write, I’ll think about those ghosts whose hard work endured. “History haunts the Champagne region, like a ghost at a party.”


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