'Champagne': The Evolution of Bubbly In Champagne: How the World's Most Glamorous Wine Triumphed Over War and Hard Times, Don and Petie Kladstrup offer the history of a New Year's Eve staple that had rather inauspicious beginnings.

'Champagne': The Evolution of Bubbly

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Many people will celebrate the new year by opening champagne.

(Soundbite of champagne being uncorked and poured)

WERTHEIMER: The corks in the extra-heavy bottles pop out. Almost always some of the bubbly wine shoots out and everyone holds out a glass to catch the taste of celebration. Don and Petie Kladstrup have written a book called "Champagne," with the long subtitle "How the World's Most Glamorous Wine Triumphed over War and Hard Times." They join us from our bureau in New York.

Welcome to you both.

Ms. PETIE KLADSTRUP (Author): Thank you.

Mr. DON KLADSTRUP (Author): Thank you; nice to be here.

WERTHEIMER: Now you begin this book with an account of two men who made popular the wines of the Champagne region, a king and a priest. So could you tell us how these two put Champagne on the map?

Ms. KLADSTRUP: Yes, the two that you're speaking about are Louis Quatorze--Louis XIV, the Sun King of France, who built the palace at Versailles--and a man who was born the same year he was, and who died the same year. That is Dom Pierre Perignon, whom everybody knows in relation to champagne. But two men who couldn't have been more different, one the monarch, the other the monk.

Mr. KLADSTRUP: But they had similar tastes.

WERTHEIMER: There is a catch in this wonderful story, and that is that the wine that these two made popular was a still red wine. It had nothing to do with what we think of as champagne.

Mr. KLADSTRUP: Champagne in those days was a frightful mixture that probably would have turned people's palates today inside-out.

Ms. KLADSTRUP: And yet it was the basis for what was to come, primarily because of Dom Perignon, who spent his entire life trying to improve that wine and make it better, and also to keep those bubbles out of it.

Mr. KLADSTRUP: That's...

WERTHEIMER: Well, when did the tiny bubbles get in?

Mr. KLADSTRUP: Well, the bubbles were always there. I mean, this is a wine which will naturally ferment. It goes to sleep in the winter when the yeasts shut down, and it awakens in the spring when the weather warms up. But back in Dom Perignon's time, and the days of Louis Quatorze, bubbles were considered a flaw. They were something to be eliminated.

Ms. KLADSTRUP: And the reason they finally came into vogue was that both Dom Perignon and Louis Quatorze died. And once the two big men were out of the way, everyone began trying to make their wine with bubbles.

WERTHEIMER: Now there is another champagne legend that gives a woman credit for figuring out how to create a wine that was fizzy and palatable and pretty to look out, that was clear and clean-looking.

Ms. KLADSTRUP: The Veuve Clicquot.

WERTHEIMER: The widow?


Mr. KLADSTRUP: It's a process called remouage. What she did, along with her cellarmaster, was to take a--probably a kitchen table down into the cellar, cut holes into it, and then put the bottles in, in an inverted state, and give them a little bit of twist, but gradually invert them so that they were finally, you know, after several weeks, practically standing on their heads. And in this way, the sediment and the cloudy mixtures would gravitate toward the corks, the corks would be pulled out, and the muddy mixture would be removed, the bottles would be topped up, and you would have a clear, sparkling wine.

WERTHEIMER: You write in your book a lot of descriptions about the numbers of times that the region of Champagne, which is on the River Marne and is sort of north and east of Paris, was pillaged, starting with Atilla the Hun and going right straight on. And, in fact, there's an account of the Franco-Prussian War, which is kind of amazing to me.

Mr. KLADSTRUP: Many of those invasions occurred when the Prussians tried to take the region over. One of those times was in 1870. The Prussians, with Bismark at their helm, came marching in and decided, you know, `We want to seize Paris.' But to get to Paris, they had to go through Champagne. They hit the city of Sedan first, then they moved straight into the capital of Champagne, Reims. After Reims, the way seemed clear to Paris. But this distance between Sadan and Reims--it was only 50 miles. It was a march that no one, including American General Philip Sheridan, would ever forget. He was a veteran of the US Civil War, and he had been sent, as an observer, by President Ulysses S. Grant. What he witnessed, as we wrote, defied imagination. `Almost every foot of the way was strewn with fragments of glass from champagne bottles,' he wrote, `emptied and then broken by the troops. The road was literally paved with glass. And the amount of wine consumed--none was wasted--must have been enormous.'

WERTHEIMER: So the invading army paved the road with broken champagne bottles, undertakes to conquer France and goes in drunk?

Ms. KLADSTRUP: Not only with the Franco-Prussian War, but certainly again in World War I when the Germans took over Champagne. And finally the French fought back, and, in the First Battle of the Marne, defeated the Germans. At that point, the French said, `Champagne was our dearest ally,' because they came into Champagne and found the German soldiers so drunk and so spread out that they said they `harvested them like grapes.'

WERTHEIMER: Amazing. After all your research and writing about all this violence associated with champagne, do you still see this as something to be tossed down at New Year's?

Mr. KLADSTRUP: There is no question that champagne has been forged out of some of the bloodiest times imaginable. But to appreciate what the people who had dedicated their lives, you know, managed to achieve under such conditions, it really is something to celebrate.

WERTHEIMER: Don and Petie Kladstrup, their book is called "Champagne." Thanks. Skoal. Cheers.


WERTHEIMER: ...(Unintelligible). Sante.

Mr. KLADSTRUP: And to you, right.

WERTHEIMER: Happy New Year.

Mr. KLADSTRUP: Goodbye.

Ms. KLADSTRUP: Goodbye.

(Soundbite of unidentified song)

Unidentified Man: (Singing) ...(unintelligible) invented champagne. As plain as it could be. They thought of you and me the night they invented champagne. They absolutely knew that all we'd want to do is fly to the sky on champagne, and shout to everyone in sight that since the world began, the world and all of man has ever been as happy as we are tonight! Hee-hee!

WERTHEIMER: You're listening to WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News.

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