My bubbly musings


Champagne: Land of Bubbles and Resilience

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Le champagne is a celebratory wine that marks special occasions, brings joy, represents elegance, and the finer things in life. When you think of le champagne, you think of happy times. Ironically, la Champagne is a region that is known for its harsh weather and bloody history. From the Romans who invaded Gaul at the beginning of the 1st century, to the Nazis who pillaged the cellars in the 20th century, many a soldier has marched through the Champagne hillsides during the last 2000 years. Learning about the history of the region has helped me understand and respect its people, and its wine, even more. 


If you open a book about the history of la Champagne to a random page, you are bound to find an inspiring anecdote. When you visit the region, you can also set foot where the story actually took place. For example, you can visit the ancient campsite where Attila the Hun assembled his army of seven hundred thousand men before launching an attack that killed two hundred thousand men in one single day in 451 A.D. Before the battle Attila swore that wherever his “horse shall tread, nothing shall ever grow again”. Thank goodness he got that wrong and that the hillsides of Champagne are now covered with vineyards that grow grapes for our favorite sparkling wine.


If you visit Reims you will notice there are lots of statues of Joan of Arc in souvenir shops. She played a key role at the end of the Hundred Years' War with England in the 15th century. To honour her memory, one of the chapels in the Cathedral of Reims is devoted to her. Charles VII’s right to the throne of France was disputed. Joan of Arc apparently received messages from “above" that instructed her to support Charles VII, deliver France from English domination, and bring Charles VII to Reims to be coronated. Joan of Arc was a very determined young woman and accomplished her divine mission at the ripe old age of... 18. After a short-lived truce with England, Joan of Arc was unfortunately then captured and imprisoned. She attempted several escapes, once even jumping from a 21-meter tower (70 feet). She was tried for the repeated heresy of cross-dressing. Indeed, she wore a soldier’s armor when she went to war, and men’s clothes in prison to protect herself from sexual aggression. She was burned at the stake and canonized in 1920. I always feel honored to stand in the cathedral, in the same physical space she stood in so many years ago.


Fast-forward past the Napoleonic and Franco-Prussian wars to the beginning of the 20th century. During WWI, the same cathedral was destroyed at the very beginning of the war when a German shell exploded in the neighboring bishop’s palace. The scaffolding around the cathedral caught fire, just like the cathedral in Paris did last year. In 1915, an average of 1500 German bombs per day fell on Reims. By the end of WWI, 98% of Reims had been destroyed. Twenty thousand citizens hid in the cellars of the champagne houses for protection. The vineyards surrounding Reims were harvested by women, old men, and children who had to wear gas masks and work at night. At the end of the war, the Champagne region lost 50% of its population and 40% of the vineyards were in ruin. Those were probably the region’s darkest hours. When you visit the beautiful chalk cellars at Champagne Taittinger, you can see graffiti the citizens wrote on the walls during their confinement. You can also visit the beautifully restored Reims cathedral. Thanks to the generosity of the Rockefeller Foundation, restoration started in 1919 and the cathedral reopened in 1938. 


The Champenois were also incredibly resourceful and united during the Nazi occupation of the region during WWII. There are so many inspiring anecdotes to share about their trials and tribulations during that period. The more I learn about the history of the region, the more I am amazed by the resilience of its people. They have overcome so much hardship to produce the greatest sparkling wine in the world.


Raise a glass of champagne in their honor, and onwards and upwards during confinement, like a champagne bubble!

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