Artifact Corner: Champagne Bottle

Hi Everyone, and welcome back to another artifact corner. Today we will be looking at a champagne bottle from ……. Well, we are not really sure. The label on the bottle is pretty distressed and very hard to read. The first two letters are B and O, but the rest is hard to decipher. On the bottom right of the label it says Mareuil Sur A…. And the rest is illegible. There is foil on the neck of the bottle, and some hemp cord around the neck as well. The bottle is hand blown green glass, and is completely in tact with no chips or cracks in it. The cork is broken, but still in the bottle, which is pretty unique. There is no champagne left in the bottle, so whoever purchased this, enjoyed it’s contents. Let’s learn a bit more about the history of champagne.

The first domestic vines in the Champagne region can be traced back to the 1st century. The Champagne region is located in Northern France, and has pretty much the perfect growing conditions for the grapes that make the famous wine. Throughout the Middle Ages, this region supplied most of the white wine that people across Europe purchased. Conflicts (such as Frances Hundred Years War with England) and climate changes directly effected the production of wine in the region, but production always resumed. The beautiful white wine being produced in the Champagne region was until this point, just that, white wine with no carbonation. The real birth of the fabulously fizzy drink starts in the late 1660’s when a benedictine monk named Dom Pierre Perignon, started blending wines, and using a second fermentation process, which allowed for the carbonation of the wine. Upon tasting his creation he is said to have exclaimed, “Come, for I am drinking stars!” The upper echelons of society quickly fell in love with the effervescent beverage, and soon it was being served at the French royal court, and all around Europe.

So, how exactly is champagne made? All of the grapes are picked by hand between August and October. They are then pressed by hand, making sure that only the clearest juice is allowed. Then the juice is placed in a cask or tank and the first fermentation begins. The result is a still (not sparkling) wine, which has had all of the sugar naturally found in the grape fermented out of it. Next is the process of assemblage, or the blending of the wines. This can combine Pinot Noir, Pinot Blanc and Chardonnay, creating a complex flavor profile. This steps normally happens 5 months after the first fermentation. Then the wine is fermented a second time. A mixture of yeast, yeast nutrients, and sugar are added to the wine. The wine is then bottled and put in a cool cellar to slowly ferment. This process is what creates carbon dioxide, and makes the wine bubbly. All quality Champagne is aged for at least five years. Following the aging, the wine goes through the riddling process. The bottles are turned upside down, and given a 1/8 of a turn everyday. This is to force the dead yeast cells to the neck of the bottle. The last step is the disgorging, or the removal of the dead yeast cells. The bottle is kept upside down, and the neck is frozen in a ice salt bath. The bottle is opened, and the frozen plug is removed, clearing out the dead yeast cells, and leaving only the sparkling wine behind. As you can see, this is a very labor intensive process, and part of the reason quality champagnes can carry a hefty price tag.

In researching this champagne bottle, we think this might be a bottle of Bollinger Champagne that was made prior to 1880’s. We attempted to reach out to Bollinger to see if they could identify the bottle, but we haven’t heard back yet. If we do, there could be a part two for this video. This bottle is in good condition, and a reminder to celebrate every now and again, and we are so lucky to have it in our collections. Special thanks to my research assistant Sara Sands. Thanks so much for stopping by.

The following music was used for this media project:
Music: Sunny Morning by MusicLFiles
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