Image of champagne glasses filled with champagne
August 9, 2017

On the grapevine


37321There’s an average of 49 million bubbles in every bottle, Marilyn Monroe once took a bath in 350 bottles of it and James Bond spent more screen time drinking it than he did his beloved martinis. So it’s fair to say Champagne is a pretty special drink.

Our own-brand Les Pionniers Champagnes — named after the Rochdale Pioneers who started the co-operative movement in 1844 — are truly special, because both have won gold medals at the Champagne & Sparkling Wine World Championships. Impressively, we were the only own label Champagne to win such an award, alongside the likes of Cristal and Dom Pérignon.

Although the drink is synonymous with France, it was actually an Englishman — Christopher Merret — who, in 1662, first documented how to put the sparkle into wine, over 30 years before Dom Pérignon. When the French monk famously declared: ‘I am tasting the stars’, what he was actually tasting was the result of trapped carbon dioxide, produced as the wine fermented.

Not many people realise the impact women had on Champagne, either. It was Madame Pommery who first produced a dry champagne in the 1800s, while Veuve (Widow) Clicquot invented ‘riddling’, where bottles are gradually turned and inverted so yeast collects in the neck. After its removal, they’re topped up with more wine and sugar, before finally being corked.

Before technology took over, a riddler would turn as many as 50,000 bottles a day by hand. Suddenly that nine to five doesn’t sound so bad, does it?

The Champagne Academy

Ben Cahill, our Champagne buyer is now a member of this prestigious organisation.


Ben Cahill, second left at the back

Every year, just 16 candidates from the UK are chosen to attend a week-long course at the Champagne Academy, so you can only imagine my excitement when I was invited.There were lectures by winemakers from the 16 affiliated Champagne houses (including Bollinger, Veuve Clicquot, Moët, Krug and Piper-Heidsieck), blind tastings, daily exams and visits to various vineyards, cellars and wineries. Those still standing came away with a much deeper understanding of Champagne!