Granted, 2020 has been a terrible year due to COVID. It has affected everyone around the world. But a sparkle of optimism is on the way. There are currently COVID vaccines that should be released shortly, which will be used for our high risk healthcare professionals, seniors and others with immune compromised health first, and then to the general public. We still have to stay safe till then, but we can prepare to celebrate.
Celebrate with Champagne
When you think of celebration and wine, what wine do you think of? Champagne most likely comes to mind for most people. But what do you know about Champagne, other than it’s bubbles and high quality? Do you know where the Champagne region is located in France? How the 360 Champagne Houses and 16,100 growers get the bubble in the bottle? Which grapes are permitted to make Champagne? Or that 297.6 million bottles of Champagne were shipped around the world in 2019? That is an astounding number considering Champagne vineyards cover only 0.5% of the worldwide vineyard acreage.
I enjoy wine more when I know something about it. If I travel to the south Okanagan in the summer, and feel the hot dry air, and see the vines planted on gentle slopes either facing toward the morning or afternoon sun, the grape varieties, and the closeness of the vineyards to one of the Okanagan lakes, I get a picture of how this affects the grapes and makes a certain style of wine, from light to full bodied.
Forward to the Champagne region. Wouldn’t you find it fascinating to find out about the grape varieties planted, the soils, the sun and other climatic factors that made your bottle of Vintage Champagne? You would probably appreciate it more as you know that Vintage Champagne is only made in exceptional years.
And when we talk about the bubble, it can be small and creamy, or larger and dissipate faster. The “cordon”, the beads of bubbles that form in the glass when the wine is poured, can tell you something about the Champagne you are tasting.
I was able to visit the Champagne region over 10 years ago, and spent a day where I went on a tour and tasted the Champagnes at a large, well-known Champagne House, as well as a smaller Champagne House, where there was no formal tour, but I was greeted and sat down in a lounge area and was served three different Champagnes and had a nice one-on-one discussion with a winery member. I learned things from both these tastings that I carry with me now when I taste Champagne. For example, if you have a Blanc de Blancs Champagne (made with Chardonnay only) you get smaller creamier bubbles than a Champagne with a mix of grapes or red grapes only.
Become a Champagne Expert
While COVID is on, you can’t, or shouldn’t, hop on the next flight to Paris, and then catch the TGV high speed train to Reims to taste Champagne, but you can learn about Champagne safely from your home. The Comité Champagne, which represents all the houses and growers in the region, has developed and released Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) to help you learn about and better appreciate Champagne.
There is the Classic version, which is available for free, and the more in-depth Premium version, which costs 49€ (approx. CAD$76) and includes additional videos, interviews, and activities. Quite a reasonable cost for the amount of information you get. Even with my many years of knowledge of wine, I learned things about Champagne that I did not know about as I went through it. Both versions are available 24/7 online so you can take your time to absorb the information. Jérémy Cukierman, Master of Wine 2017, is the host for the course, covering a variety of topics, plus he interviews several people working in Champagne (sommeliers, Champagne Growers, and Champagne House representatives) to provide you with additional information about Champagne. Both versions cover 4 modules: The Champagne making process, the Champagne terroir, the history and economy of Champagne, and diversity and tasting. Jérémy and his guests speak in English throughout, but there is closed captioning available in English, German, Spanish, Italian, Russian, Japanese, and Cantonese to help you along.
Champagne Education for Your Holiday Gifts
The four educational models in both courses are entitled:
- The Champagne making process (Explore the vines and cellars and learn about the different stages of the Champagne wine-making process.)
- The Champagne terroir (Explore the vines and cellars and learn about the different stages of the Champagne wine-making process.)
- History and Economy of Champagne (Gain a grasp of the mysteries of Champagne, from its origins to current trends.)
- Diversity and Tasting (Discover the sheer diversity of Champagne wines, and the secrets to serving and tasting them.)
At the end of each module there is a short multiple choice quiz to see how well you remember the material. The Classic version takes 3-5 hours, depending on how quickly you want to move through the material. If you take the Premium version, you get the four Classic modules, plus additional videos and topics at the end of each of the educational modules. The additional materials cover:
- The “réseau matu” (Ripening observation network)
- Harvest in Champagne
- Effervescence: the mystery of the bubbles
- An example of eco-friendly transport
- Acting to reduce Champagne carbon footprint
- The 1936 harvest
- How to read a Champagne label
- The different bottle sizes
If you really want to get into the background of Champagne, how it is handled, what are their green initiatives, and much more, then the Premium version is well worth the investment. As well, with the Premium version you have the opportunity to take an online exam at the end of the course. If you pass with at least 80%, you will get a Statement of Completion. You only have one try at the exam, so make sure you are prepared. You can go through the material more than one time before taking this optional exam. It would look quite good on a resume, especially if you work in the wine trade as a buyer, educator, tourism professional, or sommelier in my opinion.
Learn With Others
You are not alone in the course. Taking an online course can be lonely. It is different than sitting in a classroom with other students where you can ask each other questions and share experiences. But this is not the case with these Champagne MOOCs as both have a Forum where you introduce yourself, and you can post and answer questions related to that module’s topic, or anything else you have questions about related to Champagne. Ask others about their Champagne and food pairings. Find out which dishes from around the world have worked for your fellow classmates. As a bonus, you make contacts with industry professionals around the world, which may help you in business relationships and world travel. Enjoy learning.
This article was paid for by the Champagne Bureau, USA, the official North American representative for the Comité Champagne.