As you likely know, champagne production for the masses started with a Benedictine monk named Dom Perignon. And while it might seem odd that we have a French Abbey to thank for our New Year’s bubbles (after all, he made it so they could be mass-produced and shipped worldwide), it actually took time for the drink to lose its religion and to make champagne secular.
How champagne became secular
Fr. Dom wasn’t the reason champagne was associated with religion, to begin with. In fact, he’s one of the reasons it became a worldwide phenomenon.
You see, bubbly was not only difficult but dangerous to produce because bottles would explode. For a long time, sparkling wine was confined within the walls of the institution that made it. That is until the French kings got involved. Eventually, it became a celebratory drink for things like baptisms and coronations.
As VinePair (cited below) puts it:
“Before the abolition of the French monarchy, France’s royal family had longstanding ties to the Champagne region. The multi-century connection began in 496, when reigning monarch Clovis I was baptized in a small church in Reims. The city and that exact spot (which was eventually replaced by a grand cathedral) went on to become the traditional location for French coronations, and cemented the link between region and royalty.”
In other words, wine from Champagne (pre-bubbles) started out as a holy wine.
Of course, red Burgundian wine was long the official celebratory wine of France. But when secondary fermentation was discovered by Dom Perignon in 1668, things changed…slowly.
Rise of the champagne industry
In the 18th century, King Louis XV became a champagne lover, making it very fashionable. It was also chic because he made sure it was the only wine that could be sold in glass bottles (which also made it dangerous because of all the exploding glass, but that’s not really a matter for kings to care about).
Eventually, if you wanted to be cool in France, you had to buy wine from Champagne.
At this point, champagne had made it out of the Abbey walls and into castles. However, this is all pre-French Revolution, in a time when kings and Catholics ruled.
Then came the Revolution. Heads came off, heads of state were replaced, and people became far more skeptical of powerful institutions, including the church.
There’s no one moment (that we know of) when champagne became untangled from production by religious workers, but the Revolution certainly changed the nature of all things elite.
Marketing secular champagne
By 1796, George Washington was serving champagne at a state dinner.
And, according to VinePair, “Within a century, one didn’t even have to hold office to toast with Champagne. In the latter half of the 1800s, increasing supply and better worldwide distribution channels made Champagne a commodity most middle-class families could afford…The period also saw significant marketing efforts from Champagne houses to place their bubbles as the celebratory beverage. The images and language on many bottle labels targeted newly engaged couples and soon-to-be parents…”
It was no longer associated with religion, but with any kind of celebration. — WTF fun facts