Champagne was once elusive to me. I had tasted sparkling wines à la méthode traditionelle, but never had tasted Champagne until a few years ago. My first Champagne was a half-bottle of Veuve Clicquot Brut NV Yellow Label in October of 2012. I had purchased it to participate in my first #ChampagneDay virtual tasting and so I could practice opening the bottle, as I had just completed WSET (Wine & Spirit Education Trust) Level 1 Foundation and was taking WSET Level 2 Intermediate. I had never opened a sparkling wine bottle before. My ex-boyfriend told me I was awkward and I could never learn to do it correctly. As karma would have it, I nailed it, and I have never failed since. Since then, I have grown to love and appreciate Champagne.
I have had a few passions in my life: music, French, travel, and wine. For me, A Year in Champagne showcases all of these passions as renowned importer Martine Saunier pays visits to six Champagne houses: Champagne Saint-Chamant, Stéphane Coquillette (S. Coquillette), Gonet-Médeville, Bollinger, Diebolt-Vallois, and Gosset. Written and directed by David Kennard, the movie is the second in a series, the first being A Year in Burgundy, which I also reviewed.
The musical score is abundant with classical music masterpieces, such as Gabriel Faure’s Sicilienne, Op.78, a piece I immediately recognized as one of my best and favorite flute performances from my high school years.
Then there’s French, the first great love of my life. I taught French for 24 years, so any time I’m given the opportunity to immerse myself in the language and culture, I dive in headfirst. The movie captures many of the nuances of French culture, both at work and at home. It touches on winery and family life, meals, winery family dogs, traditions, religion, and even basic greetings and politeness. If I were still teaching French, A Year in Champagne would be a part of my lesson plan.
As to travel, I envisioned myself through the eyes of the cinematographer and cast, riding in the hot air balloon, walking through vineyards and cellars, toasting at mealtimes, and flying on the crop dusting helicopter. Perhaps someday, I will visit Champagne.
Most importantly, there’s wine. The creation of the wine we know as Champagne is presented à travers the very challenging, mostly sunless, cool, and wet 2012 vintage season: spring, summer, harvest, and winter. The viewers receive a veritable lesson in history, terroir, vineyard management, and winemaking. The movie captures both the magic and the technology of Champagne production, including vineyard pruning choices, harvesting, fermentation, remuage (often by hand), dégourgement, dosage, and second fermentation in the bottle. If only my WSET instructors could have demonstrated Champagne production the way A Year in Champagne does.
Champagne is not just any wine, but rather is the thread that weaves the tapestry of life in this northernmost winemaking appellation in continental Europe. From death and destruction, the war-ridden region of Champagne has survived, making some of the world’s most celebrated wines for hundreds of years.
As movie bonuses, the Gonet-Médeville family dog, Bouchon (Cork), steals his scenes, and the best quote comes at the end of the movie: It [Champagne] makes women lovelier and men wittier. I couldn’t agree more.
Santé, bonheur, et prospérité!