Loving Bubbles, Loving Life

#MWWC18 Winner!
#MWWC27 Winner!

*This is my WINNING post for Monthly Wine Writing Challenge #27, #MWWC27, whose theme was BUBBLES.*

The first fizzy ‘wine’ that I remember tasting was Boone’s Farm Tickle Pink. I was (maybe) of legal drinking age and it was under $2.00 per bottle. I would pick it up for a party and end up drinking the entire bottle, awakening the next day with the most horrific headache. I was immature enough to do it more than once during my early, formative drinking years. These experiences were enough to trick me into thinking that sparkling alcoholic beverages were not my thing.

Ca'Furlan Cuvée Beatrice NV New Year's Eve 2010
Ca’Furlan Cuvée Beatrice NV New Year’s Eve 2010

It wasn’t until six years ago that I recall enjoying bubbles again. I had started working as the travel manager for a wine importer, Regal Wine Imports, and as a thank you, my client delivered a case of Ca’Furlan Cuvée Beatrice Prosecco NV to my boyfriend in New York. By this time, I knew not to drink an entire bottle, but I was a little hesitant to delve into the world of sparkling wine again. However, this $10 sipper turned out to be the perfect transitional bubbles, with its low alcohol (11%), fine frothiness, and tart, lemony flavors. My boyfriend would always open the bottles on his balcony of his apartment and the corks would fly high into the air. He would never allow me to open them because he was convinced that he knew exactly what he was doing and that I would somehow hurt myself. I felt like a child being told no and I didn’t like it.

Mumm Brut Prestige NV New Year's Eve 2011
Mumm Brut Prestige NV New Year’s Eve 2011

For New Year’s Eve 2011, we decided to step up our game. I begged him for Champagne, but he came home instead with a bottle of Mumm Brut Prestige NV, Napa Valley. At least Mumm was owned by a French Champagne producer. It turned out to be quite delicious for under $20. However, I still wasn’t allowed to open the bottle, nor was I convinced that I liked bubbles enough to readily seek them out more than for special occasions.

Domaine Carneros Sparkling Flight September 2012
Domaine Carneros Sparkling Flight September 2012

As I’ve shared before in previous posts, my boyfriend and I broke up in June 2012 after many years together. In September of that same year, two important things occurred. The first was that I visited Domaine Carneros, my first sparkling winery. Sitting on the patio overlooking the beauty of Carneros, I had a princess moment. It felt so regal to be sipping bubbles at a French-style chateau. My favorite of the tasting was the vintage Brut Rosé, with its delicate mousse and bright, red berry flavors. It finally clicked that maybe there was something to the hype about the deliciousness of sparkling wine and maybe, just maybe, being single wasn’t so bad after all.

Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin Champagne NV October 2012
Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin Champagne NV October 2012

The second important thing to happen that month was that I took Wine & Spirit Education Trust’s foundation day course and we learned how to properly open a bottle of sparkling wine. If there was ever a game changer on many levels, it was that simple lesson. For social media’s #ChampagneDay that year, Friday, October 26, I bought my first Champagne, a half-bottle of Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin Brut NV (Yellow Label). That night, I followed the directions from my WSET course and successfully opened my first bottle of sparkling wine, my first Champagne, the correct way. In that moment, all of the times that my ex-boyfriend denied me the opportunity to open those bottles of Ca’Furlan Prosecco and Mumm came rushing back. The opening of that single bottle of Champagne symbolized for me an assertion of my independence from the apparent control he held over me for so many years. A taste of the Champagne I opened was really a taste of freedom.

Domaine Carneros May 2014
Domaine Carneros May 2014

When I moved to the Napa Valley fewer than two years later, I joined my first local wine club. I was driving to Sonoma Coast to spend Memorial Day weekend, and on my way, I made a deliberate stop at Domaine Carneros. At almost the same spot on the patio where I had sat during my first visit, I requested a tasting flight and a wine club enrollment form. The giddiness of my host was apparent. I was his easiest wine club signup commission ever. It was as if heaven’s gates had opened and he poured for me endless tastes of everything Domaine Carneros made. The delectably frothy, fruity, and yeasty elixirs stirred something inside of me. I had been living for so long in someone else’s shadow, but finally, here I was in the Napa Valley, living life on MY terms. For years, I had lost my heart and my soul in exchange for a relationship that nearly ruined me. On the patio that day, I found myself again. I was officially in love with bubbles and most importantly, life.

Reflections on A Year in Champagne

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.

A Year in Champagne Poster (ayearinchampagne.com)
A Year in Champagne Poster (ayearinchampagne.com)

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.

A family celebration dinner (ayearinchampagne.com)
A family celebration dinner (ayearinchampagne.com)

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.

Explaining remuage (ayearinchampagne.com)
Explaining remuage (ayearinchampagne.com)

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.

A hot air balloon ride in Champagne (ayearinchampagne.com)
A hot air balloon ride in Champagne (ayearinchampagne.com)

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.

A Year in Champagne will be available to the public starting March 6, 2015. For a complete list of showtimes and locations, visit this link. To pre-order the film on iTunes, visit this link.

Santé, bonheur, et prospérité!
Beth