for people who love champagne and all things sparkling!

Tag: Champagne Tasting

Bubbly border hopping – delivering The Bubbles Festival during a pandemic!

My name is Natalie Pickett, and many of you will know me as the Founder of The Bubbles Review and Creator of The Bubbles Festival. Recently, I have had the honour of being interviewed about The Bubbles Review in major publications in the USA (the links to the articles are at the end of this post), and I thought it would be a great idea to share some insight with you about where the idea for The Bubbles Review came from and a behind the scenes look at what it took to deliver the recent sold-out Bubbles Festivals across Australia in the middle of a global pandemic!

As a serial entrepreneur, I have founded multiple businesses, with both 6 and 7 figure success stories. I have had my share of triumphs and so called ‘failures’. After closing my travel company during the GFC, I established a successful consulting, mentoring and speaking business. I like to operate from my core values, one of which is ‘fun’, which we can forget to make a priority in business. I love being able to share this knowledge with others, to help them to take their business, and daily life, from surviving to thriving.

The Bubbles Review is my passion business. The ‘Aha!’ moment was a culmination of two things. The first was that I had always loved champagne and sparkling wine. For my 18th birthday I had a champagne luncheon. I love the stories, the romance, the glamour of it. 

The other ‘Aha!’ moment came to me at a marketing seminar when the presenter mentioned that because he had wine review websites, he claimed his wine purchases as a tax deduction. And at that moment, I knew my review blog would be about sparkling wine. Once I did the business case it was an easy ‘Yes!’, and I could incorporate my travel industry skills to run events and tours. Creating a business that means you get paid to drink champagne is awesome, and we’ve been listed in the top champagne blogs in different countries around the world, which is also pretty amazing!

The keys to success with each of my businesses is that they all come from my passion, my core values, and my desire to contribute and share my knowledge with others. When they become stressful, I remind myself that business and life is supposed to be fun. Our businesses should work for us, not the other way around.

I have purposely kept the pace of growth of this business at a level that doesn’t become overwhelming. This is important, because The Bubbles Review is my bubbly passion project. The number 1 priority is that it should be fun – for me, and everyone who shares the bubbly joy with me.

The idea for what has become our signature event – The Bubbles Festival – came to me in a meditation one morning, and I like to think that it was divinely inspired.  I mentioned it to a friend who owned an art space, and he was very enthusiastic and provided the venue free of charge so that I could deliver the inaugural The Bubbles Festival in April 2017. The first one was about testing to see if it was of interest – both for exhibitors to showcase their champagne and sparkling wine and ticket holders to the event. The inaugural Bubbles Festival (and a follow-up event in October 2017), received very positive feedback, with patrons giving the event 5 stars.

Postponing The Bubbles Festival in 2020 was incredibly disappointing, particularly because it was the first time that I was taking the event nationally. It was also very costly, as by the time restrictions on mass gatherings across the country were imposed, we’d already expended a lot of the advertising budget. I had appointed team members in other states to assist with set up and had paid deposits to venues. Moving the events meant that most of that expenditure was lost, except for the venues who were accommodating in finding solutions and refunding larger deposits. Not all venues managed this well, but most did.

Delivering The Bubbles Festival in Melbourne, Brisbane, Adelaide, Sydney, and Perth in 2021 was no mean feat! The invitation for exhibitors was sent in February, which was later than usual, as I tried to forecast restrictions. We had some exhibitors who were still committed since 2020, as well as new wonderful exhibitors who enthusiastically signed up, but by March, restrictions were still fluctuating, so some were wanting to wait and see before committing.

Ticket holders, on the other hand, were ‘champing’ at the bit.  I think that having been under restrictions for so long, people were so happy to be out and about, meeting likeminded people and drinking bubbly. Almost every session was sold out, and in some locations, the whole event was sold out in a matter of weeks, and people were writing to me begging for tickets, and offering to pay more to attend.

I designed the event just like I would if I was arranging for people to come to my home. That’s why everything is included – a lovely glass, canapés, and a welcoming introduction on sparkling wine from me. Once people are at the event, they don’t need to keep paying for extras like more tastings or food – they just relax, mingle and enjoy the bubbly experience.

Anyone who has planned events before will know there are always challenges, but COVID added a whole new dimension. Capacity restrictions were moved up and down several times, and every state had their own version of conditions around public gatherings.

My experience of 30 years in travel and events gave me the confidence to be able to deliver, and Melbourne kicked off the series and was a great success. After achieving the record for the most locked down city in the world in 2020, people were excited to be out enjoying being social and drinking bubbles. It was so exciting to be hosting this event – a much needed and long overdue celebration!

“We had great fun and loved the available selection of French champagne and sparkling wines. The accompanying canapés were delicious too! Looking forward to attending future Bubbles Festivals.” ~ Leanne Turner

“Fun night out with friends who truly appreciate fine champagne and all things bubbly.” ~ Kate Cadet

“Great way to spend the afternoon!” ~ Rick McLeod

“A lovely way to spend a couple of hours trying and learning about the bubbles, the background to them, food pairing and meeting other like-minded souls.” ~ Janet MacLeish

“I love the evening. The only drawback was that I wish it was longer. In saying that, I would still come again and enjoy it just as much.  Thank you for a great night out!” ~ Betheia Lele

The next day, there were hints that Perth (the location for the event on the next weekend), may go into lockdown – and on Monday, the Western Australian (WA) Premier announced the restrictions. We could probably have proceeded, but everyone would need to be wearing masks, and from a safety point of view, you don’t want to put your patrons at risk and you certainly do not want your event to be listed as an exposure site. The difficult decision was made to move the Perth event forward at least 6 weeks to give time for the case numbers to go down and for restrictions around public gatherings to return to a point where the ticket holders in Perth could enjoy the event at its most celebratory.

As I was dealing with the date changes for Perth, and finalising post event activities for Melbourne, I received a message from a cousin of Michelle (our Sydney-based Event Manager), who was writing to advise me that Michelle had passed away suddenly from a heart attack. We were only 4 weeks out from the Sydney event and Michelle had been assisting us with preparations, including sourcing a new venue (the lovely RACA), student helpers and securing some late exhibitor sign ups. I had known Michelle for many years through our different roles in tourism. She was a consummate professional and beautiful soul. I was devasted for her husband and family, and I cried for days. The only good thing that came out of moving the dates of the Perth event, was that I was free to travel to Sydney to attend Michelle’s funeral later that week.

I had planned to stay overnight after Michelle’s funeral, but there were news reports of COVID infections and exposure sites in different parts of the city, including the area we were currently in for Michelle’s wake. There was an announcement that Sydney would enforce restrictions from 5pm that evening, and I realised that if I stayed, I would run the risk of having to quarantine when going back to Victoria, and therefore not be able to get to Brisbane and Adelaide for the next two events. I quickly changed my flight, said my goodbyes and headed for the airport. I made it safely back to Melbourne before any issues arose about having been in Sydney.

Our Brisbane Bubbles Festival was the next event, and although there were fluctuating concerns since a lockdown about a month prior (which prevented me from visiting for a pre-event site visit), we were safely able to proceed with Brisbane without too many disruptions. The event sold out within 2 weeks of the tickets being released. We had a waitlist and were eventually able to release more tickets to the waitlist as capacity restrictions were eased. Our WA exhibitors couldn’t travel to Queensland, as it was too risky for them to get caught in another state due to WA’s strict COVID border controls. We made arrangements to staff their stands, and the event was a great success with many people coming to thank me for arranging such a wonderful celebration during these incredibly challenging times.

“We really enjoyed our first Bubbles Festival event and would recommend it to our friends!” ~ Peta Shiels

“The Bubbles Festival was a welcome relaxed Evening. Informative as much as social and some wonderfully attired folks who made an effort which pairs with the Classic Architecture and history of the Building.” ~  Anya Slinn            

“A delightful sensation for the nose and palate.  Fabulous selection of Bubbly and Canapés to complement. I am also happy to say the wines I enjoyed most were both from Australian wine makers. Well done Natalie for a great event. See you at the next one 😘🤗🥂” ~ Jane Dewit

“Very well organised & great selection.” ~ Ingrid Ostbye

“A very bubbly evening thank you 🥂” ~ Kerrie Hodgson

“A wonderful way to taste some interesting bubbles from Australia and overseas.” ~ Peter Ryan

“I am so glad I found out about this event. If you get a chance to come and join in the future, do it. Meet new people learn more about bubbles. What more can I say!” ~ Loretta Carmichael

“A fabulous night in an amazing venue. It was a wonderful opportunity to discover some new sparkling wines complemented perfectly by the selection of canapés. Would definitely go again!” ~ Rachel Hodgson

“Fantastic night with great bubbles and canapes – learned a lot! Beautiful venue with views over the river and lights on the bridge added to the atmosphere.” ~ Debbie          

“My first experience and not my last. It was refreshingly educational, enjoyable and a wonderful way to start the weekend. Fantastic!” ~ Chris Hodgson

“A fun & educational event, can’t wait for the next one!” ~ Lesley Harris

Our next stop was Adelaide, and we were blessed with no major breakout. South Australian (SA) border restrictions were pretty risk adverse, so it was a bit touch and go. Victoria had recently recorded a few cases and SA had closed the border to anyone from Victoria who had been in an identified hotspot. Lucky for me, I had not. Arriving at Adelaide airport, I waited in a long queue as border officials checked entry permits on incoming flights from Victoria. The Adelaide event was sold out, and I had people writing to me begging for tickets and offering to pay more. Fortunately, due to the easing of some restrictions, we were able to release a small number of new tickets, which sold out in just two days!

“What a fabulous afternoon filled with quality bubbles – looking forward to the next one and bringing more friends along 🥂🥂🥂 – thanks Natalie 🥂” ~ Julie Johnston

 “A fun way to get together with friends and learn more about the art of Bubbles… with a great range of local produce all in one easy location.” ~  Sharon Gulley-Frith

“A great event showcasing local bubbles with comprehensive tasting notes and friendly producers. Well orchestrated- thank you.” ~ Sarah Vaile

“Great fun day with excellent bubbles!!” ~ Faye Lorain

“Just a great way to spend a few hours, delightful selection of sparkling with knowledgeable wine experts, some tasty nibbles and fun.” ~ Fiona Rich

“Bubbles, bubbles, much more than froth and trouble, even though too many could lead to it!” ~ Anita Zocchi                          

“Had a great time tasting different bubbles with friends!” ~ Amy Blackmore         

“Had a great time and the VIP experience was well worth it.  Would come again.” ~ Cheryl Lees

“The best educational tasting & girls day out I’ve been to in the city!” ~ Ashleigh

“Highly recommend the Bubbles festival. Went with 3 friends and had a ladies’ day out. Full of fun and met new people tasting many wines. Had a great day and can’t wait for the next one. “ ~ Sue Lushington               

“I would thoroughly recommend the bubbles festival to all my friends, I had a very enjoyable experience.”

As we moved through the series of Bubbles Festivals, I kept getting the feeling that everything would be okay. It was like we’d found this level of flow that was allowing us to gently navigate the challenges of the uncertainty of so many factors and conditions.

With Adelaide under our belts, I returned home to Melbourne. By this time, exposure sites were growing, and by Tuesday, one of the sites listed as a concern was the MCG during a crowded football match. SA had closed their border to all of Victoria, so we were lucky to have been able to hold the Adelaide event only days before. I was booked to fly to Sydney for our event that coming weekend, but looking like a lockdown could be imminent, I wondered if I should try to get on an earlier flight. I checked availability and there were seats, but at about 10 times the price I had paid. My flight was around 1.30pm the next day, and I decided it would be okay. It was totally nerve wracking waiting for the press conference as I prepared to leave for the airport. The Victorian Government announced that the state would go into the lockdown at 5pm that day. I checked the NSW response, and by that stage they hadn’t imposed any border restrictions for Victorians, but I wasn’t going to ‘count my chickens’ until I was through the arrivals lounge on the other side. I boarded my flight and hoped for the best. 

When we landed in Sydney, I checked my phone and there was a text from my mother saying “Are you there yet? You need to be in by 4pm!” It was just after 2.30pm, so I was there just in time to avoid the ‘stay at home’ orders that were being imposed on anyone arriving from Victoria. The Sydney event was another success, with two sold out sessions. We received glowing reviews and the event was lots of fun. 

“What a fabulous way to spend two hours, educational and fun. Can’t wait till next time.” ~ Simone Messenger

“All the suppliers were very knowledgeable and accommodating. Tasting notes help you to remember who had which wine. Loved it all!!” ~ Johanne Champness

“What a fabulous event!! So happy get on board with this event!! Do yourself a favour – get out of your comfort zone of sparkling wine & champagne & go to The Bubbles Festival!!! You will be surprised & amazed!!” ~ Corinne Layton

“It was a great event and I highly recommend you catch the next one. The sooner the better!!” ~ Peter Robert Tuckey

“For a night of “Bubbles”, friends and a bit of learning too, this is a fun event to attend. We shall return. Thank you Natalie!” ~ Melinda Baderski

“A fabulous event! Natalie was a wonderful host, taking us through the art of tasting and finding our own ‘happy place’.” ~ Erin Noordeloos

“What a great way to spend a Saturday afternoon. See you next year.” ~ Janet Green

In the days after my arrival, I realised that returning home to Victoria (which was now in lockdown with an ever-growing list of COVID exposure sites), would risk the upcoming Perth event. The WA government had already closed the border to anyone arriving from Victoria, or who had been in Victoria during the dates of the outbreak, which was eventually changed to been in Victoria within 14 days of arrival.

An array of different logistical options were running around my head! ‘Should I stay, or should I go?’ The Perth event was 4 weeks away, and it was possible that things could clear in Victoria before the event – but it was a risk, and one that I wanted to mitigate. Having already postponed the event from 2020 to 2021, and then having to move it again only a few weeks ago, I wanted to do whatever I could to ensure that the event would run. I had some loyal and patient ticket holders who were still holding tickets from our pre-sales in late 2019. I didn’t want to move the event again. Yes, it was possible it could be run without me if I found someone locally to do it, but that wasn’t ideal because my followers were expecting me to be there.

I researched all the different state border options, looking for the best way to get to WA. Counting out days on the calendar, it worked out that I had exactly enough days to spend 14 days in NSW, which at this stage was mainly clear of COVID, to then arrive in WA with 14 days clear in case I needed to quarantine on arrival. If NSW stayed with low or no COVID cases, the plan would work. I cancelled and changed flight bookings. I had only packed for a few days in Sydney, so I shopped for essentials and my daughter kindly sent me some extra clothing from our home.

While I could have stayed in Sydney for the rest of the 14 days, I decided to see if Byron Bay was an option. I could rent an Airbnb room and have a nice time catching up with friends. I checked flights and they were available and cheap. If I was going to need to work remotely, then I would choose some special places to work from. As soon as I arrived in Byron, I knew I had made the right choice – I could feel the stress of the past few weeks just drift away.

I arrived back in Sydney the night before my flight to Perth and stayed at an airport hotel. Having done the amount of work I had done to be able to arrive safely in time for the Perth event, I didn’t want to take any risks of missed connections! Everything was looking fine for me to arrive without needing to quarantine, but I was still apprehensive about what would happen on arrival. After touchdown, we were advised that we would need to wait on board until the WA Police were available to meet the flight. We needed to have our border passes ready to be viewed, and there were signs to inform us to have our hands free so that we could be sanitised before proceeding.

At the head of the queue, there were two people in full PPE gowns, masks, and face shields – one person to take our temperature, and one to spray our hands with sanitizer. Once that was done, we visited a cubicle to respond to a police officer asking questions. I was incredibly relieved to be given the ‘all clear’ – free to enter the state and no quarantine!

I had a pre-event site inspection of the venue booked for that afternoon, and then I was also free to enjoy the rest of my plans, which were to travel to Broome the following day to stay at my Mum’s place. The irony was that she had travelled to Melbourne for her sister’s 80th birthday on the day that I flew into Sydney. She was now stranded in Melbourne, because even as a resident she was unable to return home to Broome without a 14-day quarantine period in Perth. While it was disappointing that I wouldn’t be able to spend some time with my Mum, if I needed to be working remotely, I was going to make the most of it. One of my clients had called my efforts ‘an odyssey’, and I agreed with that very apt description of the adventure I was on!

My dear friend Jane, who had been managing the door at the events, lives in northern NSW, and although NSW had remained a very low risk category, there were new cases starting to be recorded. I had become very good at predicting what would happen with restrictions and border closures, so Jane and I discussed options that would still allow her to make it into WA for the Perth event. I suggested that we book her onto a direct flight from Sydney to Broome the next day, but there were none. I knew that every passing day would mean an increase in cases in NSW and possible closure of the WA border to any arrivals from that state.

The new plan was to have Jane arrive in Perth early. By this stage the travel budget had been well and truly blown, so although it would mean a few extra nights’ accommodation, it would still be better than me trying to find and train extra staff only days before the event. Jane managed to get a booking to travel on the Monday to Perth. The WA border was still open but was changing whilst people were mid-air enroute, with an extra restriction for NSW arrivals – which was get a COVID test on arrival and isolate until getting a negative test result. There was a chance that the border would close or a 14-day quarantine period would be imposed, which would make her arrival obsolete as she wouldn’t be able to work at the event. We enquired about the alternative, which would mean Jane having to return to NSW on the next flight back. She was bringing the banners and some other event supplies and having already changed flights several times, it was now a very expensive airfare. We did joke about how expensive that would make it for just delivering the banners if she was to be turned away. But make it in she did, and the border closed to NSW arrivals the following day.

The Perth Bubbles Festival was another great, sold-out success. We received so many wonderful comments, and some of them were so lovely, that in my state of post-event series exhaustion they brought a tear to my eye. We’d done it! Five sell out events across the country, border hopping like fugitives, and working every angle or option to be able to deliver.

“It was a fun time and definitely recommend 💕” ~ Veronique Shepherd

“This is such a fantastic event; for those who truly love their bubbles and want to experience some that they wouldn’t ordinarily try.  Natalie is so knowledgeable!” ~ Kelly

“Best two hours of fun I’ve had for a long time and it was great to share it with friends and other lovely attendees 😊” ~ Marla Reid

“Thank you Natalie for organising a wonderful event.  It was an absolutely wonderful event and glad we held onto our tickets.  Third time we got there.  The atmosphere was awesome and got to chat to lovely fellow guests and exhibitors and of course the sparkling wines and Champagnes were fantastic.  Thanks again, looking forward to the next event.” ~ Jo-anne Kramer

“Thank you for bringing to WA a unique experience for the bubbly lovers. Having a very knowledgeable and passionate presenter-founder made the experience that extra bit more enjoyable. I look forward to the next one.” ~ Brenda Fenerty

“Fantastic night with many and varied bubbles from which to choose paired with a delicious grazing board! Well done 👍” ~ Allison Pivac     

“A well organised event with some fantastic sparklings showcased.” Louize Kang

“This was my first time at a Bubbles Festival and it was fabulous. I will definitely be back and so will my friends!” ~ Ceri Writer

“My Friend and I have a Fabulous afternoon as VIPs, the tastings were generous the Grazing table spectacular …. We are excited to attend any future events and have a few friends who are very keen to come with us.  An exceptional day which was enjoyable and extremely informative.” ~  Logan Nicholson

“The Bubbles Festival is a well organized fun event that is not only informative but great value for money.” ~ Ina Boxshall

“What a fabulous afternoon to enjoy with friends and to sample some amazing BUBBLES from our regions within Australia cannot wait for the next experience.” ~ Leonie Spencer

“Had a great evening at The Bubbles Festival and would recommend going to The Bubbles Review’s events!” ~ Monicka McDonough

“I thought I couldn’t love bubbles any more but I was wrong!! This experience was second to none! A classy yet relaxed vibe with access to all the best, new, interesting and popular bubbles, some of which were completely new to me. The VIP experience was to die for, a great privilege. Congratulations to Natalie and her team for putting this together in today’s climate. A true testament to her love of bubbles and a phenomenal way to share it with the country! I will definitely be on the lookout for the next event!!” ~ Jana Bartecki

“Thanks to Natalie, Jane and the WA team for such an amazing evening. Covid had delayed me enjoying my 2020 Mother’s Day gift until now. Totally worth the wait and can’t wait to partake in the next event. Thank you again & keep up the great bubbly work!!” ~ Isla Ferrarotto          

“Fabulous afternoon out at a boutique feeling event. Lovely champers and sparkling wines. We really enjoyed it, thank you for persisting in trying to stage it!!”

“A great afternoon with the chance to mingle with likeminded bubbly lovers. A fun afternoon full of great sparkling on offer thank you!” ~ Brooke O’Donnell

We’d planned to have some time in Perth on the Sunday before returning home on Monday. We were relaxing at the Fremantle markets on the Sunday morning when we were told that Perth was going into restrictions by midday that day. Venue capacities would be reduced, and masks were mandatory indoors. We had delivered the Perth event just in time! Perth would then declare a lockdown commencing later that day, and the Victorian Government declared Perth a medium risk zone. Upon my return to Melbourne, I was (perhaps ironically) required to get a COVID test and isolate. It didn’t matter, I was happy to be home. I joke that one of the things that I have collected in 2021 is the QR check in apps for almost all the states of Australia!

I feel very blessed that we were able to hold the national series of Bubbles Festivals. I did have plans for some smaller events and tours in the later part of this year, but it’s September and Melbourne is back in lockdown. Sydney is too. It is unlikely that there will be opportunities for events for the rest of the year, but I remain hopeful that we will get a clear run for 2022. The plan is to take The Bubbles Festival to more locations in Australia, and eventually New Zealand, the USA and UK. I am also optimistic that we may even be able to hold our tour to Champagne in 2022, but perhaps that will be 2023.

Whilst working remotely in Broome, I had seen an opportunity to be a co-author in a book that was being published in the USA – Becoming an Unstoppable Woman! I submitted an application and at my interview, they asked me to tell them a bit about myself. I said ‘Sure. Let me tell you about my latest unstoppable story!’ I shared the story of being able to deliver all of these events during a pandemic, border closures, and snap lockdowns. It was definitely an example of being unstoppable. I was accepted and went on to create my chapter called ‘Living the Dream’, which is all about my career as an entrepreneur and business mentor, on overcoming adversity, with a focus on savouring life’s precious moments. The book was released in September and is now an international best-seller. It has also led to several articles published in the US media on my business success and how I created The Bubbles Review. There’s no stopping a woman on a bubbly mission! Cheers!

Get tickets for The Bubbles Festival 2022 on this special pre-sale here.

You may also like these articles

 Natalie Pickett: From Avocation To Vocation; How I Turned My Hobby Into A Career | by Penny Bauder | Authority Magazine | Sep, 2021 | Medium

Natalie Pickett: Second Chapters; How I Reinvented Myself In The Second Chapter Of My Life | by Pirie Jones Grossman | Authority Magazine | Sep, 2021 | Medium

Purchase link for the Becoming an Unstoppable Woman book- Natalie Pickett | She Rises Book Pre-Order (sherisesstudios.com)

Join me on 27 October for a virtual bubbly book reading – the ‘unstoppable’ bubbly book club event. Get your tickets here

Like to keep following us? Sign up to The Bubbles Review list and you will get first look at our events, (including exclusive subscriber pre-sales), and you will be included in our Subscriber prize draws. The monthly giveaway is usually a chance to win a lovely champagne or sparkling gift. Join our list!

Natalie Pickett is the Founder of The Bubbles Review which is for people who like champagne and other bubbles, written by people who have a love of all things sparkling! At The Bubbles Review, we like to debunk some myths, make the art of drinking champagne accessible, explore bubbly regions and champagne bars, and provide events for you to join us and indulge.

Cheers to your good health!

I’ve been thinking of the origins of ‘Bless you’ recently.  As we are facing a global pandemic, I was reminded about my time as a tour leader in Europe, and the story I used to tell our guests about where the phrase comes from. The phrase ‘God bless you’ is attributed to Pope Gregory the Great, who uttered it in the sixth century during a bubonic plague epidemic. Whenever someone sneezed, which was an obvious symptom of the plague, people would bless them in the hope that they remained in good health. The exchangeable German term ‘gesundheit’ literally means ‘health’. It is interesting that this term has endured all of this time, and is so very relevant for us all today.

The drinking party, in one form or another, has been around for thousands of years, and I wanted to explore the origins of how we use the occasion of getting together to drink bubbles, with toasting to the good health of our companions.

Historians guess that the toast most likely originated with the Greek libation, the custom of pouring out a portion of one’s drink in honour of the Gods. And yes, there were even gods of wine! The Greek God, Dionysus or Dionysos, known as Bacchus to the Romans, is the God of the vine, grape-harvest, wine-making, wine, fertility, ritual madness, religious ecstasy, and theatre.

From there, it was an easy step to offering a drink in honour of one’s companions.

Early medieval Anglo-Saxon feasts featured round-bottomed drinking glasses, designed to be emptied, since they could not be set down without spilling them. Guests drained their cups and then turned them upside-down on the table. This is most likely where the tradition of ‘bottoms up!’ comes from. Around the same time, the Saxon word ‘waes hael!’ (‘Good health!’), has been noted in history books.

The term ‘toast’ – as in drinking to someone’s health – comes from a literal piece of spiced or charred toast, which was dropped in a cup or bowl of wine, either as form of food or perhaps to make the wine taste better. Shakespeare mentions this in The Merry Wives of Windsor, in which Falstaff calls for a quart of spiced wine, then adds “Put a toast in it.” By the 18th century, the term ‘toast’ had been transferred from the floating bread, to the person honoured by the toast, and those who were very popular became known as the ‘toast of the town.’

It seems that the ‘bottoms up’ tradition of toasting was a common practice in many countries, but it was not one that everyone appreciated. The first temperance society, the Order of Temperance, established in Germany in 1517, was dedicated to abolishing toasts. Louis XIV banned toasting at his court, and in 1634, Massachusetts banned the ‘abominable’ custom of drinking to another’s health.

Eventually, in polite society, one no longer had to guzzle an entire wine glass for each proposed toast; a sip was considered plenty.

There are a few theories about the clinking of the glasses. One of these is to engage all the senses by adding the sound of clinking glassware. Some say it was to ward off evil spirits, while raising the glass may relate back to the raising of wine to the gods.

When I worked in Switzerland, we would take our guests for a fondue dinner and I would introduce the local custom of saying ‘cheers’ whilst looking your companions in the eye. If you did not make eye contact, you were considered untrustworthy. This custom is not unique to the Swiss, as there is also the tradition of drinking before or after battle and celebrating with friends and foes, and the need for eye contact to prove your trustworthiness.

In English we say ‘cheers!’, and often toast to people’s good health. The word ‘cheers’ comes from the Anglo-French of medieval times, ‘cheres’ meaning ‘face’, or the Old French ‘chiere’ for ‘expression’. It evolved to signify the mood shown on one’s face when happy. By the 1800s, saying ‘cheers’ came to represent gladness, or to show support or encouragement.

We shared information on our social media recently about how drinking champagne may help boost your immune system. In moderation of course, and not to be taken as medical advice!

So here’s cheers to your bubbly good health!

Here’s what they say to ‘toast’ to good health in other countries:

French – Santé (pronounced Son tay) or votre santé – good health or to your good health

Italian – Salute (prounounced Salut ay) – cheers, bless you, to good health

Spanish – Salud – (pronounced Salude) – cheers, bless you, to good health

German – Prost (from the latin prodesse – to be beneficial) or gesundheit – good health

Afrikaans – Gesondheid – good health

Scottish, Irish Gaelic – Sláinte (pronounced slawn-cha) – ‘to your health’ and is from the root ‘slán’ defined as ‘healthy’

Danish, Swedish and Norwegian – Skål – (pronounced Skoal) – ‘to your health’ or ‘bottoms up’

Finnish – Kippis – comes from an expression – to tilt glasses

Chinese – gānbēi! – literally means dry cup – ‘bottoms up’

How do you say cheers?

Natalie Pickett is the Founder of The Bubbles Review which is for people who like champagne and other bubbles, written by people who have a love of all things sparkling! At The Bubbles Review, we like to debunk some myths, make the art of drinking champagne accessible, explore bubbly regions and champagne bars, and provide events for you to join us and indulge.

Like to keep following us? Sign up to The Bubbles Review list and you will get first look at our events, (including exclusive subscriber pre-sales), and you will be included in our Subscriber prize draws. The monthly giveaway is usually a chance to win a lovely champagne or sparkling gift. Join our list!

How to choose the right glassware for your bubbles?

Champagne and sparkling wine is synonymous with celebration, and what better time to be celebrating than with friends and family over Christmas?

Champagne is often served as an aperitif or for a toast. As you may have read here before, it can definitely be served throughout all courses. Perfect for an Aussie Christmas, champagne pairs especially well with seafood, and choose a traditional blend including red fruit, or a Blanc de Noirs, or Rosé with the more robust main course flavours of ham and turkey. Those of you who love a sparkling red may choose to include this in your line-up.

Now that we have the wine sorted, which glass should we use to serve? 

There is the champagne coupe or saucer glass. Legend has it the shape of the coupe was modelled on the left breast of the French Queen Marie Antoinette, wife of King Louis XVI of France, but it seems that the glass was designed in England over a century earlier especially for sparkling wine and champagne in 1663. The coupe was fashionable in France from its introduction in the 1700s until the 1970s, and in the US, and Australia from the 1930s to the 1980s. The coupe had a revisit a few years ago, with a bit of Art Deco, Great Gatsby-inspired frivolity. Perfect to build a champagne tower, they are lots of fun, but not very practical. Apart from making it easy to spill, the glass is very wide creating a large surface area for the wine, with an open rim, which means that the bubbles dissipate very quickly.

Then there is the champagne flute. The skinny flute, designed to accentuate the view of the bubbles as they rise up in the glass, has definitely dominated the glassware served for the past 30 years or so. These glasses make it lot easier to serve, you can fit many more on a tray than the coupe, and you are less likely to spill your drink. But, you may be surprised to discover, this is not the best glass to be using.

If you visit the Champagne region, you will find that many restaurants will serve champagne in a white wine glass. This may seem strange at first, but a good exercise to try at home is; pour half of your glass of bubbles into a skinny flute, and half into a white wine glass. Taste a few sips from the skinny flute, then try it from the wine glass. Take time to explore the aromas and taste. Most likely, it will taste like a different wine. This is because to truly appreciate a good wine, you need to take in all of the senses: the look, the aroma, the feel and taste.

The skinny flute presents champagne as one-dimensional, because you can’t get your nose into the glass to get the full wine experience. It also concentrates the bubbles and in trying to get the aromas you’ll often get a nose full of fizz and acidity instead.

This presented a challenge, as part of the fun of having bubbles is the special glass. Onto the scene comes a wider tulip or egg-shaped flute; a sort of hybrid of flute and standard white wine glass with a wider middle that tapers at the top. This allows for a wine lover’s ability to appreciate the full range of aromas. This is still a beautiful stylish glass, but let’s you take in the full appreciation of the wine.

I’ve read that the tulip style has origins from the Sommelier at Les Crayères restaurant in Reims, who didn’t like serving top champagnes in a flute. He is said to have worked with glass makers Lehmann glass to develop an elongated glass, rounded in the middle and tapering towards the top wider flute.

This as a superior shape has been confirmed by science, with Gérard Liger-Belair, a physicist at the University of Reims, stating that ‘the spherical shape of the glass, which also encourages vertical movement, respects the role of the mousse’. 

The RIEDEL brand known for innovation and design, and an industry leader in the introduction of grape-varietal-specific stemware in the 1980s, has also collaborated with some of the top champagne houses to create bespoke glasses tailored to their specific wines.

Each bubble carries aroma to the surface. The RIEDEL glasses are designed to provide a ‘progressive extension along the curve of the glass which favours first a gradual then a stretched ascent, allowing each bubble to burst at the widest point to free its flavours and express aromatic subtlety’.

A champagne glass should be clear, not coloured or engraved with fancy design, so we can assess the wine’s clarity, colour and bubbles.

I’ve also noticed a recent trend of stemless glassware. Whilst this might be a nice casual style for other wines, it is a no for bubbles. We hold the glass by the stem, so that the heat from our hands doesn’t warm the wine, and greasy fingerprints don’t obscure the wine’s colour. Perhaps I need therapy, but I must admit I have to look away when I see friends holding their glass by the bowl and not the stem, as I can’t bear to watch. Note to my family coming over for Christmas!

When I present tips on how to taste bubbles at our events, I always remind people to hold their glass by the stem, and also that there is no need to swirl the glass (to get air and aroma). When tasting bubbles, the bubbles will bring out the aromas out for you.

Some wine writers are asking ‘Should champagne flutes be outlawed?’ I think this might be a bit extreme, but I do agree, my preference for good quality bubbles is to serve them in a wider flute or white wine glass.

Most important though, is the joy of sharing bubbles with friends and family. Find the best glass you can, raise it and say cheers!

Natalie Pickett is the Founder of The Bubbles Review which is for people who like champagne and other bubbles, written by people who have a love of all things sparkling! At The Bubbles Review, we like to debunk some myths, make the art of drinking champagne accessible, explore bubbly regions and champagne bars, and provide events for you to join us and indulge.

You may also like these blogs:

We are very excited to have RIEDEL glassware as our giveaway partner this December, and our glassware provider for The Bubbles Festival. 

Our subscriber giveaway which is the Extreme Rosé / Champagne glass twin pack (RRP$59.95) will be drawn on 13 December 2019.

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The Extreme Rosé/Champagne Glass is perfect for developing and displaying champagne’s complex characteristics. This glass allows the wide range of aromatics to unfold thanks to its egg-shaped design, with the larger rim diameter enabling them to be released in a way which is not achieved with a narrow glass.

Like to keep following us? Sign up to The Bubbles Review list and you will get first look at our events, (including exclusive subscriber pre-sales), and you will be included in our Subscriber prize draws. The monthly giveaway is usually a chance to win a lovely champagne or sparkling gift. Join our list!

Why is champagne so expensive?

Or is it? It definitely feels luxurious as you are sipping it.

Let’s compare, a 2015 bottle of Grange is currently selling for around $900. It is not ready to drink yet, Penfolds suggest the recommended cellaring is 2022 – 2050.

For champagne, a bottle of 2008 (a very good year in Champagne) Dom Perignon is currently around $250, Cristal 2009 (also a good year) $390, Moët et Chandon 2009 is on sale for $90. To buy the equivalents from Burgundy or Bordeaux you would need to pay about 20 times this. For an Australian comparison, the 2008 Arras Grand Vintage, this highly awarded Tasmanian sparkling has won multiple awards including Gold at the Champagne and Sparkling World Championships, has a recommended retail price of $84. It has been aged for more than 7 years before release and it is ready to drink now.

In champagne and sparkling descriptions, you’ll see, aged on lees for a certain amount of years or how many years of tirage.  This is describing how many years the wine has been in the second fermentation stage (which also creates the bubbles), stored in bottles in the winemaker’s cellar. 

In Champagne a Non-Vintage must be aged for a minimum of 15 months and a Vintage must be aged for a minimum of 3 years, although many houses will age their wines much longer than this at around 3 years for NV and 5-10 years for a Vintage champagne.

That is a huge amount of capital sitting in the cellar, waiting for a return on investment.  Forget bank vaults of gold, the underground cellars of Epernay and Reims are holding millions of dollars of liquid gold. Champagne currently has around 1.5 billion bottles stockpiled, which will remain in waiting for an average of more than 4.5 years. It is an investment in quality and delivery of a ready to drink product. Aside from fortified wines, champagne is the only prestige wine that is sold already matured to its prime, so there is no need to cellar it (although you might decide to with a good vintage), it is ready to drink straight away.

Champagne production is labour intensive. According to the rules governing production, all grapes must be picked by hand and there is a limit on the amount of yield per harvest. This contributes to Champagne being the highest grape price in the world, with prices increasing around 60% over the last 15 years. By comparison the price of champagne has risen less than 15% in a decade, and with greater choice and volume coming to the Australian market there are some absolute bargains to be found.

To create champagne the production process is complex, and more time-consuming than any other in the wine world. A sparkling wine made in the traditional method is similar, yes there are cheaper methods for creating bubbles, either second fermentation in tanks, or by just adding Co2 to make bubbles in a very cheap wine.  But, if we are comparing apples with apples, or should I say grapes with grapes, compared to other wine styles, champagne and traditional method (methode traditionelle) sparklings are the best value wines around.

When you add in the skills and passion of the wine making team, I like to think about drinking champagne as similar to admiring a wonderful piece of art. 

Surely it is the closest thing on earth to liquid gold, at a fraction of the price! Remember this next time you are sipping bubbles.

Cheers!

Like to join us in Champagne to tour the cellars in Epernay and Reims? See our Events and Tours page.

Natalie Pickett is the Founder of The Bubbles Review which is for people who like champagne and other bubbles, written by people who have a love of all things sparkling! At The Bubbles Review, we like to debunk some myths, make the art of drinking champagne accessible, explore bubbly regions and champagne bars, and provide events for you to join us and indulge.

You may also like these blogs:

Like to keep following us? Sign up to The Bubbles Review list and you will get first look at our events, (including exclusive subscriber pre-sales), and you will be included in our Subscriber prize draws. The monthly giveaway is usually a chance to win a lovely champagne or sparkling gift. Join our list!

Do you know the way to make rosé?

Who doesn’t love a pink bubbly?! Let’s not mistake it for a sweet drink (sparkling Moscato), a sparkling or champagne rosé has a rich flavour profile with a crisp dry finish that is a perfect to drink as a food match at this time of year, or anytime really!

Australia makes the top 10 in the world for champagne imports, although we are the second lowest for imports of rosé champagne, but this trend is changing, 2018 saw the highest imports in a decade.

For every 28 bottles of champagne popped in Australia, one of them is pink. Across all markets, it’s one in ten, and the USA set a new record last year of more than one in six.  

Possibly a case of supply vs demand, as there is less choice when looking for a rosé champagne. But this is definitely shifting, I’ve noticed more and more options and there are also some great Aussie sparkling rosés available. I am happy to do my bit for increasing demand!

The method to create the bubbles in a sparkling rosé is the same as white sparkling, but how the colour is achieved may differ between blending (assemblage) and saignée. 

Rosé d’assemblage is a blending method, the most common way of making rosé, in which a tiny quantity (around 15%) of Pinot Noir or Pinot Meunier made as table wine is added to the white base wine.

The Veuve Clicquot was the first to use this method. Breaking away from the tradition of adding an elderberry-based preparation to create rosé champagne. Madame Clicquot created the first “rosé d’assemblage” by blending some of her red wines from vineyards in Bouzy with her champagne to create the very first blend of rosé champagne.

To make champagne, only certain grapes can be used, there are seven grapes on the list, however there are three that are most commonly used, which are Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Pinot Meunier. Only one of the three, is actually a white grape.

(See the full list of champagne grapes here:  FAQ)

As described in our blog: Come quickly I am drinking the stars.

It is the skin that creates the red colour of a red wine, to create a white sparkling wine from red grapes, this is done by gentle pressing with very limited skin contact. In different champagne styles you will find a 100% Pinot Noir, which is known in Champagne as a Blanc de Noirs meaning white from black.  So, although it is 100% Pinot Noir it will still be a white champagne, as it is not pressed on skins.

But, using the second method of creating a Sparkling rosé, the saignée method, the pink of a rosé can be achieved by using the skins. Saignée literally means bleeding in French and with this technique the rosé is made by ‘bleeding’ off juice from just-crushed pinot noir or meunier grapes after a short maceration (soaking) on skins prior to fermentation.

This minimal maceration allows the must (still wine) to develop stronger aromas and flavour profiles while deepening the colour.  

In sparklings from other parts of the world you might find a sparkling Pinot Noir or other grape varieties to create a sparkling red wine. But you will never find a sparkling red in Champagne, as it is against the rules to make a sparkling red in Champagne.  A pink as a rosé is okay, and there is a still red wine, the Coteaux Champenois which is allowed, but never a red champagne.

In Australia, a Sparkling Shiraz is loved by many. Sparkling red wines begin their life in the same way as still reds, fermented on skins to extract colour, flavour and tannin. The finest are then privileged to méthode traditionnelle, although transfer, charmat or carbonation methods can also be used.

Our giveaways over the past few months have featured some lovely sparkling rosés and champagne, keep an eye out, we may even have some sparkling red in the pipeline! A sparkling rosé with dumplings is a heavenly match.  I love the change of seasons, the cooler nights, which go so well with hearty food, casseroles and rich flavoured meals. Perhaps a long weekend lunch or evening meal, with a sparkling rosé or red might be the perfect bubbly match for your Autumn and Winter dining.

You may also like these blogs that talk about champagne techniques and tasting:

Why that is not a glass of Champagne that you are drinking!

Minerality in Champagne

Is champagne better than sex?

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Natalie Pickett is the Founder of The Bubbles Review which is for people who like champagne and other bubbles, written by people who have a love of all things sparkling! At The Bubbles Review, we like to debunk some myths, make the art of drinking champagne accessible, explore bubbly regions and champagne bars, and provide events for you to join us and indulge.

Like to keep following us? Sign up to The Bubbles Review list and you will get first look at our events, (including exclusive subscriber pre-sales), and you will be included in our Subscriber prize draws. The monthly giveaway is usually a chance to win a lovely champagne or sparkling gift. Join our list!

Come quickly. I am drinking the stars!

If you have followed me for a while, or have come to one of my events, you would know that I think that champagne and sparkling wine is one of the joys of life and something to be shared.

Dom Perignon is one of my heroes for discovering the art of the second fermentation to make the bubbles in champagne and sparkling wine.  His famous quote when he wanted to share this discovery “Come quickly! I am drinking the stars!” resonated with me.

So, imagine my disappointment when my research in recent years revealed that he wasn’t the inventor of the bubbles.  In fact, Dom Pérignon was originally charged by his superiors at the Abbey of Hautvillers to get rid of the bubbles, since the pressure in the bottles caused many of them to burst in the cellar.  The bubbles had been occurring by accident mainly due to fluctuations in temperature, which produced a re-fermentation and this bubbly wine was considered to be faulty and given the nickname of the Devils Wine. Quelle horreur!

It seems that it was an English chemist. Well, scientist and physician – Christopher Merret who documented the addition of sugar to a finished wine to create a second fermentation, six years before Dom Pérignon had arrived in the Abbey of Hautvillers. Merret presented a paper at the Royal Society in 1662, in which he detailed what is now called méthode champenoise or methode traditionelle.

So, he may not have been the first, but let’s not let the facts of history get in the way of a good story. Along with the romance of so many stories that I love about Champagne, I am happy to still give credit to Dom Perignon for his discovery that it was not in fact the wine of the devil, but perhaps in my opinion at least, and I am sure that many of you concur – that it was a gift from the angels.  Dom Perignon is however credited with unearthing many other great techniques in the making of champagne that are still used today.

He created the technique that allows winemakers to produce a successful white wine from red grapes. This, say winemakers, was a major step toward the development of modern champagne.

At our event The Bubbles Festival, which we held a couple of times in Melbourne last year (dates for 2020 now released), I was surprised to discover that there were many people who did not realise that red grapes were used in making champagne.  Although we hear the names of the grapes in the blends, it doesn’t always register, and our eyes deceive us when we are surely drinking a white wine!

The method is using red grapes with gentle pressing that separates the juice without spending time on the skins.  Think about the last time you peeled a red grape (or if you are lucky had someone peel it for you) the fruit inside is not red, the red colour comes from the skins. After harvest the grapes are pressed several times and different juices or cuvees are obtained at these different stages of pressing.  In champagne, only the first (as a prestige cuvee) pressing is used and this is the same for most sparkling wines, although sometimes the second pressings can be used.  There are several pressings of the same grapes, other pressings after that may be used for table wines and fortified wines or liqueurs.

For champagne only certain grapes can be used, there are seven grapes on the list, however there are three that are most commonly used, which are Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Pinot Meunier. Only one of the three is actually a white grape.

(See the full list of champagne grapes here:  FAQ)

There is only Cru ratings for Pinot Noir and Chardonnay and they are considered the King and Queen of a champagne blend, the Pinot Meunier is used more for balance and it also helps the wine mature with less age.  I have however noticed a movement in champagne recently championing the Meunier grape (as well as some of the other grapes on the list) and I have tasted a few champagnes and also a still wine made from 100% Pinot Meunier.

Blending is led by the winemaker but it is rarely the work of a single person, usually reflecting the combined talents of a team of professionals or family members. It does however rely on the sensory experience and memory of each individual team member.

When I met Laurent Fresnet, who is the chief winemaker at Champagne Henriot and has won the prestigious award of Sparkling Winemaker of the Year more than once, he told me that blending starts in the vineyard with the fruit. “I stand in the vineyard, tasting and smelling the fruit, this is where the blend starts”.

Marrying different grape varieties brings contrasting and complementary qualities to champagne wines.

You will find some champagnes that have the three grapes in the blend, some blends may have only the two grapes of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, but there is usually a particular focus, either Chardonnay led or Pinot Noir led, eg. 60% Pinot Noir, 40% Chardonnay, or vice versa, often with a smaller amount of Pinot Meunier used for balance. The particular style will usually depend on the champagne house and the winemaker.  Some houses may have quite a variety in their range.

You will also find some champagnes that use 100% of the one grape variety.  These are usually a 100% Chardonnay which is known as a Blanc de Blancs which literally means a white from whites. Or, you will also find a 100% Pinot Noir which is known in Champagne as a Blanc de Noirs meaning white from black.  So, although it is 100% Pinot Noir it will still be a white champagne. In sparklings from other parts of the world you might find a sparkling Pinot Noir which is a red sparkling, but you will never find that in Champagne, as it is against the rules to make a sparkling red in Champagne, a pink as a rose is okay, but never a red champagne.

The blending also involves blending wines from different years (for non vintage) and from different Crus meaning different parcels of grapes from different vineyards.

By combining wines with different sensory characteristics (colours, aromas, flavours) the Champagne maker looks to create a wine that is carefully balanced with a harmony of notes and flavours.  After blending, other techniques influence the profile of the wine which include, ageing on lees, and dosage – the final stage before release.

Champagne has such diversity, try different styles, explore different blends, follow the ones that you like, and be open to new discoveries.

Our February giveaway has been a bottle of Blanc de Noirs from Champagne Philippe Fourrier, from the Côte des Bar where the climate and clay soils suits the Pinot Noir grape perfectly.

All due respect to Dom Perignon for this legacy which seems devinely inspired. Drinking the stars it certainly is!

Cheers

You may also like these blogs that talk about champagne techniques and tasting:

Why that is not a glass of Champagne that you are drinking!

Minerality in Champagne

Is champagne better than sex?

Natalie Pickett is the Founder of The Bubbles Review which is for people who like champagne and other bubbles, written by people who have a love of all things sparkling! At The Bubbles Review, we like to debunk some myths, make the art of drinking champagne accessible, explore bubbly regions and champagne bars, and provide events for you to join us and indulge.

Like to keep following us? Sign up to The Bubbles Review list and you will be included in our Subscriber prize draws. The giveaway is usually a chance to win a lovely champagne or sparkling gift. This month was the Blanc de Noirs from Champagne Philippe Fourrier.  Join our list!

Aussies are Top 10 for drinkers of Champagne!

Us Aussies, we always like to hear how we compare with the rest of the world.  To discover we are Top 10 in something, is always a great thrill.

So as a lover of champagne, imagine my excitement to see that Australia makes the Top 10 in champagne consumption in the world. Yay us!

Australia confidently holds its place as the fifth largest champagne market per head of population, and the only country outside Europe in the top seven overall, exceeded only by France, Belgium, Switzerland and the UK.

I recently interviewed Tyson Stelzer, who is a multi award winning wine writer and presenter, and author of the award winning The Champagne Guide.  I asked him what changes he had seen with champagne in Australia to which he responded that “Australia is now the fastest growing champagne market on earth”.

A search on statistics and I confirm that, yes, that’s true. No country outside Europe drinks more champagne per person than Australia. The average Australian now drinks twice as much champagne as the average German, three times as much as the Italians, almost four times as much as the Japanese and close to five times as much as Americans. It’s remarkable that such a tremendous volume of champagne would ship all the way to our land downunder!

The growth of champagne in Australia in the past decade has been phenomenal, we are drinking more than three times as much as we were seven or eight years ago, says Tyson.  Over this same period, champagne sales globally have grown less than 17%. This means little Australia alone takes the credit for more than one-seventh of champagne’s global growth over the past fifteen years!

Does this mean that our taste in bubbles is becoming better?  I guess the short answer is yes, but we can improve our palate even more.  I asked Tyson for some insight on Australia’s champagne drinking habits and some tips on how to discover more.  Before I give you the link to the video, a couple of terms that are mentioned that you might not be aware of:

Grower champagnes – produced by the same estate that owns the vineyards from which the grapes come.  Many of these are family owned vineyards.  In Australia we would most commonly refer to the equivalent as a boutique winery.  Grower Champagnes tend to be more terroir focused, as they are often sourced from single or closely located vineyards around a village, in comparison to some of the large Champagne Houses, who source grapes from many different vineyards to blend to create their signature house style.

Co-operative champagnes –  is as the name suggests a group co-operating together.  This could be a grower’s co-op that pools their resources and produces wine under a single brand, or a union of growers who share their resources and collectively market their own brands.

On my recent trip to Champagne, I visited Champagne Collet home to the oldest Cooperative in Champagne ‘The COGEVI’. They have created this short-film which recounts the history through the ages right from its creation during the Revolution Champenoise in 1911.  It depicts the struggle and up-rising of the Champagne winegrowers for the protection of their terroir and to gain recognition of a united Champagne appellation.  It really helped me to understand the reasons behind the fierce protection of the Champagne name and gave insight into some of the struggles for growers and the advantages of the co-operatives.  Highly recommend it, you can view this short film (6mins) here The roots of COGEVI (note it is set to be viewed for 18 years and older due to the discussion of alcohol, which is why it will tell you it is restricted).

To see my chat with Tyson Stelzer as we discuss the champagne market in Australia, including tips on how to discover more – click here Natalie from The Bubbles Review chats with Tyson Stelzer about champagne in Australia.

Cheers!

Natalie


 

Tyson Stelzer is a multi-award winning wine writer, television presenter and international speaker. He was named The International Wine & Spirit Communicator of the Year, The Australian Wine Communicator of the Year and The International Champagne Writer of the Year. He is the author and publisher of sixteen wine books, a regular contributor to fifteen magazines, a frequent judge and chair at Australian wine shows and has presented at wine events in nine countries. www.TysonStelzer.com is your link to his wine recommendations, and book sales.

Natalie Pickett is the Founder of The Bubbles Review which is for people who like champagne and other bubbles, written by people who have a love of all things sparkling! At The Bubbles Review, we like to debunk some myths, make the art of drinking champagne accessible, explore bubbly regions and champagne bars, and provide events for you to join us and indulge.

Like to keep following us? Sign up to The Bubbles Review list and you will be included in our monthly Subscriber offers and prize draws. The giveaways are a bubbly giveaway.  In November it is a chance to win a signed copy of Tyson’s The Champagne Guide.  Join our list!

Celebrating Madame Pommery

Meeting the Pommery Australia Ambassador at a recent Champagne tasting, I discovered a few things and a few misconceptions. I had thought that Madame Pommery and Louise Pommery were one in the same.  As it turns out, Louise was the daughter of Madame Pommery – Jeanne Alexandrine Louise Mélin, who was born in March 18, 1819 in Ardennes and married Alexandre Pommery in 1839.

It was upon Alexandre’s death in 1858, that Madame Pommery, assumed full control of the business. One of her first decisions was to sell off the struggling wool business, and concentrate on the Champagne wine business.

“… I decided there and then to carry on the business in my husband’s stead …”

With those words, the young widow set out in 1858 to conquer national and international markets –overturning, without any qualms whatsoever, one or two corporate management rules. She was a true trailblazer, laying down the basis for any luxury product promotion; style, brand, communication and public relations on the estates. She invented the image of the Pommery brand.

She purchased 120 limestone and chalk pits, so-called crayères, carved underneath the city of Reims by Roman soldiers during their occupation of Gaul. When years later she opened up ‘what was the biggest building site of the century in Reims’ and the metamorphosis of the chalk-pits into caves. These unique cellars allowed her to store and age thousands of bottles in a temperature-controlled environment (a constant 10°C). Many other Champagne houses would later follow suit.

As much as I love champagne, I also love reading and hearing about the entrepreneurial spirit of the people of Champagne, and especially the fabulous women of Champagne. As you can imagine, at the time it was very unusual for a woman to be the head of a business, let alone one to create these amazing success stories. Madame Pommery was another one of the great Veuves (French for widow), to be risk takers, leaders and excel in their field.

Long before we heard about corporate responsibility, Madame Pommery also put her fortune to “good use”.  A businesswoman she certainly was, but also a compassionate woman; she set up the first “pension fund” and “social security” for her workforce, and it was to her that the town of Reims owed its orphanage and nursery fund. That was how she invented the company’s ethical charter.  She supported artists, especially those of her town. She bequeathed artefacts to the Reims Museum as well as the donation of Millet’s The Gleaners to the French state. Madame Pommery felt that “… everything you can reap from working is a saintly thing” – inventing, long before it became the fashion, corporate sponsorship.

Her entrepreneurial journey was surely not planned, but began when of fragile health and with a fortune made in wool, Monsieur Pommery decided to retire in 1856 so that he could enjoy a calm life. With their son Louis grown up, the couple did not have any goals other than a well deserved holiday.  That’s when, unexpectedly at the age of 38, Madame Pommery became pregnant.  This happy miracle more than 17 years after their first child was going to change the course of their lives forever.  To ensure the financial security of his family, Monsieur Pommery decided to start work again. While the wool industry was declining, the champagne business was expanding. However when Monsieur Pommery died in 1858, their daughter Louise had not even had her first birthday.

She was not only a widow, but a single mum with a son and a young baby. Through this, Madame Pommery gathered the strength to create this beautiful champagne story. Today, the Pommery brand states that it is with pride, passion and emotion that they try to reproduce Madame Pommery’s miracle – the birth of their daughter, under the sweet name of Louise. This is the Pommery cuvee de Prestige, the Cuvée Louise.

“I wanted this Estate to be like an open book, facing the world and time. Leave your imprint on it, as I have left mine, for posterity.

And let it be worthy of respect, I have wanted these walls to express each day for this Champagne, a wine that has now become a shared part of our souls and that carries the memory of our art forever.”

It was ten years later, in July 1868, that Madame Pommery opened up “what was the biggest building site of the century in Reims”. Belgian and French miners dug out eighteen kilometres of interconnected rib or barrel vault galleries to create the cellars – a vast and entire underground town. With its squares formed by the old walls, Gustave Navlet was commissioned to sculpt huge bas reliefs as a celebration to wine. They still accentuate the beauty of the galleries. One monumental 116-step staircase connects this underground world to the outside world.

Madame Pommery instituted a tradition of giving the cellar galleries the names of great foreign cities as they conquered them commercially. Above ground, the vast estate that was created is said to be in English gothic style in tribute to the market that favoured the Pommery brand that led to their success.

As she continued to evolve the business, Madame Pommery saw an opportunity when she instructed her Cellarmaster to create a new style of champagne. This would become invention of Brut champagne in 1874.

“Damas, what we need is a wine that is as dry as possible but is not harsh … has to be mellow, velvety and well blended … make sure that it is subtle more than anything else.”

This was a bold request, as at the time the prevailing taste was for very sweet champagne (up to 300gms of sugar per litre, compared with now up to 12 gms per litre), which was favoured by the Russian market.  This brut champagne was eventually created by Damas’s successor, Victor Lambert.  The first brut in the history of champagne was the Pommery Nature 1874. It was a revolution. You can imagine it would have been quite a shock to the palate.  When I did a search for the meaning of the word ‘Brut’, I discovered that it comes from the word Brutal, which a low/no dosage champagne must have seemed to the sweet palate of the time.

It did, however, prove to be a winner. The English market in particular preferred this dry style. Pommery was very popular with the English establishment. A book on the Champagne trade written about thirty years later, records that the 1874 vintage brut fetched the highest prices ever paid in London for Champagne.

One example I read about Madame Pommery’s ingenuity with her PR, was the story of when in the Autumn of 1888 there were nasty rumours being spread about Pommery. To achieve the maturity required to produce her Brut, once again they had delayed the grape harvest, whilst still having to make substantial commitments to the wine growers. Her competitors stirred up worries about her ability to make payments.  Ever the fighter, she launched a “media offensive” that put an end to the rumours. Hearing that the painting The Gleaners, depicting peasant life in rural France, by French artist Millet, was being sold at auction, and that there was interest in America to acquire the painting, she set about her campaign. The French public were not happy about these paintings being sold off abroad, as had previously occurred with works by Millet.  The order was put out to acquire the picture at any cost, and it sold for 300,000 gold francs to an anonymous buyer. Under great suspense, it was not until four days later it was announced that Madame Pommery had indeed been the buyer, and that she would donate it to the state of France. The painting was originally gifted to the Louvre, and today it is included in the works of art at the Musée Dorsay.

After Madame Pommery died in 1890, her daughter Louise ran the House with husband Prince Guy de Polignac. The Polignac family continued to run the business until 1979.  The brand continues the ethos of the Pommery family traditions today. The connection with art continues through support for artists and exhibitions both local and worldwide, and also many fun, contemporary branding through the Pommery POP collections.

Today, the Pommery Estate is owned by Belgian entrepreneur Paul-Francois Vranken and holds more than 20 million bottles in the 18km of underground chalkpit caves. More than 120,000 people from around the globe visit this magnificent property in the heart of the city of Reims annually and equally enjoy the exhibition of contemporary art set up in the caves.

As I often say, I think that Champagne is one of the joys of life, and Madame Pommery described her champagne in two words;

“Joyful and Lightness”.

Now that is something to be celebrated.

Cheers!

We would like to acknowledge the assistance of Pommery Australia in providing information (and this months giveaway) to create this story.

Would you like to join us in Champagne? As part of our Events and Tours program, we will offering a small group tour, with visits to some of the great champagne marques like the Pommery Estate, our program includes exclusive champagne-matched lunches and dinners, and private tastings.  Spaces are limited.  If you would like to register your interest to join us, you can do so here Register your interest to join us in Champagne.

Natalie Pickett is the Founder of The Bubbles Review which is for people who like champagne and other bubbles, written by people who have a love of all things sparkling! At The Bubbles Review, we like to debunk some myths, make the art of drinking champagne accessible, explore bubbly regions and champagne bars, and provide events for you to join us and indulge.

Like to keep following us? Sign up to The Bubbles Review list and you will be included in our monthly Subscriber prize draw. The monthly giveaway is usually a chance to win a lovely champagne or sparkling gift. This month was a gift boxed bottle of Pommery Brut Royal.  Join our list!

Gotta love a Festival!

If you’ve read some of my previous blogs, you’ll know that I talk a lot about making new discoveries when it comes to Sparkling Wine and Champagne. Yes, we all have our favourites, but I love being out and about, exploring, meeting new people, hearing their stories, new sensory discoveries of sights and sounds, and, of course, taste, mouthfeel, aroma, and all of the senses that go along with tasting sparkling wine.

Visiting regions and Cellar Doors is a great way to do this, but it also has its limitations. Making the time to be away, planning to get the most out of your day, and then who will be the designated driver, as one full tasting experience can put you over the limit. So whilst enjoyable and highly recommended, how do you get the tasting experience all in one place?

Step into the festival! The origin of the word comes from the word Feast, and in other Latin-based languages means party. And feast and party it is. I love a good festival – a chance to be out and about and meet people, explore and make new discoveries, all in one compact space, before taking public transport/taxi/Uber home.

In Melbourne, which is arguably Australia’s home of Food and Wine experiences, we are very fortunate to have a festival to celebrate just that – The Melbourne Food and Wine Festival (MFWF) opening at the end of this month and running 31 March – 9 April. I was so excited to see that there are many bubbly-focussed events, as well as some of the bigger events like the City Cellar Door as part of the River Graze (held on the first weekend), which will see tasting tables along the banks of the Yarra River. Entry to this family-friendly event is free, and the $10 Festival glass allows you to participate and enjoy wines by the glass or bottle. Visit www.MFWF.com.au for more information.

I am very pleased to have been invited to attend a few of the Bubbly Events at MFWF as accredited media. I will be at the City Cellar Door on the opening night, and here is where I will be for other events. Feel free to find me and say hello. Here are details with links:

Fed in French. Fri 31 March – Sun 2 April this is also part of the FREE River Graze Fed event, the French will take over Federation Square with traditional dishes, fine wines and sweets to treat your Francophile taste buds. The River Terrace will be full of marquees showcasing fare from all regions of France. The crème de la crème will be LE BAR, featuring a selection of French wines, beer and champagne right next to French bistro, Bon Ap’ – popping up for the very first time away from their usual Fitzroy address.  http://www.melbournefoodandwine.com.au/program/fed-in-french-6697

Champagne Lunch with Bollinger – Sun 2 April. I do love a Champagne matched meal. Even its name conjures up good times and bubbles on the tongue. So raise your flute to make a toast to everything that makes Victorian produce great, especially when matched with one of our favourite champagnes. Gather with friends at the 2016 Hotel Bar of the Year to enjoy an indulgent Sunday afternoon of five exquisite courses matched with Bollinger. http://www.melbournefoodandwine.com.au/program/champagne-lunch-with-bollinger-6611

Sweet and Savoury Champagne Party – Tuesday 4 April.  I am so excited about this event. Om Nom, which is the dessert bar at The Adelphi that we included in our recent Melbourne Bubbly Evening (see our photos on our Facebook and Instagram pages), has this great event to surprise your tastebuds – and the masters of dessert are experimenting as never before. Join chefs Jo Ward and Darren Jones on a fun canapé ride at a stand-up champagne party, with delightful sweet elements entering the savoury dishes, and clever savoury twists appearing in desserts. Think Balsamic Fairy Floss, Venison with White Chocolate and Truffle Mousse, and dishes such as Squid Bubbletea and Cowramelo! Match this with Laurent Perrier, Champagne Besserat, and Louis Roederer as the champagne sponsors, providing free flowing champagne all night. Very exciting! Here is the link

http://www.melbournefoodandwine.com.au/program/a-savoury-sweet-sweet-savoury-champagne-party-6596

Best of Victoria High Tea. Two sessions daily between Saturday 1 April to Sunday 9 April. This event focuses on the extraordinary native produce Victoria has to offer. Sample bite-sized delicacies including native Mt Martha oysters, Port Phillip scallops, macadamia tartlets and wattle seed lamingtons. All matched with a lovely selection of Victorian Sparkling Wines. I will be there on Wednesday 5 April, 3–5.30pm. http://www.melbournefoodandwine.com.au/program/best-of-victoria-high-tea-6450

If you are not from Melbourne, maybe this is the perfect time to visit?! There are lots of regional events for MFWF too, so take a look at the website and plan your program.

Also keep an eye out throughout the year for wine festivals in your area or in regions that you would like to visit.  Book a tour, hire a vehicle with your designated driver, plan an overnight stay, or draw straws to see who gets to be Captain.

And on that note, The Bubbles Review has our own festival happening in Melbourne 28 April – 30 April. We are very excited to introduce the inaugural The Bubbles Festival – a celebration of Sparkling Wine.  See the link to our events page here.  https://thebubblesreview.com/eventstours/

We hope to bring The Bubbles Festival to other states in the future.

It is definitely Feast, Festive, Fiesta, Festival time. Here’s cheers to that!

Natalie Pickett is the Founder of The Bubbles Review which is for people who like champagne and other bubbles, written by people who have a love of all things sparkling! At The Bubbles Review, we like to debunk some myths, make the art of drinking champagne accessible, explore bubbly regions and champagne bars, and provide events for you to join us and indulge.

Like to keep following us? Sign up to The Bubbles Review list and you will be included in our monthly Subscriber prize draw. The monthly giveaway is usually a chance to win a lovely champagne or sparkling gift. Join our list!

 

 

Is champagne better than sex?

I do believe that champagne is one of the joys of life. With Valentine’s Day upon us, a day widely recognised as a day for love and devotion, I thought I would share some thoughts on my devotion to champagne.

So yes, my headline is a little controversial, and you don’t really think I am going to answer that, do you? I will, though, explain why I think that the enjoyment of good champagne is very similar to the enjoyment of good sex. You know, the kind that stays with you, you find yourself drifting off into a day dream in the days afterwards, smiling for no apparent reason, remembering and reliving some of the most sensual moments.

Champagne is a drink that captures all of the senses and creates those moments that pleasantly drift back to you. Take a moment to savour the memories to bring joy to your everyday.

Visual – I like the look of champagne. What is not to like? A beautifully shaped bottle that is almost like a piece of art, which is then uncorked in a sense of ceremony and poured into an elegant glass.

After which an endless flow of very delicate bubbles continue with effervescence waiting for your drinking pleasure. So yes, I like what I see and I would like to take it further.

Smell – I always take time to take in the aroma, the scent or ‘nose’ of the wine. When you smell a wine, you prepare your mind for what you are about to taste. Put your nose at the top of the glass, breathe in slowly and deeply. Guessing at flavours before I taste, this could arguably be considered the foreplay, the playful moments that add to the enjoyment, before we go onto taste.

Touch – To discuss touch, let’s talk about ‘mouth feel’ (yes it is a proper champagne term), the description of how the wine feels in your mouth, and with champagne this is a kaleidoscope of experiences. Take a moment to let that feeling of discovery happen. You have the bead of the bubbles, they help the wine to dance on your tongue, the creaminess and the effervescence you’ll feel as you press down a little, a little explosion in your mouth. The minerality that adds to the where the wine sits in your mouth and continues to bring a discovery of flavours as you taste from the front to the back of the palate. It really is joyful.

Taste – Let’s not forget taste. As you are taking a moment to enjoy the sensuous mouth feel, let your mind explore the taste. What flavours can you detect? Are they the same as you thought they were going to be when you discovered the scent, or are there a few surprises in there? Enjoy the taste as it hits different parts of your palate. Now swallow. Gorgeous.

Even on busy tasting days I always swallow. The spittoon is rarely used, which probably means that I am in love every time that I drink champagne.

Feel – How do I feel when I drink champagne? Joyful is the best description I can think of. As a warm glow takes over the body, I savour the moments of delight, the feeling of luxury, richness, and the feeling of appreciation; I feel truly blessed and enriched from the experience. The pleasure that it brings, the delicate moments of joy, and for days afterwards I find myself smiling for no apparent reason remembering all of the delightful details, the smell, the taste, the mouth feel.

Sigh! Well, I hope that this was as good for you as it was for me! Wishing everyone a happy Valentine’s Day. Whether you are enjoying a glass of bubbly alone or with a loved one, take time to savour all of the precious moments and remember – life is too short not to drink good champagne!

Cheers!

Natalie Pickett is the Founder of The Bubbles Review which is for people who like champagne and other bubbles, written by people who have a love of all things sparkling! At The Bubbles Review, we like to debunk some myths, make the art of drinking champagne accessible, explore bubbly regions and champagne bars, and provide events for you to join us and indulge.

Like to keep following us? Sign up to The Bubbles Review list and you will be included in our monthly Subscriber prize draw. The monthly giveaway is usually a chance to win a lovely champagne or sparkling gift. Join our list!

 

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