Reims, the Fourth of July 2020
Independence Day, the USA’s national holiday, commemorates the Declaration of Independence, signed on July 4th 1776. And it’s a good time to take a look at an old Chanoine Frères label kept in the House’s archives. What’s the meaning of the US flag, the Stars and Stripes, and the words “goût américain” (“American taste”) that are on it?
Champagne conquers the world
The label and neck band probably date from the late 19th or early 20th century. At that time, and going back to 1850, champagne exports were very successful. Foreign markets had become significantly larger — three to four times larger, depending on the year — than the domestic market in France.
Champagne merchants were taking full advantage of the economic expansion and the revolution in transportation — the advent of railroads and steamships — to develop sales all around the world. It took only eight days for a steamer to travel from Le Havre to New York! And in such a dynamic context, champagne had become a universal symbol of France’s success and French chic.
The cousins Eugène and Louis-Amand Chanoine — the sons, respectively, of Jean-Baptiste and Jean-Louis Chanoine, whose successors they became in 1855 — shipped the best of their production to the main markets of the time: England, Belgium, the USA, Germany, and Russia.
The American taste: a question of dosage
Being an export-oriented luxury product, champagne is closely attuned to the preferences of its various clienteles abroad. To meet the variety of demands, the merchants in Champagne adapted their wines. In the late 19th century there was an English style, a French style, a German style, a Russian style, and an American style.
These different tastes are determined by the liqueur and the amount of sugar added to the champagne at the stage called dosage, just after disgorgement and just before corking. The differences are very pronounced from one market to another.
The Russians preferred a doux champagne, high in sugar, which they drank frappé, or iced. In the Gay Nineties French and German champagne lovers liked champagnes with dosages of between 15 and 25 grams of sugar per liter.
The British, on the other hand, preferred a champagne with very little sugar, close to what we call brut or even extra brut today. The American style, at between 10 and 15 g/l, was between the English and French styles. And that is why the House of Chanoine Frères developed a cuvée specifically aimed at its North American clientele... with a label Americans could proudly hail.