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Chanoine Frères 1961: A Champagne from a Great Year

Reims, January 2021

Exactly 60 years ago a great vintage year for Champagne began: 1961.

Following a summer of fine weather, the harvest was good in terms of quantity and quality — an abundant harvest. The grapes were lovely, perfectly mature, and concentration was good thanks to a combination of sunshine during August and fine weather late in the season with rain in September.

The harvest resulted in a great vintage year — not quite as exceptional as Chanoine Frères 1955, but a very fine wine nevertheless. The 1961 vintage champagnes are elegant wines with a varied palette of aromas that tends to favor fruit.

1961 “Champagne Grande Année”: a revealing label

The 1961 label preserved in the House's archives is of interest. It resembles the House's earlier vintage-year labels, Chanoine Frères 1926 and Chanoine Frères 1955. The English-style typography is the same, as is the composition; the novelty is in the color of the script, which became a strong red-orange.

The phrases “Produced and bottled by Chanoine Frères” and “Produce of France” show that this particular cuvée was intended for export. Probably to the British market, which had had a thirst for vintage champagnes since the second half of the 19th century, a time when the cousins Eugène and Louis-Amand Chanoine were in charge of the House in Épernay, on the Rue du Commerce — later to become the Avenue du Champagne.

That year in Champagne

In 1961 Champagne as a whole exported 30% of its production, or 16 million bottles, while the French market, experiencing continuous growth since the mid-1950s, accounted for 38 million bottles.

That year the French Formula 1 Grand Prix was run on the Reims circuit at Gueux on 2 July. At the climax of a heart-pounding race, after 52 laps and 408 Km, the Italian Giancarlo Baghetti in a Ferrari 156 won by only a tenth of a second, ahead of American Dan Gurney in a Porsche 718!

In an amusing coincidence, it was Dan Gurney, one of the greatest racing drivers of the 1960s, who — a few years later, in 1967 — became the first winner to vigorously shake a bottle of champagne and spray the fans with it after his win at the 24 Hours of Le Mans. Thus he was the inventor of the “champagne shower” that has now become a tradition on podiums in cycling and motor sports.

Dan Gurney, left, in his Porsche at the 1961 French Grand Prix in Reims; right, at the 24H of Le Mans in 1967

1961: A great year, great presidents

Another high point of the year 1961 was the state visit by John Fitzgerald Kennedy, the young and newly elected US president, to Paris at the invitation of President Charles de Gaulle. The event was much celebrated and discussed in France and in the USA.

The French fell under the spell of the radiant and very elegant First Lady, Jacqueline Kennedy.

At a press conference for reporters from the world over, JFK quipped "I do not think it altogether inappropriate to introduce myself to this audience: I am the man who accompanied Jacqueline Kennedy to Paris..."

With the receptions at the Élysée Palace and the Quai d’Orsay, and in Versailles with the visit to the Grand Trianon, the gala dinner followed by a ballet at the Royal Opera House, and a grand ball in the Hall of Mirrors at the Château, there was no lack of occasions for toasting Franco-American relations with champagne.

John F Kennedy, General De Gaulle, and Jackie on the steps of the Élysée Palace in Paris

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