By: Angie Haddock
We reviewed the book “Champagne Widows” earlier this month. You can check out the review here. Now, we bring you some thoughts from the author, Rebecca Rosenberg.
Q: You obviously knew a lot about wine before writing this one, but I’m sure you still had to research the winemaking of the era. Did you find that a lot of it was different, or were you surprised at how much of the process had stayed the same?
A: The process of making champagne has changed tremendously from 1800 to now. Some of the biggest differences are:
From the novel, readers discover that bottles were hand blown and not consistent, so they actually held different amounts and took different sizes of corks! Also, being mouth-blown, they were weak or strong. The fermenting champagne would burst weak bottles.
Veuve Clicquot made major strides in changing murky, yeasty champagne of 1800s to the clear, sparkling champagne we drink today, by figuring out ways to clarify the wine. One method is riddling, which turns the bottle upside down to collect the dead yeast and expels it before bottling.
Veuve Clicquot and others liked their champagne extremely sweet to counter the inconsistency of ripe grapes. They would add lots of sugar to help fermentation. This did not change until 1874 when my next champagne widow, Madame Pommery, perfected Brut (dry) champagne, more like we drink today.
Q: Are there a lot of differences between making still wine and champagne?
A: Champagne takes more than twice as much effort to make as still wine, due to the fact that it has a double fermentation and can take four to even ten years!
Q: Were you already interested in France, or French history before this? Did you travel any for researching the region?
A: I have traveled to the Champagne region of France five times, and discovered the “Champagne Widows” on the first trip, maybe ten years ago. It is so exciting to follow the footsteps of each of the “Champagne Widows” lives and discover who they were and what motivated them. I have visited their wineries and homes and vineyards and hired their winery historians to fill in details I cannot find in research.
Also of note: they were all widows because in the 1800s a woman was not allowed to own property or a business. It was owned by her husband. Only if the husband died, she could own it. If she remarried, the new husband would own it. These shrewd women kept their businesses and romantic relationships separate!
Q: I know this book is planned to be the first in a series – can you tell us what topics we can look forward to in the next installments?
A: “Madame Pommery” will come out next year. Alexandrine Pommery’s story is bone chilling since her house is occupied by the Prussian general of the Franco-Prussian war in 1870-71.
“Lily Bollinger” comes next in the 1940’s during the rise of the Nazis. She will always be known for the most famous champagne quote, which I adore:
“I drink champagne when I’m happy and when I’m sad. Sometimes I drink it when I’m alone. When I have company I consider it obligatory. I trifle with it if I’m not hungry and drink it when I am. Otherwise, I never touch it — unless I’m thirsty.”
We’d like to thank Rebecca for answering our questions! If you want to keep up on the upcoming “Champagne Widows” releases, check out her website.