Sparkling: The Story of Champagne
(UK, 88 min)
Dir. Frank Mannion
“I only drink Champagne on two occasions, when I am in love and when I am not.” — Coco Chanel
“I could not live without Champagne. In victory I deserve it. In defeat I need it.” — Winston S. Churchill and Napoleon Bonaparte
Who doesn’t love champagne? Many of us adore its sparking nature, wonderous bubbles and frothy taste. Of course many don’t—quite frankly, if you don’t delight in carbonated water, count yourself out. While that eliminates a lot of the population, it’s part of the charm of champagne. Not everyone should love it or it wouldn’t be special. If you adore Evian—and I’ve always enjoyed that the word turns into “naïve” backwards—then you’re a good candidate for the best of sparkling brews. Start with bubbly water and move on to the harder stuff. If not, there’s always beer.
Irish producer Frank Mannion has come up with a brilliant lifestyle idea in making a doc on champagne. The filmmaker got to meet and drink with champagne aristocrats, inheritors of massive estates which produce the effervescent libation, who were more than willing to share a drink and a thought or two about their livelihood. The affable Mannion imbibes the finest champagne with such notables as Vitalie Taittlinger, Bruno Paillard and Jean-Baptiste Lecaillon, all of whom have tales about their families and how they started to produce champagne.
Mannion gives us the origin story of champagne, starting with the championing of twice fermented grapes by the Benedictine monk Dom Perignon (1638-1715). He lived in the northeast of France and improved wine cultivation techniques including figuring out how to keep the bubbles in the nascent vintage we would now call champagne. It was Dom Perignon who is reputed to say, “I am drinking the stars!” when he imbibed the twice-or even thrice-fermented fruits of his labours. Very quickly, families in the region began to produce champagne, such as Krug, Pommery, and Bollinger. Champagne came to the royal court of France when the Duc d’Orleans, the regent of Louis XV, embraced it in 1715. Soon, it was all the rage in Paris and remained so during the reigns of Louis XV and XVI. The French Revolution only briefly halted the popularity of champagne; happily for those who love the drink, it was wholeheartedly embraced by Napoleon, who insisted on having batches of it sent to his troop leaders—and himself—before going to battle.
We get the potted history of champagne over Mannion’s touristic visits to the grand homes and estates of France’s glorious sparkling wine producing region. Eventually when even the greatest admirer of champagne has likely hit their surfeit of interest, Mannion musters up a bit of a controversy concerning the English involvement with the drink they have adored for generations.
It turns out that Queen Elizabeth has created a vineyard, which launched its own chardonnay champagne in 2017. Mannion interviews the Laithwaites, who have worked with the Royals to create the distinctively British champagne. Winston Churchill’s love of champagne, particularly Pol Roger, is evoked and his grandson Sir Nicholas Soames even adds his gravitas by appearing in the film. Will the Brits overtake the French in the production of champagne? While we’re at it, how about the Canadians?
While Sparkling: The Story of Champagne is hardly a tough topic for a documentary, it does allow viewers to enjoy the wonderful drink. This reviewer doesn’t indulge in champagne as much as Chanel and Churchill did but I will confess that a bottle of Canadian prosecco was consumed while writing this piece. I had a good time and if you enjoy the divine bubbly drink, you will have fun watching the film. And remember not to let the cork pop!
Sparkling is in release beginning August 13.