Early success making sparkling wines in the French district of Champagne made its name famous, so much so that "champagne" has become generic for sparkling wine, to the eternal aggravation of the resident producers1. The Champagne Appellation has some of the strictest, most exacting standards for growing, producing and labeling in all the wine world. Cheap American brands copy the Champagne name, but neither the standards, nor the methods.
The Méthode Champenoise involves many specialized steps in both viticulture and enology has taken centuries to evolve, through the contributions of scores of nameless inventors, innovators and workers. Modernization and refinement of the "traditional" sparkling wine process continues to this day, although its beginnings are in antiquity.
Around the 1690s, a Benedictine monk named Dom Perignon made some very significant developments as cellar master at the Abbey of Hautvillers in Epernay. He had the idea to harvest selectively, over a period of days rather than all at once, so that only the ripest fruit was taken with each pass. He also is credited with inventing the Coquard or "basket" wine press and using it to make the first "Blanc de Noir".
Another of his major developments was to blend wines of different vineyards and varieties to achieve better balance between their individual characteristics. He was an excellent taster and his cuvée system is still followed closely to this day by the house of Moêt & Chandon to produce their finest Champagne.
Finally, although corks had already been used by the Romans as closures for wine bottles, and the seagoing and trading English had corks and made sparkling wine several decades earlier than the landlocked Champagne area, Dom Perignon has been credited with the idea of using string to secure these stoppers in the bottles, thus retaining the sparkle for long periods of time.
His celebrated remark "I am drinking stars" brought him great fame, but Dom Perignon did not, in fact, "invent" Champagne. There is even a possibility he may have uttered his phrase, not out of jubilation, but rather from remorse. It is fairly certain that Frere Perignon long attempted to find a way to remove or prevent the bubbles, before he accepted and embraced them. His innovations of selective harvesting and blending probably were experiments towards this end.