The French translation for “champagne socialist” is gauche caviar, i.e. leftie caviar muncher. I've been told that it's because in France champagne is classless; to buy it says nothing of your background, wealth or political allegiances. In fact you might be viewed suspiciously if you didn't want to drink it. Caviar on the other hand... I was thinking about this on the way to Champagne this week. The region's main city, Reims, seems to reflect this: façade-less industrial buildings sit next to champagne houses, icons of luxury and the stunning cathedral with all cohabiting quite happily. Perhaps it shows the drink's true place, in a position of luxury, but not impossibility. I was there because I had been invited to the Krug Celebration, held in France to celebrate its most popular breed of bubbles, the Grande Cuvée.
I'm aware that a celebration for a bottle of bubbly might be tautological in party terms, given that champagne is essentially bottled celebration. But after visiting the house's temporary "institute of happiness" in London last year, I was keen to see how it did things at home.
Joseph Krug, who founded the company in 1843, was a man determined to do things differently from the norm. He wrote down his thoughts about wine-making in an old notebook (with "pleasure" as its basis) which has passed down the generations. And the company is still centred on the family house where Olivier Krug (now director of the company) grew up.
Today, it wants to stand out, from drinking champagne from white wine-style glasses so that you taste it more, to releasing different vintages at the same time, to employing a Venezuelan woman, Margareth Henriquez, as the company president – a role held generally in the region by French men.
Following tours of the cellars and a trip to the Clos d'Ambonnay (one of Krug's special walled vineyards), we learned just how difficult it was to blend various different wines to make champagne. We tried the blend that will hit shelves in 2021. Unsurprisingly, it was better than the mix I had made at the table.
It has been an education. One thing they seemed keen for us to learn is that the company recognises that although it comes at a price, champagne can't be seen as too exclusive for someone to celebrate with. Leave the exclusivity to the caviar-sellers.