Champagne Moments

As 2020 rounds to an end, we find ourselves popping plenty of bubbles to celebrate the end of a tumultuous year for so many. A fun conversation topic is comparing “Champagne Moments”: moments in your life that may have been fancy, may have been rustic, may have been serendipitous, but where champagne was a central part of the memory. Champagne, perhaps even more so than its still wine counterparts, has the ability to capture those moments in time, preserving them like a photograph. Here are a few of ours.

Jen Parr, Winemaker:

At the turn of the century, I was living in London and my best mate (also a colleague) was Canadian and we loved discovering new bars, restaurants and wines together. We were both in software sales for different divisions of the same company and decided to make a bet on the last quarter of the sales season. (Quotas were all the rage at the time). In essence, whoever sold the most software that quarter had to shout dinner at a restaurant of the other person’s choosing. I ended up winning, or so I thought! I didn’t know much about Champagne then, aside from thinking Veuve Clicquot was quite flash. We went to a trendy place in Notting Hill and he ordered Cristal. Alarm bells didn’t trigger because I had no idea what it was - but I did notice the clear bottle. When he went to order another bottle and they were out (thankfully), I asked for the wine list to see what else we could drink. That is when I discovered what a bottle of vintage Cristal in a trendy restaurant in London cost. As I nearly fainted (literally) I looked at my two guests and said – make sure you drink every sip (thinking each swirl represented about a week’s rent.) We settled on Laurent Perrier Rosé for the second bottle (at a fraction of the price of the Cristal) and I must admit, I found it much more enjoyable and still buy it for special occasions today. I don’t even remember what the Cristal tasted like – I only remember the flint bottle and the expensive price. Needless to say, that evening inspired me to learn something about Champagne!

Karl Coombes, Assistant Winemaker:

If it counts, I think my first “Champagne” moment was drinking sparkling grape juice as a child at Christmas. Grapetiser, I think it was called, which the kids got while the adults had sparkling wine. I remember tasting the real stuff but Grapetiser was much sweeter and frankly much more delicious, as far as my young palate was concerned. My tastes have since evolved.

Much more recently I had a real moment when I tried a Champagne from Jacques Selosse. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a wine start off so shy and, actually, a little disappointing, but then over the next few hours bloom into something so lovely it makes me swoon a little just thinking about it! It was seriously mesmerising to follow.

Nicole Schofield, Mrs. Valli Lama

The first taste I can recall of the golden bubbly beauty was at the age 8, Christmas Day.

As a kid growing up in in the North East of the United States, Christmas is cold. The holiday involved enswathement of cute lace and red velvet dresses, stockings and shiny squeaky shoes that buckled. The shiny squeaky shoes that buckled were packed for when we arrived at Gram and Pop Pop’s house as we had to venture forth from our warm homes in winter boots, battling snow and ice.

On arriving well in time for Christmas lunch, we would pick our way up the path, careful not to slip. The air was cold and crisp, the sky cloudy. The atmosphere was charged with 8-year-old anticipation of gifts and pie and the lazy eye of parents having fun. Three generations lodging themselves into the house gleaming with decorations, to commit to a day of laughs and merrymaking. As the adults prepared the enormous feast, ‘the girls’ (as us the seven cousins were collectively referred to) snuck away to reorganize our Grandmother’s closet in the most reckless way. We temporarily traded in our lace and smocked frocks for sequined cruise-wear, for evening gowns, for beaded tops and sparkly shoes that were all years away from fitting. All of which were paraded around the house for a midday parade, yes, we can don this garb and can walk these heels.

I am surrounded by family, and a call for the traditional Christmas toast is made. The adults adopt flutes and for the first time, our grandmother ceremoniously hands Us Girls tiny sherry glasses, mini flutes. With seriousness, we accept the right of passage with airs, grace and dignity as if we were queens at a tea party. I couldn’t remember a word of the toast if I tried now. The memory of joining adults in something so important wipes any of that away. Clink-Clink-Clink! Trying to keep grins and pride under control... The first sip of adulthood at 8. Meh, what’s all the fuss about?

30 years later on the other side of the world...

My birthday in New Zealand is celebrated in cold dark August; not in the hot, end of summer vacation. Also by contrast, my last 10 Christmases in this country have been observed in the sun, hiking tracks in tank tops and lugging ‘that Damn Christmas Cake’ up yet another mountain, the same I swore last year I would never bring along again. It’s too hot! It’s too heavy! And we hate Christmas cake! But it seems the tradition has now dictated whisky and cake as the sun sets in the valley on Christmas Day.

So, my cold August birthday hosts the theme of sparkles and bubbles this year. Up our stone path click clack heels under a dry, bright starry sky. Guests are arriving bejeweled and beglittered, toting bottles of bubbly, local and imported, rare and exciting. Bursting with anticipation of what is under the cork, the taste, the fizz, the colour, the age, the yeasty goodness.....

Squeezing 20 guests into our cozy home provides for some serious merrymaking, I distribute champagne glasses combed from Salvation Army, spanning at least 60 years - no two the same. As glasses are filled, there ensues debate about the wines differences being sipped from different style of glass: better? worse? More bubbles or less? Animated discourse revolving around beads and compliments fly about the glitter. I myself now, am happy as a queen at a tea party. Decked in sequins and furry boots, I have taken up ownership of the largest cut glass flute I have ever laid eyes on!

I am surrounded by friends that warm my heart and soul. Apart from being there to celebrate my 38th year, we are celebrating a time of being together, all too aware of the social blow 2020 has given. If I were to give one piece of advice to my 8-year-old self from where I am, and who I am now, it would undoubtedly be “Celebrate More! To grab and hold onto joy whenever it presents itself!” We fight back with Sparkles and Bubbles.

For me, champagne is a train of red cheeked memories, of winter, of sparkles and celebration.

Hollis Giddens – Sales & Marketing

When thinking of a “champagne moment”, two memories come to mind. I thought the first one would be more appropriate and uplifting and planned to share only that one. However, after sharing the second one with fellow VALLI girl Nicole, she encouraged me to share both – the latter being particularly poignant in this current COVID world. So we will start with the easy one and end with reflection.

The first time I had champagne (or at least the first time I will admit to having it, wink wink) I was 17 – in my final year of High School. In our family, you are allowed to drink wine at family holidays during your last year at school as a way of familiarising you with it before letting you loose into the wild world of the Southern Universities. We were at my grandmother’s house for Thanksgiving, heating up the turkey and casseroles in her kitchen which probably hadn’t seen this much action since my father was my age. The food seemed to take forever. We didn’t mind, there were plenty of bubbles to go around. The casseroles weren’t setting. ‘Another bottle while we wait, shall we?’ asked my Aunt. It would be rude not to. This one she opens with great impact, much of it landing on unsuspecting members of the family. At this stage, I realise that the adults are tipsy. Very tipsy. So am I. Is this what holidays are like when you have real champagne and not sparkling grape juice?! It is 3pm and we’ve not yet had lunch. The casseroles have still not set. Further to that, the oven doesn’t seem to be particularly hot. All of the dials are on. There is much discussion among the women in the family. How does my grandmother cook anything? She hasn’t mentioned any bouts of gastrointestinal stress for eating undercooked food. Finally, my mother is nominated the most sober and asks my grandmother whether she knows what might be the problem. As it turns out, my Grandmother’s kitchen was built before microwaves were invented, and therefore the wiring was not up for the extra load, so if you ran the oven and the microwave at the same time, the two appliances had a showdown for the right to the electricity, and the microwave always won. Unbeknownst to us, a fuse had blown and the oven had been steadily cooling ever since. We improvised and finally sat down to eat around 4:30pm, at which stage my Uncle fell asleep in his plate at the table after having enjoyed much of the afternoon’s merriment. It was certainly a holiday to remember.

A very different "Champagne Moment":

The next memory stands out for a different reason. It was early September 2005, days after the Gulf Coast of the United States was ravaged by Hurricane Katrina. I am on the Mississippi Coast with my then-boyfriend and his family and friends, helping to piece back together their town, their homes, and their lives that have been completely torn apart. We spent the day spray painting street names on the black asphalt streets so that the US Army National Guard could navigate the ruins in order to distribute Government aid – maps meant nothing when there were no street signs, no landmarks. The Mississippi Gulf Coast had the complete opposite problem to the one faced by our neighbours to the West in New Orleans: They had stagnant flood water due to levies breaking; We had a storm surge that came in and pretty quickly went back out, taking everything with it. Entire city blocks were washed out to sea. What was left was wide open emptiness. Interestingly, though, a few heavier things sunk into the sand and were left behind. Among these things were the heavier bottles of wine – typically the more expensive bottlings of producers from California and Champagne. Once we discovered the treasure trove hidden in the white sand, it became our daily custom to “forage” for theses sunken delicacies after our cleanup work for the day had finished. It was always a lucky dip because the time the wines spent submerged in water had stripped them of their labels. Most of the time the cork would give some clue once extracted from the bottle, but sometimes it was unbranded and the wine remained a mystery. Among these foraged treasures was a bottle of Dom Pérignon. I can’t remember if it was vintage. It wouldn’t have mattered. We drank it lukewarm (the ice I had brought with me earlier in the week was all but melted) out of plastic cups on the porch of a hollowed out Antebellum home and watched the sunset over the Gulf of Mexico while singing and strumming the words of Bob Marley. In that moment, we knew there was a long road ahead, we knew there was much work to be done, much grief to be felt, but we also felt a peace and knew that “Every little thing is gonna be alright.” So this year, knowing that there is still a long road ahead of us in healing the world of the suffering that 2020 has brought, I hope that we can all find that same peace, even if just for a fleeting champagne moment.