Cheers to the Fake Champagnes of New York!
Near the town of Hammondsport on Lake Keuka, New York State, there lies a winery once known as the Great Western Wine Company. Established in 1860, the vineyards won their owners many medals for their still wines, but as the market for Champagne exploded they transferred much of their attention to the production of sparkling wine. Henry Vizetelly, an afficionado of all things bubbly, writes that the grape varieties used were “concord and the isabella” amongst the ‘black-skinned grapes’ and catwba, diana, iona, delaware and walter. All somewhat novel fare to those schooled in the blend of pinot noir, chardonnay and pinot meunier.
Not content with calling this entirely different drink Champagne, the entrepreneurial New Yorkers went a step further. Near Hammondsport are located towns with names such as Bath, Bradford and even Tyrone, and the United States Postal Service, patriots to the bone, agreed to install a post office on the winery’s property, and give it the geographical name Rheims. Coincidentally the capital of the Champagne region in France is Reims. For those who regard the highlighting of this similarity as ungenerous, there is a knock-out blow. Initially most Champagne was sweet, including the famous Roederer Kristal, favourite refreshment of the Russian Czar, but from the mid-nineteenth century a dry, brut, version became increasingly popular. Pioneering specialist of this path-breaking style was Louise Pommery, who established her Pommery & Greno as the pre-eminent dry Champagne producer from the early 1870s. To cash in on her goodwill, the Great Western Wine Company recruited a widow by the name of Pommery during a fact-finding mission to France in the 1880s. At this point they could launch their wine labelled as “House of Pommery”, “Rheims”!
Wine is still produced in the Lake Keuka area of New York (and many others besides); I have a bottle of New York Riesling from Washingtonville here in front of me. There is still a winery on the site of the Great Western Wine Company, now named Pleasant’s View, open to visitors and still making Champagne. Some day I’d like to try it! In the meantime it’s another tale of two centuries to stick in the face of intellectual property extremists: the US employed all the guile and imagination at its disposal to build itself up after decolonization. Why are they stopping recently decolonized states doing likewise through the World Trade Organization, TRIPs and bilateral trade agreeements? African and south-east asian states may not have much need for champagne, but accessible medicines and textbooks might be the useful…
This and other similar tales are recounted in:
Champagne: The Wine, the Land, the People by Patrick Forbes, 1967.
Champagne: How the World’s Most Glamorous Wine Triumphed Over War and Hard Times by Don and Petie Kladstrup, 2005.
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