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🍾 A Brief History of Champagne Influencers 🥂
From French Kings to Orson Welles to hip hop moguls, how 14 of history's biggest blowhards (along with a few sensitive types) made bubbles famous
Throughout November, we’ll be posting reported features, essays, lists, and more around our monthly theme: The Influence Appetite.
As the late great Robin Leach always said, “champagne wishes and caviar dreams!”
Indeed, no other beverage embodies the lifestyles of the rich and famous quite like champagne. Bubbly—be it the official stuff or unsanctioned varietals from appellations further afield—conjures a celebratory sense of opulence with each fizzy sip. Champagne feels like a wine reserved for glamorous occasions and glamorous people: Oscar's afterparties, yacht christenings, toasting yet another hot air ballooning world record. Blame this romantic public perception on the marketing execs at manufacturers like Dom Pérignon and Perrier-Jouët, who beginning in the 17th century made sure to associate their brands with the royalty who drank them.
Which brings us to our list. For all of its colorful and fascinating backstory—its Roman origins, the nickname "Devil's Wine" because it caused bottles to explode, how Dom Pérignon allegedly proclaimed to be “drinking the stars” the first time he sipped it, the invention of the cork and muselet—the story of champagne is the story of the people who partied with the stuff, and in turn made the rest of the world want to pop bottles, too. So, without further ado, we present: history's 14 most infamous champagne influencers.
We begin, where else, but in France. For 800 years, French Kings were coronated in the city of Reims, and champagne was the beverage of choice for much of these festivities. That’s because the city is bordered by the rolling vineyards of Champagne. While most of these monarchs and their inebriated guests weren’t sipping the type of dry sparkling wines we know and love today, the image of champagne being fit for a king was firmly put in place.
Jean-François de Troy
Today’s bon vivants have the selfie to document their hedonism. Rewind the clock a few hundred years and the medium of choice was oil on canvas. Entrez, Monsieur de Troy, the renowned French lifestyle (as in elite lifestyle) painter of the 18th century whose Le Déjeuner d’Huîtres or The Oyster Luncheon (1735) is believed to be the first work of art featuring champagne. The details drip with decadence, from the rowdy all-male hunting party to the servants shucking oysters to the bottles on ice to (if you just squint hard enough) a flying cork.
The French theme continues with Napoléon, who once said, “In victory, you deserve champagne. In defeat, you need it.” We’ll toast to that. But, it was his light cavalry, the Hussars, who perhaps contributed something greater to champagne’s flamboyant legacy. When staying with a French widow who’d inherited her late husband’s champagne cellar, the peacocking soldiers began grabbing their sabers and slicing the tops off bottles, much—it is said—to the widow’s delight. And thus the technique of sabering was born, a legacy that continues today in Gstaad, St. Tropez, Mykonos, and other havens of debauched douchebaggery.
"Among the whisperings and the champagne and the stars" of his famous parties lurked lovelorn Gatsby, and America was never the same. As author F. Scott Fitzgerald put it, "too much of anything is bad, but too much champagne is just right," and he made sure that his novel's namesake protagonist lived by those words. It's hard not to picture any character in The Great Gatsby without a coup glass in hand, and while the book was an initial failure, its second life as a cheap paperback handed out to WWII soldiers established it as the glamorous Jazz Age novel we know and love today, with champagne riding its coattails further into America’s aspirational middle class consciousness.
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Yes, the stiff upper lipped statesman led Britain through the War, painted in his spare time, and dispensed with cutting witticisms willy nilly (“tomorrow I shall be sober and you will still be disgustingly ugly”), but it was the man’s consumption of champagne that perhaps stands as his most mind-boggling impressive accomplishment. In his lifetime, it is believed that Churchill drank some 42,000 bottles of Pol Roger— his favorite brand. According to the math, that’s two bottles a day.
Gentlemen prefer blondes, and blondes prefer…Dom Pérignon? When Bert Stern arrived at the Hotel Bel-Air to shoot Marilyn Monroe for Vogue, he arrived with a bottle of the prestige cuvée in hand. The photographer had done his research, and found out that the starlet ordered the stuff by the case. After a few glasses, the pair loosened up, with Monroe agreeing to pose with only the flimsiest of silk scarves. The actress would be found dead some six weeks later, and the photographs would appear posthumously in print, bearing the title, “The Last Sitting.”
007 has downed as much champagne as he has martinis, too much to go over here. The brands have come and gone, often in accordance to product placement deals, but Bond’s unquenchable thirst for bubbles has remained. In fact, champagne is the only thing capable of making the suave secret agent sound like a geek, like when he boasted to bedfellow Jill Masterson in Goldfinger, “My dear girl, there are some things that just aren't done, such as drinking Dom Pérignon '53 above the temperature of 38 degrees Fahrenheit.” Ok, boomer! 🤓
And we’re back to France, mon dieu. Today, cyclists prefer PEDs for performance enhancement, but back in the 1960s, the sport’s first five-time winner of the Tour de France liked nothing more than champagne in his water bottle for a little mid-race pick-me-up. For Anquetil, a gourmand and all-around bloviator, the champagne flowed constantly during the three-week race, even at night. As he once said, "to prepare for a race there is nothing better than a good pheasant, some champagne, and a woman."
Formula 1 Podiums
While the champagne shower is now synonymous with sporting events the world over (hey, all that pent-up testosterone has gotta go somewhere), it remains part and parcel with F1 podium shenanigans — what else do you expect from drivers who compete on the streets of Monaco? Still, it didn’t start there. Sure, the open-wheel racers may have perfected the practice of dowsing each other in champagne, but it’s the 24 Hours of Le Mans where it began, first accidentally when driver Jo Siffert’s bottle popped, soaking the crowd below, and then officially a year later, when American winner Dan Gurney solidified the motorsports tradition in celebration of driving his underdog Ford GT40 to victory over the then dominant Ferraris.
Cinephiles remember him for Citizen Kane, the masterpiece that Welles directed, produced, and starred in at the tender age of 25 (a film that both established him as the industry’s boy wonder, only to basically get him blacklisted from Hollywood soon after). The Internet, however, remembers Welles as the bloated and drunken pitchman for 1980s Paul Masson “French Champagne” commercials thanks to leaked footage of the past-his-prime actor slurring his way through take after botched take (much to the dismay of his director).
Other than high-yield bond funds, fleece vests, and reruns of Boiler Room, is there anything more alluring to finance bros than models and bottles? From Bungalow 8 to Tenjune to marathon Meat Packing brunches replete with sparklers, decades of Manhattan partying has been funded by insecure first-year analysts doubling down on the Dom. 🙏
Hip hop’s champagne roots run deep. Harlem MC Branson B. was arguably the genre’s first big bubbly fan, getting it into heavy rotation with Biggie and Puffy, but it’s Hova’s influence that’s proved the most enduring. First the music mogul banned Cristal from his 40/40 Club following what he viewed as racist remarks from Roederer managing director Frédéric Rouzaud regarding the cult cuvée’s association with the genre, then he launched his own champagne brand Ace of Spades, and later sold 50 percent of it to a little multinational called LVMH.
She drinks it on a plane! She drinks it at the Super Bowl! She drinks it while pregnant! She even serves it to her fans at the Guggenheim! For RiRi, every time is champagne time.
Owner of Mod Champagne? ✅ A song called Champagne Poetry? ✅ Instagram handle @champagnepapi? ✅ Really, what else is there to say?
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