French winemakers have claimed the riches of sparkling wine, or Champagne, for centuries – overlooking the fact their success is based on inventions made by l’anglais.
The secondary fermentation process for making ‘Sparkling English wine’ was invented in Winchcombe, Cotswolds, by a scientist 30 years before Dom Perignon, at the abbey of Hautvilliers, claimed to have the same idea.
And the bottles needed were also made by the English at least 85 years before the French – when the absence of forests due to ship construction forced bottle makers to switch to coal which was hotter and, as a result, made thicker glass.
Sir Christopher Merrett, a founding member of the Royal Society, first described the secondary fermentation process in his 1662 paper called Some Observations Concerning the Ordering of Wines.
Britain had already sent ships to found British Guiana in 1604, and more to found Jamestown, Virginia, in North America in 1607.
It also needed more troops for naval conflicts, facing a battle with the Portuguese in Bombay in 1615 and later a battle against Spain for Jamaica in 1655.
The switch forced them to start relying on coal – which they had previously avoided as it was seen as dirty.
The material allowed them to reach higher temperatures and, consequently, make a thicker glass that could withstand the pressure from champagne.
France didn’t start making these until the 1700s and even by 1833, they were still losing anywhere between four and 40 percent of the Champagne region’s wines due to ‘exploding bottles’, according to A History and Description of Modern Wines.
The danger was so great that workers were even required to wear wire face masks.
A plaque to Sir Merrett was put up in Winchcombe two years ago.
Local historian Jean Bray told the BBC that his description was the first time anyone had described a wine as ‘sparkling’ in history.