One of the less well-known occupants of Poets' Corner in Westminster Abbey - his monument is behind Shakespeare's memorial - is a Frenchman, Charles de Saint-Évremon (1613-1703) who has recently come back into the news as a result of the success of Britain's sparkling wine revival. Charles de Marguetel de Saint-Denis, Seigneur de Saint-Evremond, as he styled himself, fled from France in disgrace in the early 1660s after incurring the wrath of Cardinal Mazarin. He was warmly received by Charles II who made him Governor of Duck Island in the middle of the lake in St James's Park complete with a £300 a year pension. Charles was attracted to this soldier hedonist with literary leanings not least because he introduced the Court to the delights of Champagne to which Charles became very partial.
But Champagne in those days was not what it is now. It was a still wine. Secondary fermentation in the bottle was positively discouraged because French bottles in those days were so fragile they would explode if an unintended second fermentation happened. This is where it becomes interesting. In December 1662 while Évremon, soon after his arrival in London, was extolling the virtues of (still) champagne, Sir Christopher Merret delivered a paper to the newly formed Royal Society explaining how vintners in London were encouraging secondary fermentation in the bottle and even encouraging it by the addition of sugar. The bottles did not explode because English glass was much stronger than the French equivalent having been fired at much higher temperatures in coal-fired furnaces rather than the traditional wood. The long and the short of it is that the English invented what we know today as the méthode champenoise decades before the legendary Dom Perignon came on to the scene. Even the French now accept that the English were there first.
Now it is payback time. The venerable French Champagne House Tattinger recently announced that it had purchased a 100 acre estate in Kent to produce an English sparkling wine, an amazing endorsement of the success of English sparkling which regularly wins international gold medals against competition from Champagne. Of course, not even Tattinger can call it Champagne as that is a strictly controlled geographical delineation. Instead, it will be called - yes - Évremond. And when the first sparkling whites finally come to market, there is surely only one place where the launch should take place. Duck Island.