It has become a commonplace fact, beloved of pub quizzes, that an Englishman, Christopher Merret, invented Champagne. There is even an element of truth to it: Merret gave a paper to the Royal Society in 1672 outlining how to make wine fizzy. But he wasn’t the first to induce bubbles in a bottle. In the West Country, scientifically inclined gentlemen had been doing it for years — only they used cider, not wine.
In the 17th century there was a wine crisis in England. Home-grown vines had been killed by prolonged cold weather — something now known as the Little Ice Age — and imports were severely curtailed because of wars with France, the Netherlands and Spain. The problem became acute when Cromwell passed the Navigation Act of 1651. This was designed to stop Dutch shipping to England — and the Dutch controlled the trade in all German and a great deal of French wine. There was also a very high excise duty. And so affordable wine became scarce in England. What was needed was an alternative.
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