November 25 2010
There are few more enduring images of sporting success than a group of Formula One racing drivers gleefully spraying champagne. The sheer elation of the moment is intoxicating, and a glorious shower of bubbles seems the only way to celebrate it.
But when exactly did this time-honoured tradition begin – and what of the purists’ dissenting view that it’s criminal to waste good fizz by pouring it over heads instead of down throats?
The first recorded example of a champagne-fuelled sporting celebration came at the climax of the 1936 Vanderbilt Cup at the Roosevelt Raceway in New York. Presented with a jeroboam of Moët & Chandon along with the silver trophy, Alfa Romeo’s dashing Italian Tazio Nuvolari proceeded to open the bottle and drink from it in view of the cameras.
In 1950, the inaugural year of the Formula One World Drivers Championship, the French Grand Prix took place at Reims in the heart of champagne country and Moët donated another bottle of Brut Impérial to the winner. But the moment when bubbly really shook up motorsport came at Le Mans in 1967, when the American Ford team won the epic 24-hour race. On the podium the victorious drivers, Dan Gurney and AJ Foyt, received, as was by now customary, a jeroboam of Moët & Chandon. As Gurney surveyed the scene, he noticed the Ford supremo Henry Ford II and his wife, along with various motoring correspondents, some of whom had doubted his chances of success. So, in a spontaneous gesture, Gurney shook up the champagne, opened it and gave everyone within reach, Mr and Mrs Ford included, a thorough soaking. No Le Mans or Grand Prix since then has been complete without its “shampoo” moment.
But is it indeed a waste, as the critics say, to use the best bottles? Would it be feasible to substitute an equally combustible but less stellar vintage for public display and save the really good stuff for later? Such a primly utilitarian approach gets short shrift from Moët’s charismatic vice-president of corporate communication Jean Berchon. “It’s not a marketing stunt,” he stresses. “The champagne is there to enable the winners to share their victory with the public. That was the vision of Jean-Rémy Moët [the grandson of Moët’s founder] – to share the magic of champagne with the world. If you are at the climax of a great sporting event, you have to have Brut Impérial. Just as there is no substitute for victory, no other bottle would do. It would betray the moment.”
In the 21st century, Moët’s celebratory affiliations have expanded to include the red-carpet world of the cinema. This September, its new CEO, Daniel Lalonde, hosted a glamorous black-tie dinner in the caves beneath Moët’s HQ at Epernay, and Scarlett Johansson, Moët’s international brand ambassador, was the guest of honour. The party celebrated the 2010 vendange, and there was no soaking or spraying. But the lucky diners were able to savour Moët’s 2000 Grand Vintage, a sumptuous honey-coloured champagne.
If Chelsea’s footballers (themselves no strangers to the bubbly) complete a momentous double by winning both the Premiership and the 2011 Champions League – and I think they can land the latter at 9-2 with Ladbrokes – I shall be investing in several bottles. I might even spray them around.