When I ask Jérôme Barret whether the French have the secret for happiness, he replies almost straight away.
“I think so, yes. There are many jokes about this… but the main thing is that the French enjoy life,” he explains.
As an expert on all things champagne, it’s no surprise that Jérôme believes that this is one of the French secrets to joie de vivre.
We’re seated at Café Amalia – a delightful establishment tucked away in the leafy Melbourne suburb of Toorak. It’s a beautifully sunny day, and Jérome is deliberating over which dish to choose for lunch. Eventually, he settles on the steak.
He’s in Australia with Champagne Lallier, to share the French secret to happiness with his antipodean friends. But as with many passionate, successful people, he found his way into this world completely by accident.
“I was studying law and I hated it, and I met a classmate from the Science school who was making wine. That was in 1989, and I’ve been doing it since then,” he explains.
Since then he has worked for countless wine and champagne producers – he even started his own champagne label.
Why are the French obsessed with champagne? Jérome tells me he’s not sure, but with a twinkle in his eye, he says: “maybe it has an effect on everyone’s mood – perhaps it makes people happier!”
“In the French culture, above all, champagne is a synonym for celebration,” he explains.
So, what are his secrets for using champagne to achieve happiness? As far as I can see, there are seven golden rules…
1. Don’t drink blindly
While drinking champagne is all about enjoyment, understanding its significance will also increase appreciation.
“Firstly, the terroir of champagne is very unique,” Jérôme explains. “The culture of champagne is very unique as well. The champagne region is historically, economically and culturally unique which makes a difference. For example, we keep the wine in cellars for three years – on average.
“At the moment, we have 1.4 billion bottles sleeping in underground cellars – can you imagine? This equates to 14 billion Euros of ‘sleeping’ money.”
2. Don’t save it for special occasions
Champagne is a non-discriminatory drink. If it were up to the French, we’d drink it all day, every day. “People do drink it anytime,” Jérôme tells me. “People in Bordeaux, for example, drink champagne no matter what time of day it is. They don’t need to have a celebration.”
3. Don’t worry about which one to choose
If you’re daunted by the thought of trying to select the perfect champagne, then you’re in luck. According to Jérôme, it’s hard to pick a bad French champagne.
“The quality is rising – in the past the low price champagne was not good quality, now there is almost no bad champagne. Even the price is not a reflection of the quality – all champagne is good,” he says.
4. Remember it’s not just for the rich
“The modality has changed as well, with a new generation of farmers. Champagne is becoming more democratic, it is less focused on only the rich. More ‘normal’ people can drink it,” says Jérôme.
5. Don’t play it safe
“You should take risks and be inventive,” Jérome enthuses. “Of course there are traditional things which match all the time . If you love sushi – sushi and champagne are a perfect combination – as is champagne and cheese or truffles.”
6. Don’t play favourites
“I don’t have a favourite champagne,” he tells me. “I have favourite moments and some fabulous memories with champagne… It just depends on the moment, the music and who you drink it with.”
7. Ignore the label
French champagne labels are an art and language unto themselves. When I ask Jérôme what the secret is to deciphering them, he simply waves a hand dismissively and offers me the secret: “It’s like another planet! Don’t read the labels… just drink!”
What do you love most about French champagne? Share your thoughts in the comments box below!
1 & 2. Courtesy Jérôme Barret
3. Champagne-Ardenne, by Hervé Boulben via Fotopedia.
4. Champagne, by Caitlin Childs via Flickr.