Bubbling Forth: Why Chester County's J. Maki Winery and Its Champagne Caused an International Stir

Ten years ago, the prestigious European wine competition, the Vinalies Internationales, put a tiny local vineyard—then known as French Creek Ridge Winery—on the map. And, there, it has stayed.

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Maki points with obvious pride to the ridge that runs along the highest point on the property and for about 10 miles around. Up there grows the vineyard’s prized chardonnay grapes, born of the intense sun on the south-facing slope, the deep Chester County schist, and the well-drained limestone beneath. It’s this ridge—and indeed the entire property—that in many ways mimics the finest wine-growing regions of France and Italy, while still providing the distinctive terroir—a hint of the tastes and smells of where the wine was born.

This year marks the 10th anniversary of a remarkable event, when Maki summoned her resolve and entered her pride and joy—a 1997 blanc de blancs that had yielded stunning results—into the prestigious Vinalies Internationales, one of the most highly regarded wine competitions in Europe.

That, of course, was no easy task. Say “champagne” in the European Union, and you’d better be talking about sparkling white wine produced in the Champagne region of France. The U.S. honors the country’s request that “champagne” be reserved only for French products.

As a result, most American producers of champagne label it “sparkling wine” made via méthode Champenoise. It’s essentially the same process put forth in 1638 by Benedictine brother Dom Pierre Pérignon. It requires the mind of a chemist, the soul of an artist, and the patience of, well, a monk.

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