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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On the final day with the translator, Maki asked if he could assist her with navigating the post office bureaucracy to mail their entry. After reading the address, he realized the destination was near where he worked and offered to hand-carry the champagne for them. They agreed, and the next thing they knew, he was driving away with their six bottles.

No word came for months—until the results were announced. The ’97 blanc de blancs had won the gold medal for champagne, leaving the judges and much of the European wine community a bit taken aback.

Maki and husband Jim Haldy suspect that another advantage was the vineyard’s name at the time—French Creek Ridge Winery—and the fact that it was personally delivered by a Frenchman. “We assume the process got streamlined and [our entry] got put into the category with all the other champagnes,” Haldy says. “They were probably very surprised in the end to learn that we were not French.”

The J. Maki story is reminiscent of another wine tale, one that was recounted in the 2008 film Bottle Shock. Alan Rickman portrays Steven Spurrier, an actual British sommelier based in Paris who set off to the United States in 1976 to find wines to compete against French vintages in a blind taste test. Against a backdrop of strained family relationships and European wine snobbery, the film essentially recounts the moment when the Napa Valley wine region gained international recognition.

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