POP STAR: Belinda Chang, Moët’s New Champagne “Charlie.”
Long a talented interloper in the male-dominated drinks, restaurant and hospitality fields, Chang is crashing through yet another glass ceiling in her meteoric, honor-laden career.
Beginning as an apprentice chef at Houston’s Café Annie to serving as wine director for Charlie Trotter in Chicago then overseeing operations at Danny Meyer’s Michelin-starred The Modern in New York to being appointed global beverage consultant for the Starwood luxury hotel group, Chang, a James Beard-award honoree for outstanding wine service in 2011, is now joining the storied ranks of marketers of liquid effervescence.
Once known collectively as ‘Champagne Charlies’, like her predecessors’ bubbly celebrations and flashy public-relations events (from popping corks at the Oscars to pouring jeroboams into pyramids of 1,000 coupe-shaped glasses for the Guinness record books), Belinda is determined, as she puts it passionately and in a more serious fashion, “to inflame and infect” MH USA’s distributor partners as well as their on- and off-premise customers about “all things Champagne.”
A born educator, Chang relishes her new role to introduce and, where needed, re-acquaint the trade about the unique story of Champagne, its sub-regions and premier and grand cru appellations, its viticultural and winemaking traditions, and, of course, inform one and all about MH USA’s Moët & Chandon, Veuve Clicquot, Krug, Dom Pérignon and Ruinart brands, from the non-vintage through vintage-dated bottlings to all the rosé and demi-sec releases all the way up to MH USA’s unrivalled collection of prestige cuvées.
“The Biz of Fizz”
From the time Champagne was first commercialized and exported from the mid-18th century on, men – mostly men it must be admitted – went on the road to introduce, educate and sell this bubbly, bibulous nectar not just across France, but the world over. In Widow Clicquot’s day, it was Louis Bohne, an enterprising salesman, who in the early 19th century ventured all the way to St. Petersburg in Czarist Russia to sell boatloads of Clicquot’s renowned Yellow Label to the Romanov court. In the new world, it was Edmond Ruinart, scion of Champagne’s oldest house, who departed for America in 1831 on a tri-mast sailing ship full of immigrants; cases of his precious Champagne, which served as ballast, were destined to fill coupes and flutes in dancehalls across the new nation. As Chang puts it: “What’s better than the story of Widow Clicquot, or the two monks, Dom Ruinart and Dom Pérignon, or talking about the unique qualities of Krug!”
A Tower of Bubbly: Every year Brown Palace Hotel, Denver, pictured below, partners with Moët & Chandon, to build this awesome pyramid of Champagne.
Chang – who has already hit a dozen markets in her new educational role extolling Champagne –is forging her own take on these romantic, hard-working characters who became known as Champagne Charlies. It is worth recalling, in fact, they became such a fixture in 19th century society, a Victorian-era English song-and-dance man named George Leybourne composed the following hit song, entitled “Champagne Charlie”, in 1862, which featured the following verse, followed by a most evocative (and true!) chorus:
“Some boffins like their Burgundy, Hock, Claret or Moselle,
But only Moët Vintage satisfies my palate well”
“Champagne Charlie is my name, Champagne Charlie is my name.
There is nothing like that fizz, fizz, fizz
Yes, it really is the biz, biz, biz!”
After almost two decades of work in the hospitality world, Belinda relishes the challenges and potential of her new trade responsibilities: “I never imagined not being at a restaurant, it is a great dance being at the table with a customer, but being an educator has always appealed to me as well as the chance to reach, via my association with MH USA’s great Champagnes, a much larger audience.” Her ambition: “We want to be the global leader in Champagne education, and that includes the United States.”
Given Chang’s record of accomplishments, it would be a mistake to discount her ability to once and for all transform, and elevate, the perhaps outdated image of a Champagne Charlie, now and long into the future.
Editor’s Note: The author would like to thank The Tasting Panel Magazine for permission to adapt this article, whose original version appears in the February 2014 issue.