Jean-François Pilâtre de Rozier, a chemistry and physics teacher, and military officer François Laurent le Vieux d’Arlandes, took the maiden voyage into the sky on a hot-air balloon on Nov. 21, 1783 in Paris. Their trip lasted approximately 25 minutes.
At the time, hot air ballooning was groundbreaking science. As a result, 18th-century farmers who hadn’t seen or heard of hot-air balloons were understandably concerned when colossal objects began floating by in the sky. They assumed the balloons might be mythical creatures, aliens, or even attackers.
As legend has it, pilots began landing in farmland with Champagne in hand. They brought bottles to area farmers in hopes of convincing them that they were human beings, not monsters. The bubbles served as a peace offering.
Depending on which corner of the internet you trust, it’s also rumored that French hot-air balloon pilots may have traveled with two bottles of Champagne: one to give out to area farmers, and one to keep on hand as a rather expensive fire extinguisher.
Of course, Champagne also has celebratory associations, making it a natural choice for commemorating the triumphant deployment of then-emerging technology.
“Traditionally, not only did hot-air balloon passengers and pilots celebrate a successful voyage by drinking Champagne, they also gifted a bottle to their neighbors as a thank you when the balloon landed on their farm property,” Dominique Demarville, chef de caves, Veuve Clicquot, says.
Demarville honored this tradition in summer 2018. He debuted his new vintage, La Grande Dame Brut 2008, in the U.S. market by popping a bottle while floating over the Teton Mountains in Jackson Hole, Wyo., in a hot air balloon. “It was the perfect way to tie French tradition into the stunning environment of Jackson Hole,” he says.
The destination was a deliberate choice. La Grande Dame Brut is named for Barbe-Nicole Clicquot Ponsardin, also known as La Grande Dame of Champagne. In 1920, Jackson Hole became the first town in the United States to elect an all-female-run government.
Of course, if you choose to pop bottles aboard a balloon, be advised that drinking Champagne at elevation affects your palate. “Oxygen at normal elevation levels helps the process of oxidation to enhance the flavors, while this takes more time in the air,” Demarville says. “Beyond that, the tasters themselves are also in a heightened state while in the balloon.”
We’re only human, after all.