History, Culture, and Economics: France through Champagne

Possibly the world’s most famous wine, champagne is a synonym of luxury and exclusivity, and a worldwide symbol of France and its culture. To explore fully the importance of champagne in French culture and history was the goal of the summer program Discovering Champagne: The World in a Glass, developed in partnership by Accent and Oberlin College. Under the direction of Oberlin faculty Grace An, students spent three weeks in France studying champagne as a way to understanding French culture.

For the first two weeks, students were based in Paris, where they explored the multifaceted world of champagne through a combination of coursework, guest lectures, and visits. Their first introduction to this wine was through an oenology workshop at Les Dilettantes, a wine shop in the center of Paris that deals exclusively in champagne. In their coursework, An focused on various aspects related to wine production, from the chemical importance of specific soil to the role of champagne as a luxury item. Finally, a series of guest lectures explored the world of wine sales and the role of viticulture in the French economy, the linguistic peculiarities of labels on wine bottles, and how wine even influenced the urban history of Paris, influencing its development as a city.

It was then time to travel to the Champagne region itself, the only place where “true” champagne can be produced. From their base in Reims, the region’s administrative capital, the group visited several vineyards and champagne maisons, or houses, learning more about local agriculture and the production process behind this famous wine. Visiting the domain and vineyard Marie Césaire was a highlight of the study tour to the Champagne region. Its founder Marie-Inès Romelle is the first black person to have her own champagne label in the region. Romelle herself welcomed the students, discussing with the group her work in this competitive industry. Students also had the chance to learn about the history of winemaking in the region by visiting the dedicated Champagne Wine and Regional Archaeology Museum.


By focusing on a product of national importance, this program led students to the discovery of French history, society, and culture, with champagne and wine culture as the key to better understanding France.

Accent partners with U.S. colleges and universities to provide fully customized support for faculty-directed summer programs, thanks to its extensive local network of speakers, institutions, and experts. Experiential learning activities often include guest lectures, workshops, and study tours to locations of academic relevance.