Wine Talk

Snooth User: Christ Sztuk

Vintage mystery...

Posted by Christ Sztuk, Dec 23, 2012.

Can anyone help figure out the age of this bottle?  I haven't had any luck in my search.  The label is devoid of any date and I cannot a match on the web.  It looks similar to the turn of the century labels as well as the bottles from the 1960's.  The lair from whence it surfaced could have swallowed it up in either decade, as it belonged to my great-grandfather and has been kept full of vino good and bad  since he built the cellar in 1890.  Please help me solve this mystery which has become a mote in mine eye... I know not whether to toss out a Beatles era bottle, or preserve what might have been an early addition to my ancestor's collection.  Thanks!


Reply by EMark, Dec 23, 2012.

Well, CS, I think you have a pretty interesting bottle, there.

To immediately answer your title question about the vintage date, if you cannot find a vintage date displayed on any of the labels--front, back or neck--then I would conclude that it is "non vintage" wine.  The wine that is in the bottle was made from grapes harvested in multiple years.  Non vintage Champagnes or sparkling wines are not uncommon at all.  Some people prefer them because they feel they can depend on the winemaker's skill in consistently blending wines from different vintages as opposed to taking what nature gives you in a single year.

I find your pictures very interesting for a number of reasons.  The neck label indicates that the Paul Masson Champagne Company was established in 1852.  According to Wikipedia Paul Masson himself was born in 1859.  It does not seem likely that the Paul Masson Champagne Company of Saratoga, California was founded by an ancestor (Paul Masson, Sr.?) since Paul Masson was born in the Burgundy region of France.  Also, according to the Wikipedia article, Paul Masson's first Champagne was produced in 1892 under the Almenden label.  It may very well be that every bottle of Paul Masson Champagne that that "Established in 1852" label on it, but I find it curious.  Perhaps there is somebody out there who can provide an explanation.

The second thing that intrigued me is the nomenclature "Still Champagne."  I had never heard of that.  Still wines do not have effervessence.  I have learned in the last hour that, in fact, still wines are produced in the Champagne region of France.  However,I have to believe that a wine produced in the United States, presumably, for consumption in the United States labeled "Champagne" would be bought by a consumer who had the presumption that the wine would have bubbles.  I would expect that anybody who ignored the word "Still" in the description would be pretty disappointed.  Now, my presumption is from the perspective of an American who started appreciating wines in the late 1960s.  Is it possible that earlier in the century, "Still Champagnes" were very common, and consumers sought them out?

Here is one thing that might give you a clue.  I notice that the label indicates "Alcohol by Volume."  I do not think that disclosure has always been required.  If somebody out there can give us the year that ABV was required on a label, that my give a clue on the earliest date that this wine could have been bottled.  Then again, maybe it wouldn't.  Paul Masson may have been putting it on before it was required.  It would be interesting to find a Paul Masson label that did not have the ABV on it.

Here is another idea. It appears that the Paul Masson Mountain Winery in Sarasota is maintained as a historical site by the U.S. Park service.  Perhaps you can contact them, share your pictures and learn more from them.

I would be surprised if there is any value here other than historical--to the wine industry, the state of California, or your family--but it is a very interesting find.  If you learn more in your own research, then please come back here and fill us in.

Reply by Christ Sztuk, Dec 25, 2012.

  Thanks for the ideas, EMARK.  I will check out the ABV lead.  There is also an interesting point that isn't quite visible in my blurry pictures (sorry!).  The labels were originally printed with 3/4 pt, then stamped over with 4/5 ltr.  Misprint and reappropriation? I'ts hard to imagine a 12 oz. champagne label fitting on a larger bottle.

  As far as the 1852 claim is concerned, it's my understanding that m.Masson was referring to the vineyards which he inherited from his predecessor and father-in-law, Charles LeFranc.  The land itself was first cleared and sown by a man named Etienne Thee at the aforementioned date and LeFranc was a neighbor who soon partnered with his fellow countryman in his endeavors.


I appreciate your help and will keep you posted on any information that I can find.

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