When Dom Perignon, credited with inventing champagne, first tasted the bubbly beverage, he is rumored to have said, “Come quickly, I am tasting stars!”
Emmy Award–winning executive producer, entertainment and lifestyle television celebrity, and Marblehead native Jenny Johnson hopes her own star power will help launch her sparkling wine, while encouraging people to pause to appreciate the small joys in every day.
“Historically, we think of sparkling wine as [intended] for momentous occasions,” says Johnson, whose work hosting and producing NECN’s Dining Playbook and TV Diner helps foodies find the best places to eat and drink in New England. (She has garnered two Emmy Awards for her work.) “But it’s not necessarily helpful to wait for those big, important events,” she suggests.
While Johnson and her friends often enjoy a bit of bubbly just to add a festive touch to the commonplace, she found that there was a niche in the market that just wasn’t filled.
“I’m a big fan of bubbles—that’s the gift I bring to people’s homes, that’s what I enjoy on a Sunday. But I personally found that I would be spending a lot of money to get what I considered to be great sparkling wine or Champagne—or, alternatively, I would spend very little and not get the flavor I was looking for,” Johnson says.
What she wanted was a domestically produced sparkler with a complex flavor at a price point that was suitable for everyday enjoyment.
After chatting with the staff at New England powerhouse wine and spirits distributor M. S. Walker, Johnson realized there was a hole in the market where she could fit perfectly.
“I was able to connect a lot of pieces because of the relationships I’ve made over the past decade,” Johnson says. “I have grown to have the utmost respect for everyone in this business. I’ve learned so much, but I always wanted to find a niche to be a part of [the industry] in addition to promoting it.”
The result is Champy (pronounced shamp-y), a blend of 60 percent chardonnay and 40 percent pinot noir sourced from Sonoma, Mendocino, and Napa Counties. The still wine is crafted into a sparkler using the traditional méthode champenoise, in which a secondary fermentation takes place in the bottle. The process is more expensive than just carbonating a still wine, but its adds subtlety and nuance.
To create the perfect blend, Johnson worked with Penny Gadd-Coster, executive director of winemaking at Rack & Riddle in Sonoma County, California—a connection M. S. Walker helped coordinate.
Johnson was immediately drawn to Gadd-Coster, because of both her palate and her resumé. With nearly three decades in the wine industry, more than 100 medals and awards to her credit, and a special focus on sparkling wine, Gadd-Coster brought the science and wine-making chops to Johnson’s vision. “Female winemakers at her level are rare—that was immediately a big draw,” Johnson says. “I applaud and appreciate powerful women.”
Johnson worked with Gadd-Coster for six months, perfecting the blend and process. “We think of sparkling wine from a romantic standpoint, but it actually involves very specific science,” Johnson says, adding that combining Gadd-Coster’s scientific expertise with her own marketing and promotion prowess has been a heady experience. “It’s been quite a rush,” she says.
The name Champy evokes the lighthearted approach to celebrating every day that Johnson wants to share—and is also the term that she and her friends use when suggesting a get-together.
“I knew the name [would be] Champy because it’s a word I’ve used with my friends for years,” Johnson says. “It doesn’t necessarily mean ‘let’s go get a glass of sparkling wine’—it just means ‘let’s meet up for drinks.’”
Now it will take on a new meaning, especially while celebrating with family over the Jewish holidays. This year, “Champy will be ever-present,” Johnson says with a laugh. When she gets together with her large extended family in Marblehead to play a Jeopardy-style trivia game the family has dubbed “Jewpardy,” covering everything from the history of Judaism to who can stuff the most marshmallows in their mouth, everyone will drink her new sparkler.
“Our family does an amazing job of celebrating one another,” Johnson says. “It’s hard for me to put into words how much it means. So I know [all of them] will be out there championing Champy.”