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Marble & Grain: A Chat with the Dame, The Champagne Dame

In anticipation of Marble & Grain's 'Young Guns of Champagne' Masterclass on Saturday April 14th, we chatted with the woman behind it all, Kyla Kirkpatrick, aka The Champagne Dame. A regular on Marble & Grain's event calendar, Kyla left her corporate job over ten years ago and has, ever since then, dedicated her life to her deep love of Champagne. Here, she chats about everything from the dangerous art of sabreage, to how she struck up a love affair with Champagne. 

Book your Young Guns of Champagne Masterclass tickets here.

We are excited to bring this exclusive, and the first masterclass of this type, to Marble & Grain. What can we expect from such a masterclass?
We are going to explore the new Young Guns of Champagne. Champagne as a region and as a wine has never been more exciting! We have these amazing new generation winemakers who are experimenting in the vineyard. They are taking some of what they learned from their grandparents, some of what they learned through doing harvest in Australia and applying new world principals - the wines have never been more interesting. We will learn about history, etiquette, champagne styles and more over a decadent lunch.

For those of us who are less familiar with the champagne world, what is some of the terminology we can expect to hear on the day?

There are a lot of French words that don’t have direct translations but some of the terminology you may hear on the day are Sabrage, the verb of the word ’sabre’, which is a sword, and refers to taking the end of the champagne bottle off with this sword. You will also hear other words such as ‘Terroir’ which refers to the conditions of the vineyard that influence the wine and also ‘Cepage’ which talks of the grapes which are blended into the champagne.

There is much to learn about champagne, but we will take it step by glorious step.  I also run through the correct pronunciations of champagne brands - this one is tricky! I will give guests enough information on the region, history of the region and etiquette to go away and be mini-champagne-masters! They will have the right to correct people at a dinner party!

One day you just decided to ‘live a life of passion’ and ‘follow your heart’ into the world of Champagne.  Can you pinpoint the exact moment that realisation happened for you?
Totally! I was reading an article on Napoleon Bonaparte and his passion and connection with the champagne region and my mind just lit up. I became curious about the region’s history and story and boy was it a great one. I just starting reading book after book and really diving deep into the stories of the region - from Marie Antoniette to Madame Clicquot there are so many fascinating and inspirational stories. Champagne is without a doubt one of the most fascinating wines on the planet - after this class you will not look at this the same way again.

Can you tell us about your training and your time in France?
There is no degree you can do to specialise in Champagne so the best way to learn is to be in the vineyards and spend time with the growers. I bought a one way ticket to Paris in 2005, not really knowing what to expect but I just knew in my heart that I had to go. I spent 8 months in Champagne on my first trip and then I was recruited with Louis Vuitton Moet Hennessy in France and I was trained further in Champagne before being transferred to Sydney to be finessed into being an educator specialising in Champagne.

My time in France was amazing. I met a lot of wonderful people both in my time in Champagne and also in Paris. I can’t share all the wonderful stories but I will tell some!  

What does Champagne mean to you? And do you have a favourite?  
Champagne beguiles me. I never tire of learning about it. Champagne is the most challenging region in the world climatically to grow a grape, the most complex wine production technique and aged for longer than any other wine in the world. Add to this the stories of the champagne houses and other key influential people in its illustrious past and you have one utterly scintillating product. You can look at it from so many angles… many stories…..

We know that you are trained in the art of sabrage, however it is clear that this is not something for the faint hearted? Can you run us through how you learnt the age old technique of opening a Champagne bottle with a sabre?
I admit, sabrage is dangerous. I still get nervous. You are essentially taking a sword to a highly pressured glass object and no matter how many times you perform this there is a possibility that it can go wrong! However Sabrage is traditional and it is a wonderful way of marking an occasion. I am actually going to show the guests two ways of sabering the bottle… they can do at home…at their own peril!