Champagne Celebrations: Christening a Ship & A Shower for Race Winners

Champagne Celebrations: Christening a Ship & A Shower for Race Winners

Christening a ship for good luck before its first voyage dates way back. There were blessings in ancient cultures involving drinking of wine or even animal sacrifices, many of which had religious tones to them. Often, friars in the middle ages would board maiden British ships and pray while laying hands on the mast, and would sprinkle holy water on the deck or bow.

While the religious aspects of christening died off after the Reformation, members of royalty or aristocracy would often drink from a large goblet made from precious metals and gems, and would pour some of the liquid on the deck or the bow. The goblets were often discarded to be collected by bystanders or to fall to the ocean floor. As the number of ships grew rapidly with the growing navy and maritime sailings, that practice was eliminated, and it was replaced by the breaking of a bottle of wine across the ship’s bow.

The USS Constitution in 1797 was christened with a bottle of Madeira. Over the following century, ships were christened with whiskey, brandy, or Madeira. Some were christened with water from the ocean or other waterways.

Champagne became a christening fluid when the US Navy’s first steel battleship, the USS Maine, was completed in 1890. The champagne was the choice of The Secretary of the Navy’s granddaughter, who christened the ship.

In 1891, Queen Victoria christened the HMS Royal Arthur with a bottle of champagne, as well. The breaking of a champagne bottle on the bow of a ship provided an impressive explosion on impact, fitting of the occasion.

With Prohibition in effect, ships were christened once again with water, juice or other liquid. Champagne returned to its place of prominence in ship christening along, with the passage of the 21st Amendment, and continues to this day. 

The champagne shower after a winning car race didn’t begin until 1967 when Dan Gurney and A.J. Foyt won the 24 Hours of Le Mans, in a Ford GT40 Mark IV. Gurney, who carried the bottle of Moët & Chandon to the podium, had just spontaneously shaken the bottle, and ended up spraying it all over everyone who happened to be standing on the podium. Fortuitously, a number of the people on the podium had made comments that Gurney and Foyt would have a bad race. We believe he silenced that thought. His champagne shower went on to be a race winner’s tradition, and Gurney himself went on the following week to win the 1967 Belgian Grand Prix.

One of the people who got sprayed on that podium was Life magazine photographer Flip Schulke, who picked up the empty bottle and had Gurney sign it and date it. He kept the bottle for decades, and eventually returned it to Gurney, who kept it in a display case with a photograph of the champagne shower.

On Tuesday May 5th, City Vino celebrated our 3rd anniversary, and indeed there was some bubbly! Thank you for being part our first three years!  We look forward to celebrating many more years together. In honor of celebrations and Mother’s Day, Sparkling Wine is on sale this week for 10% off, with promo code “MothersDay.“  Cheers!!


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