Kaizen loosely transliterated means ‘improvement’ or the literal transliteration is ‘change for better’ from the Japanese.
I have been in the business world for quite some time and have found a fondness for Kaizen…. Who has ever said Kaizen and fondness in one breath? Champagne of course—Kaizen well…maybe just me. I have never seen an article about Kaizen and Champagne. And I can think of no more ideal wine region where the subject of Kaizen hand-in-hand. Actually no other product demonstrates Kaizen so well.
I need to pair together the concept of Kaizen and Champagne. Kaizen has always been exercised in Champagne even if the term had not been invented; proof of concept it it’s most tangible form is the history of Champagne.
We can look at Venetian shipmakers who have been 5S* methodology producing ships five century ago. If I look at the Operational Excellence or Business Process Excellence (BPE) I think of terms like Lean, Lean Six Sigma, Six Sigma, 5S, and Kaizen to name a few concepts and methodologies. The 20th Century was not just about scientific management but management by objective and quality. Toyota, Motorola and General Electric have been big promoters of some variant of Business Process Excellence and I should add many other companies have looked to BPE to define, innovate, maintain and improve business processes and operations.
Champagne is certainly a great example of Kaizen. And while Kaizen is one of Champagne’s secret sauce there is a pure, core and unadulterated vision and belief in making Champagne not just a marginal wine region but one of world-class wines.
Kaizen is about incremental improvement; small steps that in the long run demonstrate a remarkable difference. Now the word innovation can be talked about when bring up the subject of Kaizen. Innovation is a movement that is both remarkable and very disruptive—innovation is a singular act, product, process or idea that has a significant impact and is seen as a positive contribution. Some things in Champagne can be covered by a blanket statement of innovation but innovation is a rare event—more common and realistic is to hone in on improvements bit-by-bit hence Kaizen.
I am not going to belabor (because it has been told many times before) the long history of incremental improvements in Champagne but I’ll start with Reims. A city that is known as the place where France’s kings were always crowned did not have a wine fitting for a regent. The Champagnoise were longing for the wine excellence for the kings of France—looking to it’s neighbour is Burgundy. Burgundy has been producing wines of excellence for a very long time—the path of incremental improvements was fewer for Burgundy then Champagne. The climate is Burgundy friends and Champagne’s foe.
The story begins with the pesky bubbles—the process of double fermentation was not known and, of course, not known how to stop it. Alas the climate and storage of wines created the double fermentation state. The bubbles were not what the Champagnoise envisioned because this was to create a comparable wine and after all the grapes were similar sans Pinot Meunier.
Lets start with Dom Pérignon and I’ll make it simple with some foundational bookends of the Dom and Madame Clicquot. Pérignon did not invent Champagne just helped to start developing this regions wines. His goal was to stop the bubbles alas he could not stop but he made some important foundational contributions.
I am capturing the incremental improvements and in no particular order and this is a contribution made by Dom Perignon and Madame Clicquot and others:
• Wine grapes utilized – his preference was for Pinot Noir above other grapes
• Improved clarification of wines
• Blending wines
• Corks that could withstand 3 atmospheres of pressure
• Bottle design and strength (which has been further refined today to reduce carbon footprint)
• Secondary fermentation
• Classifiying sugar levels
o Brut Nature
o Extra Brut
o Extra Dry
o Blanc de Blancs
o Brut Rose
o Blanc de Noirs
• Organizing body: The Comité Champagne
• The allowed grapes
o Most common: Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Meunier (also known as Pinot Meunier)
o Less common: Arbane, Petit Meslier, Pinot Blanc (Vrai Blanc) and Pinot Gris
We needed multiple of improvements and we could not have had one singular innovator—even Dom Perignon would have tried to eliminate bubbles… Imagine Champagne as a still wine? The desire to remove the bubbles was to remove what was thought of to be a flaw instead of an asset. …. A good thing that he failed at that and a good thing Kaizen helped to progress this wine to the bubbly state we know today. Input of many people and, of course, Dom Perignon and Madame Cliquot is evidence of Kaizen in action and that time which Kaizen requires can make an ideal state.
*5S is a a workplace methodology in Japanese: Seiri – Sort, Seiton – Set in Order, Seiso – Shine, Seiketsu – standardize, and Shitsuke – sustain.
James the Wine Guy
Demystifying Wine…One Bottle at a Time from all wine regions around the world.
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