The Night Julius Caesar Invented Champagne

Written by Madeleine de Jean
Review by Steve Donoghue

“Each time you enjoy a glass of wine made of grapes from any of the now hundreds of thousands of vineyards, you participate in Dionysos’s story. With every frothing of Champagne at your lips, you are drinking stars; for all of us, all things on planet earth, are creatures of star-dust and of Dionysos.”

In Madeline de Jean’s offbeat debut, The Night Julius Caesar Invented Champagne, a modern-day wine expert named Rebecca responds to a sudden rise in artificially-made wines on the international market by traveling back in time – to the Rome of Julius Caesar, to the mythical era of the Trojan War, and to the heart of Greek mythology itself in order to meet the father of winemaking, Dionysos.

The whimsy of the book’s premise is well-handled throughout, and de Jean does a good job of smoothly incorporating into her narrative a good deal of information about the history and mythology of wine. The execution of the story is a bit scattershot, and the prose itself is sometimes stilted, but the depiction of Homer’s famous kings has an appealing humanity to it.