UMC - Grandes Marques et Maisons de Champagne

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The Seventeenth Century

The first third of the seventeenth century was relatively peaceful in Champagne, one can but complain of a few uprisings on the eastern side of the region between 1614 and 1616, the result of the scheming Charles de Gonzague, the governor of the province, who allied himself with the Prince of Condé and the Dukes of Mayenne and Bouillon to oppose the regent Marie de Medici. But after 1630, the operations established by the French intervention in the Thirty Years War and the manoeuvres of Duke of Lorraine [1] transformed Champagne into a vast military base (138). Spain had taken positions in the north of France and the armies camped on the plains of Champagne. While the wine producing region did not see any fighting it did nevertheless suffer requisitioning and pillaging by Louis XIII’s troops until the Grand Condé was victorious at Rocroi in 1643. But this was just a prelude to the terrible misery in Champagne that was brought about by the Fronde uprising between 1648 and 1657. The Spanish in the Netherlands allied themselves with the Frondeurs. To oppose the threat that they posed to Eastern France Condé sent the troops of Baron d’Erlach, a Swiss nobleman, to Champagne in 1649. These were in fact German, Polish, and Swedish mercenaries who systematically bled Champagne for two years, leaving behind a catalogue of horrific crimes. A pamphlet of the time entitled La Champagne désolée par l’armée d’Erlach (Champagne devastated by Erlach’s army) contains horrendous accounts of pillage, sacrilege, and rape. Oudard Coquault, a burgher of Rheims, writes in his Mémoires that in May of 1649 the people of the mountain from Rilly to Villers-Marmery occupied the woods, and that in May and June of the same year, from the twelfth of the last to the tenth of June, a German colonel, of the name of Binet, ravaged the Marne River. Their base camp was in Ay, where in addition to ransoms of two or three pistols from each inhabitant, they demanded eleven thousand pounds before they left... This brigade holds all the villages in the area in fear, nobody dares go out in the fields for rear of being robbed.

D’Erlach’s ruffians [2] were succeeded by brigands led by Charles Oudard, a roofer known as Mâchefer, who arrived in the Marne Valley, downstream from Epernay, in 1651. In April 1652 Charles VI, the Duke of Lorraine, plundered Champagne with bands of mercenaries, numbering around 20,000, and extracted ransoms from all those that they could find. Coquault wrote this time, The villages have been demolished and are deserted: these are the fatal effects of war. Elsewhere he recounts how, returning from Hautvillers, he was ambushed by a band of Lorrains, robbed and held to ransom, and that at Chenay his vineyard worker was killed. Condé and his adversary Turenne then took it in turns to wage war in Champagne, and their troops showed no more consideration for the inhabitants than their predecessors. Coquault noted that Turenne’s soldiers have drunk and squandered more than six hundred "pièces" of wine [3] in Hautvillers alone ... these are not dogs sent by the king to protect his flock, they are wolves.

In 1659 the Peace of the Pyrenees finally brought Champagne the relief that it so desperately needed after the darkest thirty years in its history. Five years before, on 7 June 1654, Louis XIV had been crowned at Rheims at the age of sixteen. Coquault could finally write, Now, with peace and with abundance, we can rest. The countryside had suffered from the misfortunes of war even more heavily than the towns, enduring the destruction of villages and harvests, epidemics and famine. In 1648 the first President Molé, in the Remontrances to the Queen, had confirmed that the countryside was already no more than a desert. The cultivation of vines and transport of wines raised innumerable and constant problems. Coquault recounts that on the 24 September 1650, the army of Marshall Praslin was on the Mesneux and Sacy Plain and that they were harvesting and causing damage to the vines, and that on the 11 October of the same year the army returned to Sillery, pillaged and sacked what remained at Villers Allerant, so little was left of the harvest, which was whatever they could not eat, as to be nothing. As in the sixteenth century, and in similar circumstances, certain people did nevertheless benefit. The army of Flanders had bought wine in such quantities that prices had increased, to the general satisfaction of the merchants [4].

Malgré la paix, le logement des gens de guerre continue jusqu’à la fin du siècle, en raison des campagnes extérieures de Louis XIV. Les inconvénients qui en résultent, l’accroissement constant des impôts, la cherté de la vie, s’ajoutent aux misères accumulées pendant les guerres de religion, la guerre de Trente Ans et la Fronde. Dans les dernières années du XVIIe siècle, la condition du vigneron champenois est déplorable. On connaît le terrible texte de La Bruyère, écrit en 1689 : L’on voit certains animaux farouches, des mâles et des femelles, répandus par la campagne, noirs, livides et tout brûlés du soleil, attachés à la terre qu’ils fouillent et qu’ils remuent avec une opiniâtreté invincible... Ils se retirent la nuit dans des tanières, où ils vivent de pain noir, d’eau et de racines [5]. Et le même La Bruyère dit un peu plus loin : Le destin du vigneron, du soldat et du tailleur de pierre m’empêche de m’estimer malheureux par la fortune des princes ou des ministres qui me manque.

Despite the peace the billeting of soldiers continued until the end of the century because of Louis XIV’s external campaigns. The resulting inconvenience, constantly increasing taxes and high cost of living, added to the accumulated miseries of the Religious Wars, the Thirty Years War, and the Fronde. In the last years of the seventeenth century conditions for vine growers were appalling. The terrible text of La Bruyère, written in 1689 contains the following, One sees some shy animals, male and female, scattered throughout the countryside, black, livid, and quite sunburnt, close to the earth that they search and work with an indomitable stubbornness...In the night they withdraw to their dens, where they live on black bread, water and roots. And the same La Bruyère writes a little further on, The destiny of the vine grower, the soldier and the stone-cutter prevents me from considering myself unlucky that I do not have the fortune of a prince or a minister.

It is however difficult to establish a precise idea of the vine grower’s situation, we have already seen the consequences in this respect of the Hundred Years War. There is no doubt that generally speaking the peasants were unhappy, but for different reasons. The vine grower, despite La Bruyère’s dismal picture, was relatively privileged, because in those times vines offered a better yield than ploughing the soil. It was not unusual for him to own his land. He would also have had some livestock, and could charge vine owners in the towns for his services and skills, at a respectable rate [6]. Those who did not possess their own vines were tenant farmers according to types of agreements that were by now well established.

This would therefore suggest that, in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, the only vine growers who really suffered were those in regions that, at some point or other, became directly implicated in military operations or rearguard manoeuvres, and, in the latter case, only for the periods, excessively long as they may have been, when troops were stationed or passing through. And so those in Basse-Champagne (the southern part of the province of Champagne, that includes Troyes, Bar-sur-Seine, Bar-sur-Aube, and Sézanne), which was more sheltered from this point of view, almost certainly had a better time of it than those in the Marne Valley and Haute-Champagne, between Marne and Aisne.

The fortune of the vineyard goes hand in hand with that of the vigneron (vine grower). During the difficult periods the areas of vines decreased; as soon as calm was restored the vineyards would make up their losses, at least the good ones would. There were also occasional restrictions imposed by the government or the local authority when it seemed necessary to boost the raising of livestock and/or the planting of cereal crops. In 1552 an order was given to pull up vines (243); in 1566 it was stipulated that in each canton a maximum of one third of the land could be planted with vines [7]. Overall the number of vines in Champagne has slightly reduced the fifteenth century.

By the end of the seventeenth century there were numerous grape varieties planted in Champagne, and we know the main ones from the texts of the period. Among white grapes, we find mainly Morillon (or Maurillon) Blanc [8], also called Maubard or Mauribard, Gouest (or Gouais) Blanc, Meslier and, in the Aube, Chasselas Doré (or Bar-sur-Aube Blanc) and Arbanne. For the black grapes we most often find Morillon Noir [9] and Morillon Taconné [10], but also Morillon Hâtif (early), known as Magdeleine, and the mediocre Gouest Noir. Jean Merlet notes that the, Morillon hâ more curious than it is good... and much affected by flies, that the ordinary Morillon Noir ...makes better wine and that the Morillon taconné... is better than the earliest varieties and is excellent for making wine, crops well, and that the leaves are white and floury [11]. Finally there was a grape of intermediate colour, which was used to make wines that would vary in colour from white to red, depending on the intensity of the initial fermentation (when the skins are in contact with the wine) and the pressing: this was the Fromenteau or Frumenteau or Fromenté grape, known elsewhere as Griset, Enfumé, Avernas Gris d’Orléans, Burot, etc., and which Nicolas Bidet, officer of the King’s House, said in the eighteenth century was a very exquisite grape and well-known in Champagne [12] Liger describes it in the Nouvelle Maison rustique as a "grey-red", and adds, the bunches are fairly large, with dense seeds and tough skins, the juice is excellent and makes the best wine: it is to this grape that the much praised wine of Sillery owes its merit and its fame. Some varieties have been in the region for a long time, such as Morillon and Gouest, and are mentioned by Eustache Deschamps in his poems. Others have probably been imported from Burgundy from as early as the fifteenth century [13].

In Champagne at the beginning of the seventeenth century one finds, just as in the sixteenth, an indiscriminate mix of very ordinary white wines and red wines being produced from the same land. The reds were a significant part of the total volume and were naturally fairly light in colour, very clear verging on pale [14]. The adjective clairet or cleret is definitely used for red wines, and not for whites as some authors have mistakenly assumed. It was in use all over France and is the origin of the English word, claret, synonymous with the wines of Bordeaux. It applies to lightly coloured red wines, also called paillé (straw coloured)26 , or oeil-de-perdrix (partridge eye); such wines were painted in light tones by Georges de La Tour, in Le Tricheur à l’As de Carreau (The Cheat), by Chardin, in La Table, and by Lancret, in Les Rémois (The Inhabitants of Rheims). It was specified at the beginning of the eighteenth century that in past centuries it was the custom in this land to make so called red wines, which is to say ’oeil-de-perdrix’. It was thus an intermediate colour between rosé and red, that Olivier de Serres described as the colour of oriental-ruby (584). Towards the end of the eighteenth century, "oeil-de-perdrix" became synonymous with pink, and according to the Dictionnaire de l’Académie, in the 1798, was said of a wine with a slight red tint. This weak and somewhat random colour put the red wines of Champagne in a poor position relative to the wines of Beaune, which had a stronger colour and corresponded more to the tastes of the period, and were therefore easier to sell; with the result that it was common practice in Champagne to strengthen the colour of red wines

One would like to be able to say that in this period only the good wines were produced in Champagne that La Fontaine, a native of the region, describes in his tale Les Rémois: It is only listed what I prefer of Rheims : / The ornament of France’s honour,/ For, not counting the holy vial and the good wines,/ Charming objects there abound (328) (The holy vial contained the holy oil used to anoint the kings of France). Unfortunately if they were ever excellent it was unusual; documents from vine growers and merchants leave little doubt about the matter. We have seen how the vineyards suffered for two centuries. To the misfortunes of war must be added due to the caprices of nature. Jean Pussot, in his Journalier, records the numerous years of frost or drought that sometimes followed each other. In 1570, the vines in low places were badly damaged and did not yield very good wines; in 1587, there was hardly any wine and it was of poor quality, in 1588, there was little wine and of average quality. Many of the other years listed did not offer much better results; it would seem that every other year the wine was either of poor quality or of insufficient quantity, or both. It is true that this did not prevent some producers from making excellent wines that enjoyed, as we have seen, a good reputation, the problem was one of consistency.

We find in the L’Art de Bien Traiter, a New Work, of Curiosity and Elegance, that the wines of Burgundy and Champagne are good when the years are good, and principally the wine of Champagne when it has this liveliness that some rakes so esteem, when it is clarified quickly, when the wine is worked more than the level of its natural strength, for one should not be so proud of the type of wine that is always furiously bubbling in its vat, by Easter it should be finished, if later then beware, often after such storms and repeated excitement, it is decided: What? nothing, all its fire produces nothing but a highly displeasing and indigestible green wine , which gives strange discomfort to the bosom [15]. Note that some have imagined this to be a description of sparkling wine, but that in fact it is simply wine fermenting in a barrel, put incidentally on a par with that of Burgundy. The work from which this is taken was written twenty years before the sparkling wines of Champagne first appeared.

One also finds, in a treatise of 1718 that the people of Champagne, either through delicacy of taste, or a desire to profit further from their wines, or an ease for improving them, have been at all times highly industrious to make them more exquisite than those of the other provinces of the kingdom. But this tract, entitled Manière de cultiver la vigne et de faire le Vin en Champagne (The Manner of Cultivating Vines and Making Wine in Chamagne), and unsigned, is the work of a canon of Rheims, Jean Godinot, whose opinion may well have been influenced by love of his native land, and in any case, only valid for a limited volume of wines of quality. In reality many wine producers sold fairly poor wines, through habit and negligence, or in order to attempt to gain a rather variable profit by preferring quantity over quality.

It was still the case in Champagne that vines were cultivated and wines made in much the same way as in the rest of France, with similar and not particularly original results. But now a technical innovation appeared that was to strongly influence the evolution of the region’s wines, giving them a lead on those of other regions, and opening the way for the appearance of bubbles in champagne. Having trouble competing with Burgundy’s red wines, the Champagne wine producers found a way of using their black grapes to make white wines which were much superior to those that they had been making with their white grapes, and which had never been very well liked. Still in the eighteenth century, in the Spectacle de la Nature, an excellent work that appeared without the name of the author but which came from the pen of abbot Pluche, we find, white grapes in truth only give a white wine which is commonly without strength or quality, which quickly becomes yellow, and must be drunk before the summer.

It is possible to make white wine from black grapes, because their pulp and the juice is actually white. It is therefore necessary, to avoid the skins colouring the juice, to harvest carefully, not to press and macerate the grapes as in the past had always been done with red and white wines alike [16] , and to adopt an appropriate pressing technique. One can thus obtain a white wine, known as vin gris (grey wine) [17] in order to distinguish it from wine made from white grapes, this vin gris, so lively to the eye, which has a purity and a sparkle like that of crystal, and which comes from the blackest grapes [18]. It was to become a huge success, so much so that other regions of France tried to do the same, especially in Bordeaux [19]; but we must imagine that the results were not as good as in Champagne, for Béguillet wrote in 1770 that, with the exception of Champagne, all the white wines that are made elsewhere are made with white grapes [20].

Before anything else the bunches destined to be made into grey wine were subjected to special attention. Vines were selected for small grapes, and the white grape varieties were eliminated which according to Olivier de Serres, were crossing with the black vines. For a wine to be exquisite, wrote Canon Godinot, the grape varieties must be well chosen, and they should mostly produce small black grapes. For the wine to be refined, it is necessary to remove all the varieties which produce white grapes and those which produce large black grapes [21]. In the best vineyards they pruned short, with a view to improving quality, which was already the trademark of wine production in Champagne. There are two sorts of vines grown in Champagne, known as high vines and low vines. High vines are those which are left to grow in the less fine places and which are four or five feet high; the low vines are allowed to grow to a height of three feet. The high vines produce a lot and often give seven or eight pieces of wine for each arpent; the low vines produce little but the wine is much more delicate, they often only give two pieces of wine per arpent [22], sometimes less, rarely four [23].

The harvest of these precious grapes was carried out using truly innovatory techniques. Everything was done to pick them intact, to shelter from the heat, and to keep them this way until they reached the press, for any bruising, or the start of any fermentation, would colour the juice. Not only did the right day for harvesting have to be chosen, but the also the right moment during any such day.

Canon Godinot is explicit: One must endeavour only to harvest on days when there is plenty of dew; and in hot years after a little rain, when one is happy to have it. This dew gives the grapes an exterior bloom, that is called ’azur’, and inside a coolness, which means that they do not heat up too easily, and that the wine is not coloured. The harvest should be begun half an hour after sunrise; and if there are no clouds and it becomes hot at around nine or ten o’clock then harvesting should stop. If the sky is overcast the harvest can continue throughout the day, because the grapes will keep well in the cool. In wet years, take care not to put any spoilt grapes in the baskets; and in all weathers be sure to remove bunches that are rotten, damaged, or completely dry; but never take the grapes off the bunches.

But it hard to match the Spectacle de la nature when it comes to taking precautions during the harvest:

The pickers arrive in the vineyard early in the morning and choose the most handsome grapes. They should be laid gently in their baskets, and placed with even greater care in the ’hottes’ (larger baskets) [24] to be carried to the foot of the vine, where, without the slightest bruising, they are put in the large baskets, keeping the bloom and the dew with which they are covered. Mist can contribute greatly, as much as dew, to the whiteness of the wine. If the sun is hot then spread damp cloths over the baskets, because if the grapes should become warm then the wine can take on a red colour. These baskets should be loaded onto animals of a peaceful nature who will carry them slowly and without shaking them, to the cellars where they can be covered and kept cool [25].

Every detail is important. Canon Godinot specifies that the grapes should be cut with a small curved knife, very cleanly, and with as little stem as possible, this last requirement being made so as to avoid the "wood" in the bunches of grapes giving the wine an unpleasant flavour. Maupin wrote that the sap from the stem being essentially coarse, earthy and hard, as it is, could only bring bitterness and harshness to wines which contained it. Bidet adds that one should prefer scissors to pruning knives, because they do not shake the vine, and more easily cut the stem close to the grapes, and that this is an extremely important point, because the stem is bitter and the length left on the bunch will be in proportion to the taste of wood in the wine.

It is evident that in the production of vin gris the harvest is an operation of which the total success depends on the great speed with which it must be carried out, failing which the wine will be tinted [26]. It would have been unthinkable to hurry along the animals who were carrying the grapes, who above all had to be be kept calm. Bidet wrote that if mules were as common in Champagne as in mountainous regions then this would be a great advantage at harvest times: everyone knows that this animal carries its burden without shaking or tossing it, which is why it is preferred over horses for the transport of litters, but failing a mule, one should give preference to donkeys over horses, as they are calmer [27]. It is thus obviously of interest to have the presses close to the vines, as Canon Godinot remarks, when the presses are close to the vines, it easier to prevent the wine from taking colour, because the grapes can be carried properly and with care in little time; but when they are two or three leagues away, one is obliged to put the harvest in barrels... and can hardly avoid that the wine has some colour, except in cold and wet years.

Presses were communal; only owners of large vineyards would have their own presses. There were various models, but the most common was the pressoir étiquet of which the screw, moved by an external calander, turned directly on the press surface made up of joined beams on which rested the mouton, a heavy iron weight, and so called because originally the screw was tightened with the help of a stick known as an étiquet. This was the press that best satisfied the requirements of this new type of pressing based, as we have seen, on the constant principle that the juice must be extracted without being coloured by the skins. This does not pose a problem at the start of the operation but, as it continues, the must builds up and takes on more colour. From this came the idea of splitting the pressing operation and producing different grades of wine with various degrees of colour and finesse.

Canon Godinot describes this in some detail: the first time that the great beams are lowered onto the grapes, the resulting wine is called the Vin de goute31; this is the finest wine, containing all that is most exquisite in the grape; this wine is too slender and lacks body: this first pressing is called the ’Abaissement’. It must be done with much dexterity and speed, first in the lifting of the beams, and then the constant adding of more grapes, which run down the sides and all around, back into the middle, loading quickly, and pressing the same a second and third time. These other two ’Abaissements’ are called the first and second ’taille’ (cut) [28], and must be completed in less than an hour, if the wine is to be properly white, because the grapes will not have had time to become warm, or the juice to remain in contact with the marc.

Usually the ’Vin de l’Abaissement’ is mixed with that of the first and second cut; rarely is it mixed with the third, depending on how hot or cold the year is: and the result is called a ’Cuvée de Vin fin’. There are skilled wine makers who say that the Vin de l’Abaissement should only be mixed with the first cut, because it is so much more delicate than the second and third cuts, and that they can always be mixed later assuming that they are fine enough and white enough. .

Canon Godinot describes further on that subsequent abaissements give a fourth cut known as the Vin de taille, with more colour than that known as ’partridge eye’, a strong wine, smooth and pleasant, a good ordinary wine, and three other cuts which make up the Vin de pressoir, which is very red, fairly rough, but adequate for servants. He explains that when one is not pressed, one should leave a good hour and a half between each of these last three cuts, as much as to give the wine time to flow imperceptibly, as to let the press workers sleep or rest, for their fatigue is severe, given that they must work day and night for about three weeks.

We thus see the appearance of the concept of separating ’vins de cuvée’ and ’vins de taille’, which is still applied in today’s champagne presses.

While perfecting the processes that would enable them to obtain a perfectly white must [29], the wine producers of Champagne also endeavoured to improve the techniques involved in the subsequent stages in the making of their vin gris. Abbot Pluche says peremptorily: lees [30] and air are the two plagues of wine and confirms that in Champagne the wine is decanted twelve times into perfectly clean barrels, in order to remove the lees. To make the various manoeuvres involved in these operations easier a system of drawing off (soutirage35)was invented using bellows and a specially made pipe; a full barrel was connected to an empty barrel with the pipe, the wine from the first would flow into the second due to the principle of communicating vessels and the remainder would be pushed out by the bellows, which would be applied to the bung hole (bonde36) of the barrel to be decanted [31]. Due to this technique the wines kept much longer. One reads in the Journal des Sçavans of 7 June 1706, that now that the secret of drawing the wines to make them clear has been found, the wines of Champagne can go all over the world, for they keep as well as the wine of Falerne [32].

Abbot Pluche confirmed this in 1744 with the following very clear account: nowhere have I seen a degree of care that approaches that which has been taken in Champagne for around fifty years. Its wine had previously been considered very fine and much valued, but it did not hold up well, and could not be transported very far. Long experience has enabled a more robust wine to be produced, without it losing any of its quality, that keeps six or seven years and often much longer. The wines of Aï used to last barely a year, but now that white grapes have been excluded from the wines of Champagne, that of the Montagne de Rheims lasts eight to ten years, and that of the Marne will easily last five to six. The wines of Burgundy would not falter, as they do, after the third, or often the second year, if the same precautions were taken when they were made.

The fact remains that while wines were well made and kept much better, they still ran the risk of deterioration in the casks, since the wood did not provide sufficient protection during long maturing or transport over long distances. These problems were resolved by the use of bottles becoming widespread. At the beginning of the seventeenth century bottles were fragile and usually had a wickerwork covering; they were rarely used for anything more than the journey from the cellar to the table [33]. But in Champagne the advantage of the air tightness of bottles with regards to keeping wine started to be appreciated in around 1670. Wine thus began to be drawn [34] into "potbellied" bottles in small quantities, which were sealed with a broquelet which was in turn fixed with string to the bottle’s neck. Broquelets were wooden pegs wrapped in flax tow and greased with tallow, of varying sizes, and which were used to stop barrels as well as bottles. And then from 1685, the improvement of bottle sealing with the use of corks from Spain [35]resulted in the practice of bottling being adopted by some of the better wines, but it was not until the end of the century that the glass makers of Argonne, imitating those in England, managed to make a thick, dark glass that enabled the transportation of Champagne’s wines in bottles to any destination. In the Journal des Sçavans of the 7 June 1706 it was reported that a modern traveller claims to have drunk wine from Champagne in Siam, and in Surinam.

The inhabitants of Champagne, due to their ingenuity, were thus at the origin of numerous innovations, none of which, it should be noted, are credited to particular individuals. However, their wines were to benefit from a new improvement of which the inventor is well-known. This was the assemblage or blending of grapes as was first practised by the cellar master of the Abbey of Hautvillers, Dom Pierre Pérignon. Located on the northern slopes of the Marne in Epernay, the wine of Hautvillers was not a new arrival in Champagne. It was cited in the thirteenth century by the trouvère, Henri d’Andeli. If it then seemed not to enjoy particular fame amongst its neighbours on the river, one can be sure that its wines were often sold under the more well known names of Ay, Epernay and even of Rheims. The Benedictine Abbey of Hautvillers had been established in 662 by Nivard, the bishop of Rheims, who wanted to associate himself with the spiritual renewal of the time, the foundations of which had just been laid by Saint Colomban. Ten centuries later the monastery was pursuing its activities in the service of God and men when Dom Pérignon arrived, in 1668, as procurator. He is gifted with a happy intelligence, a charitable character, and a good understanding of business, wrote an anonymous author of the nineteenth century, and René Gandilhon described him as diligent in his work, determined and even tenacious, with a concern for perfection in research, going hand in hand with a simple and honest nature.

Amongst Dom Pérignon’s duties were the management of the vineyards and the production of wine. He was effectively the abbey’s cellar master, a role which he fulfilled until his death at the age of seventy-six in 1715. He did an excellent job. Having taken over ten hectares of fairly poorly tended vines he handed on to his successor a domain of twenty-four hectares, hugely improved in terms of quality and general condition. To give his wines consistency and excellence he further developed the concept of assemblage or blending by introducing a new technique. Blending was already practised in various forms. As we saw, concerning vin gris, wines that came from the different categories of must obtained at pressing were usually mixed. It was also common practice amongst wine merchants to carry out coupages, or mixing of wines from different areas. Roger Dion even even sees this as the reason for the unification under the term vins de Champagne the wines of the Marne valley and the Montagne de Rheims. But it was less usual to find blending at the grape stage. We know that in the sixteenth century vines bearing white and black grapes were often mixed in the same vineyard and that the grapes were then mixed on the press, but by the end of the seventeenth century this practice had become frowned upon. Dom Pérignon’s innovation consisted of, before pressing, a systematic blending of the grapes of various origins and not just from a single vine, whether they had been harvested in different parts of the abbey’s estate, or whether they had been received in the form of tithes from a few of the surrounding villages, who paid in wine, in grapes or in cash. Dom Pérignon thus had a choice of grapes available that he could carefully mix on the presses that the abbey possessed in Hautvillers, Champillon and Dizy, in order to harmonize their qualities and smooth out their faults.

Abbot Pluche gives the following account which was reproduced by Maupin in his Méthode.

It was the knowledge of the fine effect produced by the grapes from three or four vines of different quality that brought perfection to the famous wines of Silleri, Aï, and Hautvilliers. Also, it had to be agreeable that all the various qualities that could flatter the palate seemed to be united. Father Pérignon, the Benedictine monk from Hautvilliers sur Marne, was the first to successfully blend the grapes from different vines in this way.

And here we have a description of Dom Pérignon’s technique from Brother Pierre, his pupil: Father Pérignon did not taste the grapes in the vineyards, even though he visited them almost every day as they approached maturity, but he would have some grapes brought to him from the vines which he had selected for the first blend, and he would taste them the next morning on an empty stomach, after they had spent a night outside his window, judging the taste according to the years, but he did not rely only on this for the composition of the blend, but also considered the weather, if the harvest had been early or late, if it had been cold or rainy, and if the vines had had plenty of leaves, all of these factors serving as guidelines for his distinguished blends. Dom François was to say later that this unique man preserved until decrepit old age a delicateness of taste so remarkable, that he could taste a grape and say with unerring accuracy the canton which had produced it.

This new technique gained Dom Pérignon a place in history, and entries in guides and dictionaries such as the following that appeared at the end of the eighteenth century: Dom Pierre Pérignon, Benedictine monk, born in Sainte-Menehould, died in 1715, rendered great service to the Province of Champagne by demonstrating how different types of grapes should be combined in order to make the delicate and valued wines for which he became famous [36]. It is a fact that this wise and modest monk gained a reputation within his lifetime that was out of proportion to his contribution to wine making and must be attributed to the range of eminent qualities that he displayed as a man and as a priest as well as a cellar master. Concerning his wisdom the Mercure de France of November 1727 declared that this monk that one might take to be a gourmet in fact never drank wine and lived almost entirely on milk and fruit. And as Brother Pierre said, we must rely on the principles of someone who had a special talent and, informed by long experience, has acquired the glory of having given the wines of Hautvillers the exceptional reputation that they enjoy everywhere. Dom Pérignon’s reputation was a guarantee of quality for the abbey’s wines.

The Marquis de Puysieulx wrote on 23 September 1690 to Adam Bertin du Rocheret [37]: I would like two excellent casks of Marne wine. I think that of Hautvillers is better than any other. Please ask the Prior of Hautvillers and Dom Pierre Perignon, the Procurator of the monastery, for them on my behalf, and please give them my compliments. Comte d’Artagnan, another of Adam Bertin du Rocheret’s customers, wrote to him on 9 November 1715: Monsieur the Marquis de Pizieux, who arrived yesterday, told me that Father Pérignon has died; who was much spoken of during his life; I would like you to think of me for the abbey’s first wines, for, frankly, they are the best.

Dom Pérignon was thus famous during his life, and well beyond the Champagne region. the poet Regnard, his contemporary, mentions him in his Epitre XI :

I keep you with care, better than my inheritance,
Of an exquisite wine drawn from the presses of this monk
More famous in Hautvillers than the defender of
Rabelais’ vaunted vineyard ever was.

As further testament to his popularity, the cellar master of Hautvillers features in a list of the best places in Champagne, from the pen of Claude Brossette, a commentator on Boileau, who in a note to the third satire (Le Repas Ridicule, The Ridiculous Meal), commits a gross error by citing Dom Perignon as a wine producing area rather than a person! He wrote that the most famous slopes producing the wine of Champagne are those of Rheims, Pérignon, Silleri, Haut- Villiers, Aï, Taissy, Verzenai, and Saint Thierri.

Here is what can be found on the subject in Abbot Pluche’s XIV dialogue in his Spectacle de la Nature: The Knight: Yesterday reading Despréaux’s feast, I found all the names of which Monsieur has just spoken. I then went to look for Pérignon and Silleri on the map, which are mentioned in the note: but I had a fine time trying to find Pérignon.
The Countess: That wag has mistaken the man for a mountain: it’s a silly little mistake.

Finally, an indication of the esteem in which he was held is that Dom Pérignon was granted the honour of being buried in the choir of the abbey church of Hautvillers, next to his friend Dom Ruinart, whose name would be given to the first champagne house fourteen years later by one of his nephews.

These are the historical facts. However, partly because of Dom Pérignon’s talents and popularity and partly because of the attractive figure that he has come to represent for the promotion of champagne, certain events and actions have been attributed to him that belong more to the realm of fable than reality; and the fact that this phenomenon started to occur comparatively recently has only added the possibilities for invention. It was only in 1865, a century and a half after his death, that Louis-Perrier exhumed a document that made claims about matters that no one had previously spoken of (370). The document in question was a letter written in Montier-en-Der, on 25 October 1821, to Monsieur d’Herbès, a burgher of Ay, by Dom Grossard, then the parish priest for Planrupt and Frampas, but previously the last procurator of the abbey of Hautvillers, which he had left at the Revolution. Without casting doubt on the authenticity of this letter, of which a copy is held in the departmental archives of the Marne (F 14), it has to be admitted that it contains new allegations about events that took place more than a century before, which the author did not witness, and that some of these allegations are unfounded and even manifestly erroneous. It is therefore advisable to take the role of historian when examining Dom Grossard’s claims, and those of the numerous authors who have been inspired by him.

One must first consider the discovery of the method that enabled the wines of Champagne to be made sparkling; this matter being of great importance in the history of champagne, it will be dealt with in detail in the next chapter. However, what should be made of Dom Pérignon’s secret which, according to some, would have revolutionized the production technique of the wines of Champagne? Dom Grossard claims to be the possessor of a secret way of fining wine which is apparently no more than a simple practitioner’s formula used to obtain a good clarification. Canon Godinot had also, a long time previously, mentioned a secret of Father Pérignon, but from the explanation that he gives in the 1722 edition of his treatise, one could conclude that it was just an empirical recipe aimed at improving the quality of certain wines:

All that remains is to consider the secret of the famous Father Pérignon. A person worthy enough of faith has claimed that Father Pérignon confided his secret to him a few days before his death; although a certain degree of scepticism is due, the secret is given here such as it was written by this person at the instruction of the monk when he was close to his end. In about a half a pint of wine should be dissolved a pound of candied sugar, throw in five or six peaches separated from their stones, four sols of powdered cinnamon, one nutmeg also powdered: once everything is well mixed and dissolved, a half sétier of scalded good eau de vie is added; this is filtered and then passed through a fine, clean linen cloth, the liqueur is then thrown into the barrel of wine, which it renders delicate and fine: the above recipe must be repeated for each barrel, and poured into the barrel as hot as possible as soon as the wine in the barrel has stopped bubbling.

Whatever the case may be, if a secret had been of any importance it would have quickly been discovered by others and exploited for its commercial value. As Roche wrote, this famous secret that nobody tried to find out, probably because it did not exist, will be claimed to be known by crafty types in order to attract customers (543). In reality, as René Gandilhon very justly wrote, this famous secret, was not one, at least in the sense of a manufacturing process that was jealously guarded. We must think rather of a personal talent, a metaphorical secret, the possessor of a particular aptitude, of an incommunicable art.

Dom Grossard claims that Dom Pérignon, at the end of his days, was blind. Yet no eighteenth century author recorded this, not even Dom François, his biographer, who contented himself with writing that in decrepit old age, having tasted the grapes, he would arrange them according to the soil from whence they came, and note with assurance the varieties that should be combined to obtain the best quality of wine. Of course one could argue that his excellent taste compensated for his lack of sight when he was sorting the grapes, but the lack of supporting evidence seems to suggest that this supposed blindness was a product of Dom Grossard’s imagination.

Finally, it has also been maintained that Dom Pérignon was the first to seal bottles with corks. This assertion is apparently untrue because, as we have just seen, corks began to be used in Champagne from about 1685, which was before the arrival of Dom Pérignon at Hautvillers. Furthermore, it would seem to contradict even the opinion of Dom Grossard who wrote in his letter to Monsieur d’Herbès that, at the abbey, in order to keep wine in bottles, instead of corks they used hemp, which was soaked in oil. According to some, Dom Pérignon adopted cork after he had made a voyage to Spain, or, according to others, after a visit from some Spanish monks. Yet it would seem that he never went to Spain and, if he received some Spanish brothers, then all they could have done was to encourage him to use a method that was already in use, particularly in England. Dom Pérignon did not invent the cork stopper, which was known long before his time, declares Younger, the British writer.

By virtue of the principal that one only lends to the rich, Dom Pérignon has been credited with numerous other initiatives, such as the design of the champagne bottle and even the invention of the champagne flute! The various degrees of truth or falsehood of all these stories matter little, for there is more than enough documented historical evidence that the famous cellar master has every right to a place of honour in the champagne hall of fame.

Another monk, of which there has been much mention, is Jean Oudart, a lay brother of the Benedictine community at the Abbey of Saint Pierre-aux-Monts de Châlons, which was part of the same monastic family as the Abbey of ’Hautvillers. Brother Oudart46 arrived in 1680 or 1681 in Pierry47, where his abbey had some buildings. The abbey also owned vines in Pierry, Avize, Cramant, Chouilly and Épernay, which were the responsibility of Brother Oudart until his death in 1742. Sixteen years younger than Dom Pérignon, he outlived him by twenty-seven years. While it is not known whether he in any way contributed to the production techniques of the wines of Champagne, there is no doubt that he was held in great esteem due to the quality of the wines that he produced; Louis-Perrier wrote:

We must also not forget Brother Jean Oudart, whose reputation as one of the finest connoisseurs was scarcely less well established than that of Dom Pérignon. He was very good at both making and selling wine.

Brother Oudart no doubt practised the blending of grapes in a similar way to Dom Pérignon, with whom he worked on improving the wines of the Rivière for more than thirty years, and with whom he shared the honour, a rare one in the Benedictine community, of being buried in a church outside the monastic enclosure.

We can be sure that Dom Pérignon and Brother Oudart managed to produce blends of a quality far superior to that of most of the other wines available in Champagne. This is borne out by their price, as indicated in a letter of 13 November 1700 from Adam Bertin du Rocheret to Maréchal d’Artagnan: Good wines and excellent wines are sold for 400, 450, 500, and 550 livres for a queue. Less good wines may be bought for 300 livres down to 150 livres. I omitted to tell you that those made by the monks at Oviller and Saint-Pierre are priced at between 800 and 900 livres.

For a long time only red wines were made from the vines on the north and east slopes of the Montagne de Rheims and around Rheims, that were always inferior in quality to those of the Marne Valley. La Framboisière noted: In the montaigne de Reims there are some fairly good wines when it is a hot year, otherwise they are small and acidic. In 1603, according to Pussot, they were sold at half the price of the new wine from the Rivière de Marne. But in the second part of the seventeenth century the area began to produce vin gris, in imitation of those of Ay and Pierry. The quality of these wines quickly improved to such a degree that they were honoured with a new appellation, the vins de Montagne. Canon Godinot wrote that: Amongst those of the Montagne, those of Sillery, Verzenay, Taissy, Mailly, and above all SaintThierry, have the best reputation; the latter has for a long time been the most renowned and most sought after, one may even say that it holds its own with the best wines of Champagne. The vins de Montagne shared the success of the vins de Rivière, although their popularity had its ups and downs, as suggested by this memorandum on the generality of Châlons written by the "intendant" or steward of Champagne, Larcher, the Marquis of Baye, in1698.

Election of Rheims: Everybody knows theses wonderful wines which are by any standards the best in the world.

Election of Epernay: Its main asset is its wines which are all very good, and of which the most excellent are those of Auvilers, the Valley of Pierry, Cumières, Aï and Mareüil. These wines have been preferred for the last five or six years (among the best connoisseurs) to those of the Montagne de Rheims on account of their delicacy, which does not, however, reduce their strength.

Each category has its own characteristics: the wines of the Marne Valley are fine and light while those of the Montagne de Rheims are full-bodied and keep better. Here is Canon Godinot’s opinion:

Élection d’Épernay : Sa principale richesse est en vins qui y sont partout fort bons, et dont les plus excellens sont ceux d’Auvilers, de la vallée de [Pierry>commune75], de Cumières, d’Aï et de Mareüil. Ces vins ont été depuis cinq ans ou six ans preferez (au goût des bons connoisseurs) aux meilleurs des montagnes de Reims à cause de leur délicatesse qui n’en diminue pas neanmoins la force.

Chaque catégorie a ses caractéristiques propres : les vins de la vallée de la Marne sont fins et relativement légers, ceux de la Montagne de Reims corsés et de meilleure garde. Voici ce qu’en dit le chanoine Godinot :

It is agreed in Champagne that the Rivière wines are usually whiter than those of the Montagne, and are more graceful, lively, and ready to drink than the others, which are harsher and more vapourous. The latter wines also keep longer than the former, and in good years they keep equally well in flagons for five or six years.

Since about 1665, or since the beginning of the production of vin gris, whether they were red or white, from the Rivière or the Montagne, or other areas in the Châlons region, the wines produced in Champagne were finally known as the vins de Champagne. Vive le pain de Gonesse, avec le bon vin de Paris, de Bourgogne, de Champagne (Long live the bread of Gonesse, with the wine of Paris, Burgundy and Champagne) wrote Patin in a letter dated the 21 November 1669. It even happened, that they gained the ultimate honour of being referred to as simply Champagne, as La Bruyère did: A great man likes Champagne and abhors Brie, he prefers to get drunk on better wine than a common man.

As the end of the seventeenth century approached the region was still not producing sparkling wines, but had a full range of still wines. The vin gris, which was white wine made from black grapes, and which was produced around Epernay and from the slopes of the Montagne de Rheims, had an excellent reputation. Black grapes were also used throughout the region to produce large quantities of red table wine that varied in colour. But there were also good quality red wines produced in some of the vin gris areas and in the Bar-sur-Aube region, of which Brother Pierre wrote in 1719 that for about fifty years we have tried to make red wine using sound principles which can produce a perfect ensemble. The white grapes, if they were not mixed in with the black grape harvest, were used more or less everywhere to make small quantities of not very good white wine, the best coming from the slopes of the chalky cliff to the south of the Marne d’Epernay and around Bar-sur Aube. There were also two unusual wines that were drunk in the winter of the year that they were made: tocane, a "vin nouveau" made from the "mère-goutte" or the "mother-drop", and vin bourru which came, says Canon Godinot, from white grapes left on the vine until All Saints day, sometimes until the eighth or tenth of November, once the mornings are cold, and which is sold and drunk almost when still warm.

Abbot Rozier pays tribute to the wines of Champagne in a dissertation written in 1772. This may be considered to have added significance in that he was from Lyons rather than Champagne and that he was a leading light in agriculture, having written with Chaptal and several other scholars the Complete Course in Agriculture. Here is the relevant passage: It was around the middle of the last century that the excellence of the wines of Champagne began to be remarked upon: however, this Province is no further south than the Isle de France or Lorraine where the wines are flat and weak. I repeat, it is a result of the enormous care that the inhabitants of Champagne take over their vines and the perfection that they have established in their methods of making wine that they manage to produce the degree of delicacy for which their wines are known. This excellent and well-established reputation was thus not only the consequence of the invention and popularity of vin gris, but also of its becoming comparatively widespread in the wine-producing areas of Champagne, and of the development of new techniques for the growing of vines and the making of wine.

The fame of the wines of Champagne was no longer limited to the few areas that had for a long time been famous for their quality due the happy combination of a good microclimate and the presence of either a religious establishment (Avenay, Hautvillers, Pierry, Saint-Thierry, Sézanne, Vertus, Verzy), or a trade connection (Ay), or both (Bar-sur-Aube, Châlons, Epernay, Rheims)56. These famous vineyards were certainly not unworthy of their reputation. Concerning Ay, Guy Patin provides further evidence with a play on words in a letter of the December 1659:

Today my second son Carolus passed his Vesperie and so will become a doctor this same month; we celebrated with about thirty of our best friends, and drank only wine from Beaune and Ai that the good Dom-Baudius used to say to the late Monsieur the President of Thou that it should be called Vinum Dei.

Translator’s note: Vinum Dei is a pun on Vindey, the name of a village in the south west of the Marne region, itself a contraction of Vin de Dieu (God’s Wine).

Two villages, Sillery and Verzenay, took their place later on in the exclusive class of prestigious wine producing areas. Canon Godinot, regarding the Vins de Montagne, placed them amongst the most reputable and as early as 1650 Maucroix wrote in a pastoral poem:

Show me Verzené, of which the charmed wine does
Surpass the nectar of the famed vineyard of Mante

The rise in fortune of these newcomers was due to the Brulart family of Sillery who owned land and vines with a château in Sillery. From the start of the seventeenth century, when Nicolas was Henri IV’s chancellor, until the Revolution, this line of gentlemen was present, its fortunes taking various turns, at the French court. Vine growing having become fashionable among the nobility and the bourgeoisie, one had not only to make wine but also be seen to do so. Olivier de Serres wrote in 1600 that, in the large towns, presidents, councillors, burghers and other notables have moved to their farms in order to be able to tend to their wine [38]. As owners of vines in Sillery, Ludes and Mailly, but above all in Verzenay, the Brularts offered their red wines and vin gris for tasting in Versailles, thus creating for Sillery, and to a lesser degree for Verzenay, a handsome reputation that reached its peak in the eighteenth century. In 1770 the Brularts owned about 50 hectares or 125 acres of vines which, at the time, was a substantial area [39]. Edme Béguillet, a lawyer at the parliament in Dijon, and an oenologist who rarely had a good word for the wines of Champagne, wrote in the same year that the wines of Sillery were of such superior quality that they were reserved for the king’s table [40]. It is true that Adélaïde, the Marshal of Estrées, the last direct descendant of the Brularts of Sillery, had tended his vines in such an enlightened manner that one became known as the Clos de la Maréchale (The Marshal’s vineyard). On his death in 1785 the direct line of the Brularts of Sillery came to an end and the vines became the property of Alexis Brulart, the Comte de Genlis and husband of the Comtesse de Genlis, the famous woman of letters.

The latter wrote that Jean Jacques Rousseau was very fond of a type of wine of Sillery, the colour of onion skins and that she and her husband had almost fallen out with him because he had been offended that the Comte de Genlis had brought him a basket of twenty-five bottles of Sillery wine, when he had only asked for two!

It has been supposed that two illustrious inhabitants of Champagne, the ministers Le Tellier and Colbert, had, like the Brularts, campaigned in Paris for the wines of Champagne. This was claimed at the time by a doctor in Beaune, Lord De Salins, about whom we will hear more later in connection with the Querelle des Vins, a polemic between Burgundy and Champagne. This claim was immediately refuted in the Journal des Sçavans of 7 June 1706, in which it is stated that, in Champagne, everyone knows that one of these Ministers owns no other land except that of Louvois, and that the only revenue this provides is in the form of wood; and that the other has so few vines that it would be an insult to his good name to suggest that he would distract himself for a moment from affairs of the State on their account. René Gandilhon points out that Colbert ordered wines from Cuissy for his table, and that the cellar of his Paris residence contained, at his death, no more than a barrel of white wine from the Rhine. One might add that the wines of Louvois were not known at that time, which would not have been the case if Le Tellier had been promoting them.

However that may be, by the 1660s the wine of Champagne no longer had any need of patronage. The following gives an indication of the situation in 1674: If Champagne succeeds, it is because the gourmets and connoisseurs run after it so willingly, there is hardly a more noble or more delicious drink in the world, and it is now so much the fashion that virtually all other wines are regarded, by those who wish to impress, as no more than coarse brews or dregs, that should not even be mentioned. It is also noted for its impressive liveliness, its charming taste, and a smell so wonderful it could revive the dead [41]. Furthermore, the wine of Champagne, as well as being highly regarded by all these gourmets and other fine gentlemen, was the king’s wine. Saint-Simon tells us that Louis XIV throughout his life...drank only the best wine of Champagne (562), to the point that his doctor, Fagon, warned that he should drink some old Burgundy. This is confirmed by the Marquis de Dangeau who wrote in his journal on 16 October 1695: The king, who used to drink nothing but the wine of Champagne, has entirely replaced it with that of Burgundy, on the advice of Monsieur Fagon. But for most of his reign the court followed the royal example, and the wine of Champagne, of course, became fashionable. It does not seem necessary to go back as far as Louis XIV’s coronation, as Chaptal does, advancing the suggestion that the grand society that accompanied Louis XIV at his coronation, gave back to the wines of Silleri, Hautvillers, Versenai, and several other areas neighbouring Rheims, the fame that they had previously and which they have since enjoyed.

Another king, James II of England, in exile in Saint-Germain, made the wine of Champagne his usual table wine, if one believes Saint-Simon concerning his quarrels with the archbishop of Rheims at the Assembly of the Clergy in 1700: Monsieur de Rheims had a grand table, and had some of the wine of Champagne of which he boasted loudly. The King of England, who hardly drank anything else, hearing it mentioned, sent a request to the archbishop that he send him six bottles. Some time later, the King of England, who had thanked him and who had found the wine extremely good, asked him to send some more. The archbishop, even more miserly with his wine than he was with his money, replied that his wine did not run like a savage through the streets, and did not send him a drop more.

Since the wines of Champagne had been admitted to the French court and praised it followed that they should then appear in the literature of the period. While they do not directly figure in the works of Molière, for it is certainly not to them that Harpagon is alluding to when he gives Madame Claude the government of the bottles at his miserly dinner, one could reasonably assume that Monsieur Jourdain offers some wine from Champagne to Dorimène during the feast in act IV of the Bourgeois Gentilhomme. In any case, Molière certainly drank it himself, as is proved by the menu proposed for cabinet n° 7 of the cabaret A la Bouteille d’Or, where he dined with Chapelle and Boileau, a signed copy being reproduced by the Charivari of 19 February 1852. On it we see wines from Mascon, Bordeaux, and Champagne accompanying oysters, partridge with truffles, Hocquincourt flan and Brie cheese.

Boileau, contrary to what some have written, does not mention the wines of Champagne in his Repas Ridicule, but in 1674 he wrote in song IV of the Lutrin:

I know what the farmer has to give us each year,
For the vines in Rheims to which we have the right.
Twenty barrels in a line serve as my library.

La Bruyère follows in 1687 with:

Champagne, after a long dinner that had bloated his stomach, and inhaling the gentle scent of a wine of Avenay or Sillery, signed an order that was presented to him, which would deny bread to an entire province if a solution was not found.

Regnard instigated the wine of Champagne’s first appearance on the stage in 1700 in Le Retour Imprévu (The Unplanned Return). In scene II, in reply to Lisette when she asks if satisfactory orders have been give for the celebration today, Merlin says: Let me tell you ... the illustrious Forel has sent six dozen bottles of Champagne wine, as if he didn’t have any : he makes it himself. Here incidentally is confirmation of the value placed by wealthy people on the produce of the land, and in particular the produce of the vineyards of Champagne. Further on, in scene IX, we find: You will find good company; don’t be shy, we’ll give you some of the fine wine of Champagne to drink, and in scene XX: I have just drunk some of the good wine of Champagne, and in excellent company; it is interesting to note that the association between the good wine of Champagne and good company was already being made. The wine of Champagne appears throughout the works of Regnard. In the Voyage en Normandie, an essay written in 1698, he lists among the pleasures of the journey: Above all, a good inn, a good bed, and the good wine of Champagne.

The wines of Champagne were thus famous, well made, were good for laying down and could be transported without any difficulties. That they sold well is hardly surprising. Canon Godinot advised the application of the Champagne technique in Berry, Burgundy, Languedoc, and in Provence; instead of selling for one or two sols for a pot, as they usually do, they could be sold for eight or ten [42]. In Champagne between 1688 and 1698 the average price of a queue rose, for good quality wines, from 200 to 600 livres. The wines with the best reputations reached staggering prices, fetching 900 or even 950 livres! The Mémoire of 1698 for the Generality of Châlons declares however that these are excessive prices which apparently will not last very long. At inns the wines of Champagne were the most expensive. Molière’s menu, already mentioned above, shows that at the cabaret A la Bouteille d’Or a half bottle of Champagne wine was three livres ten sols, against three livres for a bottle of Bordeaux and one livre for a bottle of Mâcon.

Transactions were mainly on a wholesale level. Furetière’s Dictionnaire Universel states that usually it is prohibited by the town’s Ordonnances to sell wine in shops in bottles, only marked and standardized pewter pots being allowed. Trade was not the sole prerogative of the merchants, there were also the abbeys and the noble and bourgeois owners of vines; the Mémoire of 1697 for the Generality of Châlons records that there are hardly any officers or good bourgeois that do not have vines. They would distribute their wine among a few friends and customers and sell any surplus in Rheims or Paris. The courtiers (brokers) served as intermediaries between the buyer and the seller. They would taste the wines and thus were known as courtiers-gourmets [43]. they determined market prices and checked the contents of barrels when an official jaugeur had not been requested. They would take the buyer to the market [44] and to the cellars of vine owners.

The king having created the "charges" of gourmets royaux (royal gourmets) in 1660 and commissionnaires courtiers (brokering agents) in 1691, the brokers increased their activities in order to cover the heavy costs of obtaining these positions. They eventually managed to trade for themselves, even though this was forbidden by their statutes, thus providing further competition for the merchants. This was especially true in Rheims, the large commercial centre for the wines of Champagne, and practically the only one, after the importance of Châlons somewhat decreased if one believes the Mémoire of 1698 for the Généralité of Châlons: there was previously a fairly large trade in wines, but this trade has since been established in the city of Rheims and has completely ceased in Châlons. It should however be noted that in the eighteenth century several merchants sent wines abroad from Châlons and that merchants dealing in the wines of Champagne set up businesses there from 1798 onwards. There were no merchants in Epernay or Ay in the proper sense of the term, only brokering agents, numbering five in 1661 and four in 1691, owners of their charges since 1531. Legally they could only sell wine in barrels, but they also dispatched bottles and opened the first houses trading in the wines of Champagne from the Marne Valley.

The true merchants developed the export markets, leading Voltaire to write that, at that time, new wines were being made such as those of Champagne, that are being sold abroad with great advantage. The Flemish had been the main customers since the fifteenth century and the merchants of Rheims even went to Beaune to find wines from Burgundy that they could deliver to Flanders with those from their own province. The English remained faithful customers for the whole of the seventeenth century. When France and England were at war imports continued in contraband form, a common ruse being to transport the wine in barrels with Spanish markings. There is even a merchant in Farquhar’s The Constant Couple, who is pursued for having received French wines in Spanish barrels. Unfortunately these problems had the effect of creating imitations of French wines that were sold in London as if they were authentic. In one comedy some drinkers accuse some Bordeaux of being as adulterated as their wives. Numerous works in English offered the best recipes for making artificial champagne, one of them claiming to produce wine that was comparable to the best that is made in the province of Champagne!

Be that as it may, the prestige of the wines of Champagne remained intact, as is evident from the writings of English authors in the second half of the seventeenth century. In 1668 Sir George Etheredge, a major figure in the English Restoration, diplomat, and creator of the comedy of manners, brought She Would if She Could to the London stage. At the beginning the characters praise the "pleasure of champagne" that is drunk in company. Later in the fourth act Mr. Rake-Hell, a knight of industry, and two country squires, Sir Joslin Jolley and Sir Oliver Cockwood, sing a drinking song in which the wine of Champagne figures: She is not my mistress who will not drink her wine and join my friends in Bacchic mirth; if you want to win my heart, drink your bottle of champagne, for it will serve as a potion for both beauty and love. Ten years later another dramatist, Thomas Otway, in Friendship in Fashion, has a champagne drinker in the first act who has nearly finished a bottle, and who then in the third act is reproached for having abandoned champagne, his favourite drink.

The wine of Champagne is frequently mentioned by the writers of the Restoration period such as Shadwell, Congreve, Oldham, and above all Prior, in his poem The Chameleon, in which the main character, "changing his habits according to the fashion of the day, is very happy to drink champagne", and in The Hind and the Panther, a parody in verse of one of Dryden’s poems, in which champagne is included in a fixed price meal. Finally, in 1700, in the epilogue of The Constant Couple, Farquhar pays the wine of Champagne a handsome compliment, at the same time as providing evidence that it was the preferred drink in the best taverns: Now everybody goes their separate ways, each in their own fashion, to spend the evening talking of the piece. Some, for reasons of economy will withdraw to a coffee house. Others, of larger means, will take it for a roasting at Locket’s; but at least there, I hope, the author’s fears will be unfounded, for spitefulness and unpleasant remarks are never partners with the generous spirit of champagne [45].

By the beginning of the eighteenth century the wines of Champagne had thus established themselves amongst the aristocracy of beverages, both in France and abroad. Their victorious march now continues into a new era in which they at last become sparkling.


[1Henri de Lorraine, fifth Duke of Guise, Archbishop of Rheims at the age of fifteen.

[2The word derlache was used in Champagne for a long time afterwards to mean a bloodthirsty brute.

[3more than 160,000 bottles.

[4ROCHE (Emile). The Wine Trade of Champagne under the Old Regime. Châlons-sur-Marne, 1908.

[5LA BRUYÈRE. Les Caractères ou les murs de ce siècle.

[6MIREAUX (Emile). Paysans du Grand Roi (The Great King’s Peasants), La Revue de Paris, November 1958.

[7Theoretical and practical treatise on the cultivation of vines, and the art of making wine by Cen Chaptal, M. l’Abbé Rozier, les Cens Parmentier et Dussieux. Paris, 1801.

[8From which comes Pinot Blanc.

[9From which comes Pinot Noir.

[10From which comes Meunier.

[11MERLET (Jean). L’Abrégé des bons fruits (Summary of Good Fruit). Paris, 1667.

[12IDET (Nicolas). Traité sur la nature et sur la culture de la vigne, sur le vin, la façon de le faire et la manière de le bien gouverner, à l’usage des différens vignobles de France. (Treatise on the Nature and on the Cultivation of Vines, on Wine, the Making of Wine and Governing of it in the Way of the Vineyards of France). Paris, 1759.

[13BEGUILLET (E.). Oenology or discourse on the best Methods of Making Wine and Cultivating Vines. Dijon, 1770.

[14LE PAULMIER (Julien). Traité du vin et du cidre (Treatise on Wine and cider), Julien de Paulmier, Doctor at the Faculty of Medicine in Paris, translated from the Latin by Jacques de Cahagnes. Caen, 1589.

[15L’Art de Bien Traiter, (The Art of Dealing Well) divided into three parts; a new work, curious and most gallant, useful to all people and in all situations. Carefully researched and brought to light by L.S.R. Paris, 1674.

[16Around Paris, to make white wine one leaves the crushed grapes in the vat, wrote Olivier de Serres.

[17Even though these wines are white they are called vins gris (grey wines) because they are made entirely with black grapes, writes Godinot. They should not be confused with the current vin gris of the Côtes-de-Toul, which is pressed after crushing, which was not the case with the vin gris of Champagne.

[18PLUCHE, (Abbot). The Spectacle of Nature or Discussions of the Particularities of natural history which seem most suitable for the arousing of curiosity in young people and training of their minds. Paris, 1763.

[19DION (Roger). Histoire de la vigne et du vin en France des origines au XIX e, siècle.(History of the Vine and Wine in France up to the Nineteenth Century) Paris, 1959.

[20BEGUILLET (E.). Onologie ou discours sur la meilleure méthode de faire le vin et de cultiver la vigne. (Oenology or discourse on the best Methods of Making Wine and Cultivating Vines). Dijon, 1770.

[21GODINOT (Attributed to Canon Jean). The Manner of Cultivating Vines and Making Wine in Champagne and what may be imitated in other regions to improve their wines. Avignon, 1719. - Second edition enlarged with some secrets for rectifying wines and the boards of various engraved presses. Rheims, 1722.

[22A piece was about 200 litres, and an arpent was generally 50 acres.

[23GODINOT (Attributed to Canon Jean). The Manner of Cultivating Vines and Making Wine in Champagne and what may be imitated in other regions to improve their wines. Avignon, 1719. - Second edition enlarged with some secrets for rectifying wines and the boards of various engraved presses. Rheims, 1722.

[24Willow baskets, (hottes), were used for short journeys in the vineyard. There were also danderlins, wooden containers with iron bands, like barrels, used to transport must from the press to the cellars or sometimes wine. These were used for transporting grapes for red wine, but Bidet is very clear in recommending that they are not used for vin gris.

[25PLUCHE, (Abbot). The Spectacle of Nature or Discussions of the Particularities of natural history which seem most suitable for the arousing of curiosity in young people and training of their minds. Paris, 1763.

[26PIERRE (Brother). Treatise on the cultivation of the vines of Champagne, located in Hautvillers, Cumières, Ay, Epernay, Pierry and Vinay, from a manuscript by Brother Pierre, pupil and successor of Dom Pérignon, belonging to Madame La Comtesse Gaston Chandon de Briailles and deciphered by Monsieur Le Comte Paul Chandon Moët. Epernay, 1931.

[27Born in Rheims Nicolas Bidet (1709-1782) published a summary of wine-making knowledge of the eighteenth century in 1752.
This work was enriched by a series of finely drawn plates by Maugein, engraved by Choffart, which show presses, vats and various wine-making instruments. He was an officer of the King’s House and sommelier to Queen Marie-Antoinette.

[28Sir Edward Barry specifies that vin de goute is also very justly called the essence.

[29Must is unfermented grape juice.

[30The lees are the deposit from the first fermentation, remaining in suspension in the wine.

[31This method is still used today in certain wine producing regions, with a pump instaed of the bellows. Abbot Rozier attests its Champagne origin in 1772 and J.B.F. Gerusez states that the pipe and bellows which they use in Rheims to draw the wine was invented in 1692

[32In the Satyricon the amphorae of Trimalcion carry the inscription 100 year old Falerne

[33The bottles and flagons will be measured out as is necessary for each meal, wrote Olivier de Serres who states that the only drink that was kept in a bottle was hypocras (a filtered mixture of wine, sugar, ginger and cinnamon).

[34Tirer, or drawing, is to cause wine to flow from a barrel or vat into another recipient, which could be a clean barrel or bottles. In Champagne the operation that involves bottling for the second fermentation is called tirage.

[35These were of course the corks that we are familiar with, and which inspired the German poet Schiller to write: No veneration is too great for the Creator who, in fashioning the cork tree, at the same time invented corks for bottles!

[36New Dictionary of all men who have made their names through talents, virtues, crimes and errors. Paris, 1789.

[37Adam Bertin du Rocheret (1662-1736) and his son Philippe-Valentin (1693-1762), wine merchants, men of letters, were both presidents of the election of Epernay.

[38SERRES (Olivier de) The Theatre of Agriculture and Planning of the Fields... Paris 1600. New edition with a preface by Grégoire, Paris, Year XII.

[39PECHENART (Abbot L.). Sillery and its Lords. Rheims, 1893.

[40BEGUILLET (E.). Oenology or discourse on the best Methods of Making Wine and Cultivating Vines. Dijon, 1770.

[41The Art of Dealing Well divided into three parts; a new work, curious and most gallant, useful to all people and in all situations. Carefully researched and brought to light by L.S.R. Paris, 1674.

[42GODINOT (Attributed to Canon Jean). The Manner of Cultivating Vines and Making Wine in Champagne and what may be imitated in other regions to improve their wines. Avignon, 1719. - Second edition enlarged with some secrets for rectifying wines and the boards of various engraved presses. Rheims, 1722.

[43The wine brokers taste the wines arriving at the market and put buyers in touch with sellers. Wine gourmets, they taste the wines to judge their quality.

[44The wine market was known as the étape.

[45Locket was a tavern renown for its champagne. Vizetelly mentions a reference to it in the Quack Vintners, a satire written in 1712, in which the authors, Brooke and Hilliers, hope that it maintains its former reputation for its rich Champaign.