In 1900 Fort Chabrol became the site of the first "Practical School of Viticulture": a research and training centre founded by Champagne House Moët & Chandon that would play a trailblazing role in the fight against phylloxera.
Fort Chabrol now forms part of the Champagne Hillside, Houses and Cellars included on the UNESCO World Heritage List.
It is interesting to note here that the accounting records of Champagne House Chandon et Cie for the year 1900 mention a contractor from Agen by the name of Abel Chabrolle. Also, that the text of a speech made in 1908 refers to Raoul Chandon de Briailles’ work at "Fort Chabrolle, so-called after its constructor, Monsieur Chabrolle".
Our story starts in the late 19th Century just as phylloxera is making its appearance in Champagne after a 30-year rampage through the vineyards of Europe. Unscathed by the "offensive" launched in the southern Rhône, the louse is first noticed in Champagne on 6 August 1890 in Tréloup-Chassaing (Aisne department), then again in 1892 in Mardeuil and Mesnil-sur-Oger (Marne department). Variously dubbed the "redoubtable insect" or the "great ravager", phylloxera vastatrix (dry-leaf devastator) is the despair of the best brains in the industry, winegrowers and entomologists alike. Its name says it all: phylloxera, [[from Greek phullon, leaf and xeros, dry. Phylloxera sucked the life out of a vine.
Raoul Chandon de Briailles began by acquiring then clearing and burning the first affected plot. As one of the last regions to be attacked, Champagne was able to reap the benefits of decade-long research elsewhere (Bordeaux and Montpellier for instance). Until 1890 when the grafting technique was finally approved for general usage, treatment with sulphur carbonate and sulpho-carbonate of potassium had represented the only line of defence against phylloxera.
Instigated by Raoul Chandon de Briailles and supervised by "Master Winegrowers", test plantings of grapevines and rootstock (including the 41B MG still used today), were conducted in more than 100 different locations from 1895 onwards. Out of these test plantings would come millions of grafted vines enabling the replanting of 115ha from 1898-1911.
The year 1895 also marked the establishment of an oenology laboratory, which was soon joined by a central grafting unit and a viticulture research laboratory, all housed in a single building on the Avenue de Mardeuil, Epernay.
Completed in 1900, the new facility became the site of the"Moët & Chandon Practical School of Viticulture" where generations of local students would learn their trade. The "Brevet de Viticulture Champenoise" (diploma in Champagne viticulture) was still being awarded there in 1980, long after the opening of the Collège Viticole in Avize some 70 years ago.
Raoul Chandon de Briailles would go down in the annals of Champagne history as the man who provided people with the means to combat the "redoubtable insect" and move forwards. Here, to conclude, is what Léon Guille had to say in 1926 :
"The studies and field trials conducted by M. Raoul Chandon de Briailles and those who came after him enabled Champagne winegrowers to avoid all of those wrong turnings and misunderstandings that would have made their already difficult task of rebuilding the vineyards even more challenging. (...) The jury (of the Concours Régional Agricole de l’Est) reserved special praise for the selfless service rendered (by Messrs. Moët & Chandon) to vine-growing in this magnificent region ".