UMC - Grandes Marques et Maisons de Champagne

Champagne Guest Book


It was thanks to champagne, with its silvery foam, that vine-growers were able to live comfortably and merchants were able to make their fortune. At the end of the nineteenth century it was the blessing of the Marne and France’s best ambassador. In a hundred years annual production had increased from 300,000 bottles to 25 million. Let us now consider the explanation in commercial terms for this remarkable success.

It was primarily the logical result of the factors examined in the last chapter, namely the dynamism of the two professions, the technical progress that enabled quality and price to be brought under control, and the success both in France and abroad of a highly appealing image. Champagne also benefited from a period in history which, albeit with some ups and downs, was overall extremely favourable. Profiting from the freedom of trade that followed the Revolution, France, like the rest of the civilized world, entered an era of general economic expansion, and of new wealth that gave greater purchasing power to an increasing number of consumers. A product such as champagne could only succeed.

However there were times when this success was tempered and over the course of the nineteenth century there was no shortage of crises. The wars of the Empire, following those of the Revolution, made transactions and transport precarious. The trade in wines, wrote Mennesson, as a natural consequence of the long war of the Revolution, is lacking in export opportunities and as the result of the no less serious effect of an extreme shortage of legal tender is also lacking in internal sales, while vineyard owners are seeing their revenues decrease and their expenses increase in equal proportions. Madame Clicquot received a letter from England from Monsieur Bohne in 1800, complaining of the unfavourable circumstances which have reduced the number of customers in the luxury goods market. This discomfort was further increased in 1806 by the Continental Blockade, which forbade the entry of English ships to all the ports of the European continent. At the same time the war intensified, resulting in increasingly draconian conscription and spiralling taxes.

Three Unusual Widows

In a letter of 1810 Monsieur Bohne wrote from the German port of Lubeck of the terrible stagnation in business, the causes of which, he declared, were our Emperor’s decrees concerning colonial commodities and English manufacturing; according to him there is no longer any sea traffic because of the English fleet, which is followed by ice. In Vienna the nobility cannot pay the merchants because their wheat has not been sold for three years, prices have collapsed. He concludes that After plague and famine, paper money is the most terrible of curses.

Nevertheless the energy of the wine merchants was such that these difficulties were overcome. Here is what Pierre Failly wrote in 1804, Never have there have been so many orders for sparkling wine as this spring and we need more, given that prices have gone down, despite the costs of the war, the unreliability of the seas and the lack of consumption in England. There is a prodigious flow to all the countries of the North and the English patrols do not prevent sending it to overseas territories or even to England. The insurance is just a little more expensive 111 (A26). Pierre Failly could indeed celebrate, for he was to benefit from the rise in prices that continued until 1811 and which enabled the merchants to increase their profits from the French market and from some European countries. Vineyard owners in Champagne observed that ever since Belgium has been reunited with France, wines are sold there, as well as in the German states bordering the Rhine, at always fairly high prices (477).

The after-effects of the Napoleonic Wars and the political reaction to the return of the monarchy produced several problems in Champagne, which were aggravated by a caprice of nature that resulted in the total loss of the wheat and grape harvests in 1816. Once again the shortages led to food riots. From 1817 industrial prices began to decline, which was more of a problem for the wool merchants of Rheims, than the champagne trade. The latter did however experience difficulties resulting from excessive taxation and customs duties. They declared and deplored that, treated as enemies at the border, turned back at foreign customs, subjected to internal inquisitions and persecution over indirect contributions, wines only arrive at customers, who are demanding them, after overcoming a thousand obstacles (477). They did however admit that it was the producers of red wine who were really suffering and that the sparkling white wines of Champagne that are sought all over the world, which have hardly any rivals and no competition to fear, can still reach the customers (477). Whatever the situation actually was, there is no doubt that due to the activities of the merchants the production and trade in champagne developed in a spectacular fashion under Charles X and Louis XVIII.

With the Revolution of 1830 the middle classes seized power. The world of business as we know it today was born. Benefiting from a long period of peace, barely troubled by a few localized conflicts that took place outside the national territory, capitalism took giant steps forward. And so it was for champagne. The economic crisis of 1846 hit hard in the area where it originated, where it resulted in a return to a level of poverty that no one had thought to see again; but due to the strength that its growth had acquired champagne was able to ride the storm, unlike other French wines which saw their sales drop dramatically.

In 1848 champagne merchants were concerned over the possible consequences of the return of the Republic. They were quickly reassured for there were definite signs of economic recovery by the end of the summer. In 1850 Prince Louis-Napoléon Bonaparte was elected to the presidency and confidence finally returned, to be further strengthened by the triumph of the conservatives at the elections on 13 May 1849. Once he was emperor Napoleon III endeavoured to put his ideas based on free trade into practice, encouraging an economy in which a luxury product, as champagne was at that time, was bound to fare well. There was general prosperity, in a period when prices were rising and there was civil peace112. From 1860 to 1870 growth was at its height, as we saw; champagne gained its share, and the producers their fortunes.

The euphoria came to an abrupt end with the disaster of 1870. For champagne the problem of wartime deliveries arose once again. The railroads were requisitioned and the locks on the canals were destroyed. Internal transport was by horse drawn wagons. Exports went by road, then by the Belgium rail network, and passed through Antwerp where champagne eventually overburdened the port and deliveries had to be reduced: there was no longer enough space for everything that was arriving (475). Merchants however continued to offer champagne on the foreign markets, usually stipulating in their agreements that they would take responsibility for the risks of capture or destruction. Despite all their efforts sales fell by half.

In 1873 under the Third Republic, as the after-effects of the war faded away in a period of renewed prosperity, a new economic crisis burst onto the world stage. It began in Germany, where the number of bankruptcies had become extremely serious, and quickly spread to other parts of Europe and the United States. France was not too severely affected, but champagne exports fell by nearly 20%, a blow made even harder to bear by the fact that prices on the internal market had fallen by 10 to 15% since 1872. The global depression continued for twenty years, but champagne began to recover a little after 1880. In 1885 and then from 1892 to 1893, there were however two severe relapses, the first due mainly to excessive sale prices and the second to an increase in customs duties, following a return to protectionism. In 1895 the costs of foodstuffs and manufactured products began to rise again, which, until 1914, resulted in increased profits and the restoration of prosperity. As an indirect consequence sales of champagne increased by 35% between 1895 and 1900.

As we have just seen with the 1885 crisis, the price of champagne does of course have a direct impact on its sales. For those with modest resources champagne was expensive, they grumbled and hardly bought any, or even none at all. When Vautrin, in Balzac’s Père Goriot, asks the owner of the inn on the Rue Neuve-Sainte-Geneviève to offer two bottles of champagne to the assembled company, she replies, Whatever next? Why not ask for the house? Two champagne! That would cost two francs! However, one never hears the well-off complain about the price of champagne, one even has the impression that they would be disappointed if it was too cheap.

Champagne could never be cheap. As can be read in the 1855 fifth edition of André Jullien’s Topography of all known Vineyards, its high price stems not only from the quality of the selected wines and the infinite care required before they are ready to be sold, but also from the considerable losses and risks to which the producers and merchants are exposed, and finally to the bizarre phenomena which determine the sparkling quality of the wine. And, as Cyrus Redding wrote, it is more expensive than other wines because of the complex finishing processes (527).

In 1894 in the October issue of the Revue des Deux Mondes, M. d’Avenel establishes the cost price of a bottle of champagne as follows, total handling costs 1 F/btle, including delivery; glass 20 to 40 cent.; cork 10 to 20 cent.; silver or gold tin leaf 1 to 2 cent. To this must be added the considerable losses of wine that occur at the various stages of production, and of course the raw material, grapes, which at the end of the century accounted for between 0F50 and 2F50 per bottle. The considerable investments must also be taken into account that were necessary to finance growth in terms of the creation and enlargement of premises, and of cellars and storage space.

The cost of distribution was high. Monsieur d’Avenel notes that discounts to brokers have reached such a level that on a grand cru bottle sold to the public for six, seven or eight francs, the producer makes no more than a franc. For the export market the high price of transport had to be considered and, for a long time, its unreliability, illustrated by the loss of 4,000 cases of Krug champagne in November 1869, when three boats were wrecked in the Atlantic. There were also the costs of developing new markets and, given the tireless activity of the merchants and their representatives, these were considerable. During the course of a three month trip to Russia in 1860 Edgar Ruinart de Brimont spent 9,600 francs, or the equivalent of approximately £10,000 in 1980.

The price of champagne was not only justifiable, it was also stable during the nineteenth century, with a sufficient range to satisfy a broad market. Examining the prices of the times, the average price of a bottle purchased from the producer was 3F50 under the First Empire, 4F50 in 1840 and 5F in 1891. These are comparable to today’s prices: 5F in 1891 was the equivalent of about £4 in 1980, however the cost of a suit was then only 17F. In the first half of the century the price of champagne rose more than the cost of living, due to the production problems which we have already examined. When these began to be resolved, thanks to François and his successors, it remained more or less constant while the cost of living increased. There were occasional variations, but not of great significance, and they could be viewed as accidental since they were due to an abundance of merchandise and competition amongst the sellers, rather than to the origin or even the quality of the wines (88).

Merchants spread their prices on the basis of the relative value of their products, a practice that dates from the beginning of the nineteenth century. In 1804 best quality cost 3 livres and fourth quality was one livre 10 sols (A26). In 1862 Moët & Chandon’s prices ranged from 3F75 to 5F50, and in 1890, Lejeune’s from 2F50 to 6F, these prices did not take into account that of the tisane of Champagne, which was always cheaper than the lowest grade.

In the middle of the century some producers took the decision to sell champagne at prices below those of their competitors, there being up until then only slight differences between the large and small houses. The former rarely took such steps, although Jacquesson played a significant role, as we saw in the quarrel over this subject with Moët & Chandon. It was usually the small houses that put bottles on the market at low prices, by mixing and transforming the wines from various districts and several countries in Europe, declared the Revue des Deux Mondes of October 1894, while, according to The Wine Trade Review of 15 January 1874, respectable merchants have demonstrated that it is impossible that wine truly originating from the vineyards of Champagne can be sold cheaply.

Making champagne available to a certain market at an affordable price was desirable, so long as the quality remained sufficiently high. But at the time this was not always the case, as was well known, and furthermore, as it became more widespread, champagne risked finding itself discredited in the eyes of some by prices that had descended to the level of ordinary sparkling wines. Thus Zola wrote in Germinal that the servant poured a wine from the Rhine to replace the champagne that had been judged common. But fortunately the top class champagnes remained, throughout the nineteenth century, the standard bearers for French wines. Their prices were of the same order as the grand cru wines of Bordeaux and Burgundy.

On the price list of a wine merchant in Bercy in 1853 we find the best quality champagne at 6F, and Château Latour, Château Margaux, Haut Brion, Clos Vougeot and Chambertin at 6F, 5F50, 4F, 7F and 4F50 respectively; Saint-Estèphe and Pommard costing only 2F. There was a similar correlation on restaurant menus: at the Frères Provençaux, in 1814, one paid 6F for Chambertin, 7F for Château-Lafite, and 6F for champagne. The same applied in the 1890s in comparable establishments, with however, as we know, a marked increase in the price of all the wines. Restaurateurs had already adopted the principal of culbute, which consisted of doubling the purchase price of wines and putting champagne at 12F.

Champagne was subject to numerous duties. The Vigneron Champenois of 21 March 1883 lists thirteen. The Petition of the owners of vines in the districts of Epernay and Châlons, of 1829, complains bitterly of the discretionary presence of the state inspector, who comes to trouble merchants and who regards all those who deal in wines with permanent suspicion. The petition deplores the requirement that carriers stop at every town that they cross in order to obtain a pass, for which they must pay and states that it has been calculated that a basket of 12 bottles travelling in isolation and sent from Epernay to the furthest border would have to stop at the entry and exit of 29 towns. At the end of 1830 there were uprisings against tolls and the visits of the state inspectors to cellars and wine makers’ premises..

Champagne still had the good fortune to be taxed in France like ordinary wine. The following story is told by Collin de Plancy, In the month of May of 1819, a poor man returned to Paris via the Étoile tollgate, with a half bottle of wine from Surêne, which had cost him two sous. The customs officer demanded two and a half sous to let him through. - "What is this? Some kind of joke?" said the man..."the wine of Surêne taxed like the wine of Champagne!" - "We cannot differentiate between wines", replied the officer, "because we would have to taste them all at the tollgate"(10).

Abroad champagne was considered a luxury product. Except during the free-trade period of the Second Empire, and even then only for a few countries, customs duties accrued in a manner that was all too often prohibitive. This was sometimes in response to France’s protectionist policies, but could also be aimed at protecting local sparkling wines, as was the case in Germany. At the end of the century, for a bottle sold on average for 5F in France, the customs duties were 3F 50 for the United Sates and 4F 76 for Russia.

There was, however, one factor having a favourable influence on the champagne trade in the nineteenth century and that was the considerable improvement in the available means of transport. For a long time champagne remained partially transported by water and under Louis-Philippe the possibilities for water traffic were expanded with the creation of canals from the Marne to the Aisne and from the Marne to the Rhine. But it was the railroads which , in the 1850s, brought real change, contributing to the development of commercial exchanges, not only by ensuring faster transport of goods113, but also by improving the postal service. We saw the role that this played in the decline of sales of still wines, there would seem, conversely, no limits to the extent that it was able to help the growth of sales in champagne.

For export steam boats were also a precious aid. Whilst in 1800 it took an average of forty days to reach New York from Le Havre, in 1870 the crossing required no more than eight days. These new means of transport also contributed in an indirect fashion to the promotion of champagne, as large quantities were drunk on both the steamers and the big international railway lines. Chilled Louis Roederer was on the menu of the 1882 Orient-Express. The railroad and shipping companies had their own brands; Krug, for example, supplied champagnes with labels such as Cunard Line or Panama Railway.


Among the reasons for champagne’s commercial success in the nineteenth century one must also list the sound business sense of the merchants.
We have already seen numerous examples, but let us again quote Monsieur Bohne writing to Madame Clicquot in 1808: We may consider ourselves fortunate with what we have: a perfectly organized business, associated with the most respectable houses of our kind in the North, and established throughout Europe. I do not speak of your combined assets or of your wisdom. Nobody would deny that with such materials we can expect to construct a splendid edifice as peace returns to Europe (653).

Organized in a union, as we know, since 1882, the merchants were represented, individually or collectively, in the regional economic bodies, in particular in the Chambre de Commerce de Rheims, of which one of them was often the president and which in any case worked in close association with them. The reliability of their businesses and the solidity of their establishments earned them the trust of the larger French banks, who willingly procured them the means of financing expansion. Leaving for America in 1831, Edmond Ruinart de Brimont wrote in his travel diary that he obtained letters of credit and recommendation for the United States from his bankers, Messrs Hottinguer, Pereire, Laffitte. Champagne was even a good speculative stock, if we are to believe Balzac, who wrote in 1805 in La Maison Nuncingen, that Nuncingen bought at Grandet a hundred and fifty thousand bottles of wine from Champagne at thirty sous, which he gave to the allies to drink at six francs, at the Palais-Royal from 1817 to 1820.

The brokers of the nineteenth century completely stopped trading in the wines of Champagne for themselves. At the start of the century they contented themselves above all with serving the Bourse de Commerce (Trade Exchange) in Rheims created on the 28 Ventôse of year IX. But from 1825, their activity usually concerned transactions involving wines in barrels and in bottles114. Two new categories of intermediary appeared, of which we have already had occasion to speak, which were the voyageurs, who would explore new markets, and the agents, who would represent a champagne house in a given market.

We already know of the inconveniences and dangers of the trips carried out by the merchants in the first part of the nineteenth century. They were the same for their representatives.

The house of Veuve Clicquot-Ponsardin has letters in its archives written by Madame Clicquot’s agents that are very eloquent on this subject. On his way to Malta, Monsieur Boldmann had to wait for a month in Rijeka before embarking on a rough crossing. We were on the verge of being ship-wrecked, he wrote, when the stern caught on the bottom, saving us from being thrown onto rocks the sight of which was like looking death in the face. Monsieur Hartmann arrived in Copenhagen in 1806, at the very moment when the English fleet were preparing to bombard the city. He wrote, The Stock Exchange is more like a war council than an assembly of merchants, nobody speaks of business, and again, after the cannonade which lasted three days and four nights: I believe I can maintain that I have experienced nothing worse than those terrible few days. Monsieur Bohne wrote in Hamburg in 1809, The port closed with chains presents a pitiable spectacle. The lower classes are begging and even the wealthiest businesses are wringing their hands. How do I fare in all of this? I run from door to door. There is talk of exchange rates, of the war, of seizures, and should I raise my voice above all this moaning and whining to try to sell some champagne, they laugh in my face, they lament the unsold stocks that they still hold and then once again begin recapitulating the vexations of the political situation. Monsieur Bohne feared for his safety in Russia. He wrote to Madame Clicquot, Honoured Friend, do not, in the name of God, ever speak to me of politics, if you do not wish to compromise my freedom or my life; the punishment for indiscretion is deportation to the mines in Siberia.

Merchants generally gave their representatives and agents carte blanche; and at the highest level they reflected a house’s spirit and style. There is great satisfaction in the letters sent by Monsieur Bohne to Madame Clicquot recounting his commercial successes. These remarkable salesmen, such as Frédérick de Bary, for Mumm in the United States, and Adolphe Hubinet, for Pommery in Great Britain did not hesitate to carry out daring manoeuvres. For example, in 1902 George Kessler, **Moët & Chandon’s** agent in the United States, replaced a bottle of sparkling German wine with one of his own brand at the launch of the Meteor, the Emperor of Germany’s yacht, and had magnums of Moët served at the official lunch given for the occasion, at which were the American president and Prince Henry of Prussia [1]. The travelling salesmen and agents were aware of the wine’s prestige and of the brand that they represented.

Here is a pleasing description given by Adolphe Ricard in Les Français Peints par Eux-mêmes (The French painted by themselves): A travelling salesman for a great house of Champagne has nothing in common with the cut-throat brokers of Bercy in Burgundy. He dines at Véfour. He is horrified by over-indulgence. He does not speak incessantly of his product; he pours it as if it were everyday fare at salons, during promenades, or in the foyer at the opera, after a conversation in which he has subtly introduced the virtues of the sparkling wine of Champagne; he always concludes this by adding, with an innocent air, "I will send you a case; but, heavens above, don’t feel that you are committed to anything when you receive it." And, so saying, he buttons his white gloves, or adjusts his pince-nez; he then speaks no more of the wine of Aï and turns to other topics, such as Lord Seymour’s horses, or the waters in Bagnères.

The enterprising spirit of the champagne merchants was in evidence at the regional, national and above all international exhibitions that were so popular in the nineteenth century. There were always bars and refreshment rooms and the main drink was, of course, champagne.

At the Universal Exhibition of 1889, for which the Eiffel tower was constructed, and concerning which we have already recounted the promotional efforts of the house of Mercier, the Syndicat du Commerce des Vins de Champagne (which became the Syndicat de Grandes Marques, and then, in 1994, the Union des Maisons de Champagne) set up a Pavillon du Champagne, in the name of its forty-seven members, who agreed to provide the necessary funds. And at the Palais de l’Industrie, the caterer, Potel et Chabot, served iced champagne to18,000 mayors of France who were assembled to take part in republican banquets.

At the Universal Exhibition of 1900, the Syndicat du Commerce des Vins de Champagne (which became the Syndicat de Grandes Marques, and then, in 1994, the Union des Maisons de Champagne) went even further116, installing for its thirty-one members a magnificent rococo style Palais du champagne, covering 400 m2, designed by the architect Kalas, a native of Rheims. Bottles of champagne were shown being turned and disgorged. The syndicate served a specially labelled Exposition Universelle de 1900 champagne at one franc for a flute; the brand name was not shown on the bottle, but each day champagne from a different house was served.

If we consider that 32 million people attended the 1889 exhibition, and a record-breaking 51 million in 1900, that the visitors came to the pavilions where they were offered champagne, and also that a great deal was drunk both inside and outside the enclosures, then we can begin to grasp the impact that these events had on promoting champagne.

This was practised on an individual basis in several other domains. We know that in the early nineteenth century the brand was not always mentioned on the label. But the merchants soon realized that this was a good way to distinguish oneself from the competition in the eyes of the public. And in any case, the invasion of pseudo-champagnes obliged them to identify themselves as trustworthy producers. The name of the champagne house that appeared on the label thus became increasingly important. The prestigious houses sometimes found themselves being placed in a group, of varying size, that was referred to as the Grandes Marques, a term that appeared around the middle of the century. It was often used on menus for banquets, on which one would often see champagne de grandes marques, or champagne des premières marques. The names of the great houses did, of course, appear on restaurant wine lists, and, as we have seen, gradually began to pepper refined conversation.

Concerning labels for the more modest brands the merchants could be extremely imaginative, sometimes with rather dubious results. Charles Monselet complained in 1877 in the Lettres Gourmandes of the wines of Champagne that give themselves pretentious titles of questionable taste, such as the Lac d’Or (Golden Lake) or the Perle de la Cuvée (Pearl of the Vintage). Appropriate sounding names were used for champagne destined for the export market. We thus find champagne des Polonais-Bouzy mousseux (sparkling Polish-Bouzy champagne), with a picture of Warsaw, Missouri Brand Sparkling Sillery, Grand Vin d’Angleterre or Franco-Russian Champagne! Another practice consisted of using, as we have already seen, fictitious aristocratic names, the grandness of their titles generally being inversely proportional to the quality of the wine. In 1899 alone the following brands were registered: Duc d’Aubencourt, Duc d’Avenay, Duc de Berry, Duc de Châtillon, Duc de Cramant, Duc Lombardie, Duc de Sénac, Duc de Sézanne. These titles were, of course, pure invention, but some members of the public were, presumably, fooled. For cartoonists they offered a rich vein of humour.

The merchants were aware of the benefits to be gained from national and international events. Joseph Krug wrote to his son Paul in 1863: I agree with you that we should send 25 to 30 baskets to Vera Cruz. The taking of Mexico will probably stimulate demand and it would be good to have some on its way. It became the custom to mark certain events with a commemorative label. Thus after the coup d’état on the 2 December labels appeared showing Prince Napoleon galloping along the frontlines with his troops. During the Crimean War, there were others commemorating the taking of the Malakoff tower, the siege of Sebastopol and in honour of Marshal Pélissier. There was even, during the Dreyfus affair, a champagne anti-juifs (Anti-Jewish champagne)! All the new fashions were reflected in the labels. When learning Esperanto was all the rage, there were Espéranto champagne and Vino Campanja, and when electricity made its debut there was inevitably a merchant who sold Electric champagne.

Another strategy was to target a particular clientele, such as cyclists, to whom was offered a champagne de la pédale, with a label showing a champion in action; there was one for the races, with labels commemorating great horses, such as the famous Gladiateur; there was even one for newly-weds called Nuptial champagne. The freemasons were not forgotten, nor was the clergy, if we are to judge by three brands that were registered on 1 December 1899: Champagne du Saint-Siège, Champagne du Vatican and Champagne des Cardinaux (Champagne of the Cardinals).

By the end of the century these practices were well-established and an incredible 4,000 different brands of champagne had been registered at the clerks’ offices in the commercial courts.

There were no restrictions on these fantastical labels, even those that were in dubious taste, such as the Plus je te bois, plus je t’aime (The more I drink you the more I love you) brand, or Champagne fin de siècle, or even Champagne de la Jarretière (Champagne of the Garter), which was registered by the house of Michel Lévy et Fils on 12 July 1900 and for which a poster was created that does little to evoke the true finesse of champagne!

However, in terms of artistic merit, there were many outstanding posters, such as those by Pierre Bonnard and Leonetto Cappiello, both of whom worked for champagne houses. Composers and song writers were also employed in order to promote brands of champagne. We have already come across Champagne Charlie and its variations. From the 1880s there were polkas, such as the Ruinart-Polka, Original Champagne, the score of which credits Minet Jeune, fondé en 1825 à Reims (founded in 1825 in Rheims). There were also waltzes. One of them, the Charles Heidsieck Waltz, by Paul Mestrozzi, the head of the royal imperial military orchestra of Austria, was performed for the first time in Vienna in the presence of the Emperor of Austria at a ball held on 26 January 1895, and performed in Paris in 1900 at the Scala.


Disclosure documents also provided an opportunity to note the specific virtues of champagne, in face of the increasing popularity of certain other wines. This song by Abel Sallé evokes the threat of invasion:

Gourmets, where comes this mania
To go in search of wines everywhere
Except in your own country?
Greece, Africa and Spain
Find place at your banquets,
Yet you turn away the wine of champagne;
Zounds, you cannot be French!

Indeed more and more madeira was being drunk and Desaugiers sang in Le Pour et le Contre (For and Against):

But since to all these injustices
The heavens oppose on earth
Champagne and the virtues,
Talents and madeira,
Let us live, my friends, let us live!

A serious threat came from the French West Indies in the form of punch. Eugène Briffault wrote that at the École de Natation, a bathing establishment on the Seine reserved exclusively for ladies, punch and sometimes also the wine of Champagne are joyously celebrated (160). A drink known as Vin du Cap was also popular, which consisted of the devastating combination of beer and absinthe; it was as dangerous for the health as it was for sales of champagne. However, Alfred de Musset declared, in an unpublished poem cited by the Revue Encyclopédique Larousse of the 14 July 1900 :

We much venerate it here
But we prefer champagne.

Most serious of all were without doubt the other sparkling wines that were usurping the name of champagne and, in the minds of consumers, beginning to establish themselves as a similar product, even though, as the impartial Traité Théorique et Pratique de Vinification confirmed, it is in Champagne that the best sparkling wines are made. It should be explained that while the districts of Rheims, Avize and Epernay combined were responsible for about one tenth of sales both in France and abroad of what was known as the wine of Champagne (625), sparkling wines that were not produced in Champagne accounted for the other nine tenths and did champagne a great injustice by passing themselves off as one and the same. Other sparkling wines became increasingly numerous and directly competed with champagne. Sutaine wrote, as early as 1845, that the wine of Champagne has suffered the fate of great discoveries that have been crowned with success; a crowd of imitations quickly follows behind, and the scourge of counterfeit attaches itself to any such popularity.

The name of champagne was not protected, and "champagne" was sold that came from just about anywhere, its only resemblance with the original being that it was sparkling and, in general, the bottling and labelling were similar. There was even talk of the wines of Champagne produced by the Côte-d’Or , and articles, such as that in the Moniteur Viticole of the 29 December 1873, which declared that champagne sales in Saumur are fairly busy! Vizetelly wrote that the sparkling wines of the Loire sold on the British market and elsewhere are labelled Crème de Bouzy, Sillery and Ay Mousseux, and their corks carry the names of phantom companies, supposedly in Reims or Epernay . The Vigneron Champenois of the 6 April 1898 allowed an edifying announcement to be printed: Champagne house in Switzerland able to serve as outlet for a French house; brands are registered in France. And on the 6 June of the same year, in the Bazaar, one of the British wine trade reviews, an advertiser in Weymouth offered champagne made in England.

Impostors were legion and there were no limits to their capacity for invention. Producers of sparkling wines reported awards granted at fairs in Champagne by juries that had no official standing and would grace their labels with distinctions such as Diplôme d’Honneur-Rheims. Others had their labels printed in Rheims or Epernay and put the names of these towns in very large letters. Finally there were those who adopted some other Champagne that could be found on the map and so we find vins de la Champagne charentaise champagnisés ("champagne style wines from Champagne in Charente"). A prospectus of 4 April 1899, originating from Lunel, in l’Hérault, is signed by an Auguste Jean de Bourbon, claiming to be the grandson of Louis XVlll, and announcing to the public that he had just created a new brand of the wine of Champagne: Crémant Royal Auguste de Bourbon, and stating that: it is doubly deserving of its royal title, first, because I am selling it, and second, because it is worthy to serve for the toasting of kings. It was, of course, a cheap sparkling wine.

The name of one of the great houses was not enough in itself to prove the authenticity of a product because the producers of sparkling wines took over the names of the most fashionable brands [2]. In the Pétition des Négociants en Vins de la Champagne of 1844, the producers complained to His Majesty’s government in the following terms: Not content to usurp the names of "Champagne" and the famous towns of our department, in order to apply them to any liquid that has been made to sparkle, they now seize the names of the most well-known merchants, to sell wine abroad, using this honourable and respected passport, thereby prostituting the reputation of houses that until now have inspired complete and unquestionable trust.

The problem was as bad abroad as it was in France. The October 1894 edition of the Revue des Deux-Mondes informed its readers that for imitation champagne, Germany is the front runner, at least in terms of the exterior of the bottles, which are decorated with French labels that invoke illustrious villages and figures in the history of wine. Counterfeiting reached such levels that prospective purchasers would be asked which brand they desired and then given a label and cork virtually identical to those of the real champagne house.

The word champagne was now applied to so many wines that it could no longer be said to be indicative of quality.

Large quantities of champagnes are made, in the heart of Paris, wrote Thimothée Trimm, in twenty-four hours. They use minor white Bordeaux wines, fine them, add sugar, and bottle them. Using a machine for making carbonated water or lemonade, carbon dioxide or carbonic acid is added to each bottle. In order to fool people into buying it the labels carry names such as Sillery du Grand Turc, or Aï Mousseux du Schah de Perse (The Shah of Persia’s Sparkling Wine of Ai) [3]. There were also recipes for making vin de Champagne mousseux at home, such as the following given in the Trésor de l’Amateur de Bon Vin (The Wine Lover’s Treasury). Take sixteen bottles of white wine, three pounds of loaf sugar, a demi-gros of vanilla extract (about 2 grammes), 2 ounces of bicarbonate of soda, 2 ounces of tartaric acid: when everything is well dissolved add 16 ounces of spirits of wine, filter and bottle. Mathieu, director of the Oenological Station in Beaune, confirmed these erring ways in 1903. Sparkling wines are still made, he noted, with table top equipment, sparklets, selsodons, and Briat devices, which enable instantaneous production. Others devices known as "wine bocks" (a type of injector) are mounted directly onto the barrel and enable sparkling wine to be drawn off like beer [4].

In Great Britain champagne-cider had been around for a long time. The British also made a sparkling wine imitating the wine of Champagne, using gooseberries which, provided they were picked before they were ripe, produced a sparkling wine that had the strength of the best Sillery [5]. A lot of so-called champagne was made with rhubarb, and the Charivari of the 8 September 1853 published a humorous protestation against the champagne à la rhubarbe made in England. Signed, le vin de Champagne, it finishes: I conclude, Monsieur, not wishing to associate myself any longer with a vegetable whose speciality is to give one colic. Please accept my most vigorous spurts of foam. And, again in 1886, one finds in the May edition of the Vigneron champenois: Who would have thought that a large quantity of champagne labelled Moët and Montebello came from America? It is made entirely from the meagre, acidic juice of the rhubarb plant.

Real sparkling wines, that is to say, made from grapes, were made everywhere. In France, as early as 1821, Docteur Roques cites in his Phytographie Médicale the sparkling wines of Arbois and Saint Péray, and the Blanquette de Limoux118. In 1827, Cavoleau, in his Œnologie Française, completes the list with those of the Côte-d’Or and the Clairette de Die, of which Jullien, writing at around the same time, said in his Topographie de Tous les Vignobles Connus, that this was used to describe wines that were sweet, high in alcohol, and with a very pleasant taste, adding: they sparkle like champagne but do not keep these qualities for more than two years119. He also mentions sparkling wines that are made in the district of Bar-sur-Aube, from a white grape called arbanne (88); note that he refers to them as sparkling wine and not as champagne, confirming that for an oenologist of the period champagne was made only in the Marne.

From the 1840s onwards sparkling wines were made all over France, in the department of Moselle, in Burgundy, in Touraine and in all of the Midi, and especially in the Rhone Valley. It was even made in Bar-le-Duc, whose wines, although less well-known than its currant jams, have long been celebrated.

Following in the wake of the Swiss, who had been making sparkling wines since the eighteenth century, the Germans began in around 1820, initially along the lower section of the Neckar River, in Heilbronn, and in Esslingen where Monsieur Kessler, Madame Clicquot’s chef de cave (cellar master), after leaving Rheims, set up a sekt factory in July 1826. Later, but in any event before 1845, sparkling wine was also made along the banks of the Moselle and the Rhine, in Wurttemberg and even in Saxe and Silesia. In 1880 the annual production of German sparkling wine was already between four and five million bottles; by 1914 this had increased to twelve to fourteen million. It should be mentioned that from around 1870 some producers of German sparkling wine began buying their wines in Champagne and that a German law authorized them to put Champagne on the label if at least 51 % of the contents of the bottle came from the Aube or the Marne.

Russia began producing sparkling wines in around 1799, from vineyards in the Crimea, known as Krimski champagne, and from vines in the Don Valley, known as Donski champagne, and sometimes from wines that came from Champagne120; several chefs de cave and barrel makers went from Champagne to work in the region around the Black Sea. According to the Vigneron Champenois of 6 April 1898, Russia’s annual production was then 1,150,000 bottles of sparkling wine, 500,000 of which were made using the méthode champenoise.

Sparkling wines were also made in Austria-Hungary; Justin Améro notes that in Vienna, there are several very outstanding shops that describe themselves as: Makers of the wine of Champagne (4). They were also made in Italy, Asti spumante dating from around 1850, Spain and Australia. In the United Sates they began making sparkling wine in Ohio in 1837, and then later in New York state, and in California, in the Sonoma Valley, from around 1860.

The sparkling wines made in France were rarely of a very good quality. Thimothée Trimm wrote that most of these wines are produced like those of Champagne, but sent out too early; they are heavy, indigestible and lacking in the healthful qualities of true champagne, that is recommended for a great many illnesses [6]. Nevertheless, they enjoyed some success on account of their modest prices and their image, that was modelled on champagne, their aim being to benefit from any confusion that this created among consumers.

Murger gives a telling account of how such wines were perceived in his Scènes de la Vie de Bohème (Scenes from Bohemian Life): We soon saw a bottle appear that, its neck crowned with a silver cap, was recognized as belonging to the Royal-Champenois regiment, an extravagant champagne harvested in the vineyards of Saint-Ouen, and sold in Paris at two francs the bottle. Our bohemians accepted the liqueur that was served to them in ad hoc glasses as the authentic wine of Aï and, despite the lacklustre exit of the cork from its prison, they went into raptures over the excellence of the wine, on seeing the quantity of foam that it produced.

We should also note a certain fashionable curiosity or snobbism concerning foreign champagnes, some of which were sold at the same price as French champagnes, with which they rubbed shoulders in grand restaurants. In Zola’s Pot-Bouille (Pot Luck), Bachelard orders a dinner from the impressive menu, further enlarged with a truly royal selection of wines: Château-Lafite ’48 with the starters, Sparkling-Moselle with the roast, and iced Roederer with dessert.

The merchants in Champagne did not content themselves with informing the public, they went to court and attacked the producers of sparkling wines who were wrongfully using the description of Champagne and "borrowing" various brand names. There was the Law of the 28 July 1824, which aimed to curb deception over the origin of goods, and, to protect brand names and trading names, there was the Law of 23-27 June 1857. But the clauses of these legal texts left several loopholes open, and did not prevent brands being registered by producers outside of Champagne, the protection of the appellation Champagne did not benefit from any legal guarantee in the nineteenth century. However, in most cases, the proceedings instituted against the usurpers by groups of merchants and, from 1882, by the Syndicat du Commerce des Vins de Champagne (which became the Syndicat de Grandes Marques, and then, in 1994, the Union des Maisons de Champagne), were rewarded with sucess.

Here are two examples, taken from the syndicate’s journal, Le Vin de Champagne: On the 12 September 1844, the magistrates’ courts in Tours passed a sentence for having inscribed, on corks sealing bottles of sparkling wine, made in Touraine, the names of Verzy and Ay and for having sold wine from Vouvray as if it was from Champagne. The guilty parties were sentenced on appeal for having deceived their customers over the nature of the wines that they were selling to them. On the 19 July 1887, even though the commercial court of Saumur had judged that the word champagne could be considered to fall in the public domain, the Court of Appeal of Angers recognized that the word indicated both the place of production and of manufacture of certain wines described by this word, and not others and that, from then on, the designation champagne could no longer be considered to fall in the public domain.

But due to the existing laws, and despite admirable tenacity, the merchants of Champagne could only obtain limited results in their defence in France of the name of Champagne, at least up until the 1890s, the various decrees of the courts by then constituting a dissuasive jurisprudence.

Abroad there were very few measures that could be taken, until the 14 April 1891, when the Arrangement de Madrid was signed following the Convention d’Union de Paris of the 20 March 1883, the objective of which was the repression of false or deceptive claims of provenance on products.

Even then, the results obtained were patchy because only eight countries signed the agreements. The main countries producing sparkling wines did not participate, these being Germany, Australia, Austria-Hungary, the United States and Russia. But it was an important step on the path to more respectful use of wine appellations, the effects of which would be more widely felt in the twentieth century. It was also a sign of the commitment to the champagne industry of the French governing authorities, who took up their cause, as was demonstrated in 1904, when the Ministry of Trade and of the Quai d’Orsay urgently intervened in order to ensure the withdrawal of the curious title of Grand vin de Champagne Henri-Roederer - Reims - Odessa, which appeared on the labels of the Société Vinicole de la Russie Méridionale Henri Roederer, which had established itself in Odessa in 1896.


Be that as it may, the success of champagne was spectacular in the nineteenth century; the relentless rise in demand is reflected in the sales figures that we examine below. Annual sales, as we have already noted, were around 300,000 at the start of the Revolution. By 1899 they had risen to 28.5 million, which is nearly a hundred times more than at the beginning of the century! At the fall of the Empire, there were already of the order of two million bottles, reaching three million by 1830, which is a 15% increase in a quarter of a century. In 1844 they reached six million, reflecting a more rapid growth rate of 20% in fifteen years. The distribution of sales by wine-producing district was as follows: Rheims 50%; Châlons-sur-Marne 27%; Épernay 23%.

From 1844 sales figures were given for each year, from April to March, by the Chamber of Commerce in Rheims, which assembled them on the basis of information provided by the Service des Contributions Indirectes de la Marne (The Indirect Contributions Department of the Marne). However, these figures included sparkling wines other than champagne, but only those which were officially produced in the department with wines from outside the region. Given that in 1910, when they were counted separately, they represented 24% of the total, we may consider that, in the second half of the nineteenth century, sales of champagne corresponded to approximately three quarters of those declared by the Chamber of Commerce; these are shown in the table below, at five year intervals from 1844 to 1899, with annual variations given for the crisis periods which have already been discussed.

The table most significantly shows the huge difference between the national market and export sales. The latter was three times the former in 1900, however, this ratio was substantially higher in earlier years.

Years Sales of all sparkling wines produced in the Marne < < <
Numbers of bottles (every five years) < < Annual variations
(in bottles)
in total sales during crisis periods
in France
Exports Total
1844-1845 2 255 438 4 380 214 6 635 652
1849-1850 1 705 735 5 001 044 6 706 779
1854-1855 2 552 743 6 795 773 9 348 516
1859-1860 3 039 621 8 265 395 11 305 016
1864-1865 2 801 626 9 101 441 11 903 067
1869-1870 3 628 461 13 858 839 17 487 300 70-71 = 9.2 M
71-72 = 20.4 M
72-73 = 22.3 M
73-74 = 18.8 M
1874-1875 3 517 182 15 318 345 18 835 527
1879-1880 2 266 561 16 524 593 19 191 134
1884-1885 2 822 601 18 189 256 21 011 857 85-86 = 17.4 M
86-87 = 19 M
87-88 = 20.3 M
88-89 = 22.5 M
1889-1890 1 176 189 19 148 382 20 324 571
1894-1895 4 908 281 16 129 374 21 037 655 90-91 = 25.7 M
91-92 = 24.4 M
92-93 = 21 M
93-94 = 22 M
1899-1900 6 680 923 21 773 513 28 454 436 M = 1 million

This was a matter for complaint amongst the French, as the song below, Le Champagne, by Abel Sallé demonstrates:

Sweet Ay, dear wine of our fathers, We no longer know your taste; It is only beyond our borders That your splendour is justly honoured!

Even more deplorable was the fact that it was the best champagne that was exported. Fiévet wrote that the houses that make it their speciality to supply good wines abroad buy from amongst the best crus [7], to such an extent that the Vigneron Champenois was able to write on 28 December 1882 that the wine of choice is today a royal rarity here, like the black pearl or the "white blackbird" (translator’s note: an expression in French meaning something that either does not exist or cannot be found); foreign countries pay for it and take it away; a person in a good position cannot even be sure of drinking one bottle a year. Fiévet went as far as to suggest that to obtain very good champagne in France, gourmets place their orders with foreign merchants, who, having paid dearly themselves, take care to charge even more exorbitant prices and Delvau wrote that at the Maison-Dorée resaurant, the Verdier brothers make it their speciality to have Clicquot champagne, which is difficult to find elsewhere, since it became monopolized by the English [8].

The table also shows that it was in the middle of the nineteenth century that sales of champagne really began to take off, doubling in the ten years after 1850, tripling in twenty-five years and quadrupling by the end of the century. For it was indeed in the 1850s and 1860s that the technical progress, initiated by the pharmacist François, began to take effect; sales then received a further boost in the decade that followed, due to the prosperity of the Second Empire. It can also be seen that sales in France, having developed slowly between 1850 and 1870, subsequently fell to pre-1845 levels. Then, very rapidly, between 1890 and 1895, increased by 450%, while exports decreased by 16% over the same period.

Once again, let us remember that these figures included both champagne and sparkling wines of the Marne. In any event, we can observe that champagne’s conquest of the French market did not properly get started until the end of the nineteenth century. This was certainly due, in addition to the reasons already mentioned, to the efforts of the producers who, owing to the return of prosperity, realized the advantages of an outlet, virtually on their doorstep, that enabled them to move stocks of wines that were not in the top quality bracket. More attention was paid to the quality of wines for export than those that were sold in France, where consumers of champagne, apart from a few connoisseurs, were less concerned with its taste than with satisfying their vanity and a thirst for pleasure. One might think that the growth of sales in France was linked, to a certain, but not negligible, extent to the multiplication of official events that closed with a champagne toast; such events were reported with increasing frequency in the national and regional press. For a long time champagne was drunk only in certain circles, such as the Regent’s court or Murger’s Bohemia, and generally in relatively closed ones such as the aristocracy, the upper middle classes and the demi-monde; however, from the 1850s, although not yet a wine of the people, champagne became more widely drunk.

Exports were characterized during the nineteenth century by growth that was inversely proportional to the French market. They increased quickly and steadily, especially after 1845, there was, however, a slight slow-down between 1885 and 1895, corresponding to the explosion of sales on the internal market. The prodigious growth in consumption of champagne abroad was undoubtedly due to its image of being the epitome of French gaiety and light-heartedness, at a time when, in an increasing number of countries, wealth was rapidly developing, giving wider access to what the Russian Count, Paul Vasili, called French provisons .

It was also the result, as we have seen, of the considerable efforts made by the great champagne houses to develop the foreign markets that interested them, and on which some of them focused their activity.

According to Bertall, if they shared, so to speak, the favours of five regions of the world, then the situation as it stood in 1882 was: Clicquot, Russia and Germany; Louis Roederer, Austria, Spain, Switzerland and Italy; Pommery, Enland, Sweden and Denmark; Mumm, all of America (48). One could add other houses to this list, especially for the United States; while Vizetelly confirms that Mumm had about a quarter of the market from about 1870, we know that Piper-Heidsieck, Charles Heidsieck, Louis Roederer, Ruinart and Pommery were also well placed. Perrier-Jouët could not be ignored on the British market, being, according to The Wine and Spirit Trade Review of the 13 December 1935, firmly established as early as the 1830s; Louis Roederer had significant sales in Scandinavia, as did Gustave Gibert, the favourite of the King of Sweden and Norway. Some houses do not figure in these lists because they were more eclectic in their exports, Moët for example, due to the variety of its products, went everywhere [9], or Giesler et Cie whose reputation was universal . This was also true of Lanson, Deutz and Geldermann, and several others. The smaller houses did sell champagne abroad but it was usually sold under the name of the importer.

Exports of champagne gradually spread all over the world. In Peru, in January 1825, after the victory at Ayacucho which gained independence for South America, Bolivar wrote to General Sucre: I am sending you twenty cases of pink champagne for you to drink in my name. However, several countries constituted privileged markets, in terms of their annual imports. In 1832 Cyrus Redding [10] classified them in decreasing order as follows: Germany, England (with India), the United States and Russia with imports of 479,000, 467,000, 400,000 and 280,000 bottles respectively, and Denmark and Sweden, both with 30,000 bottles. In 1880 England was in the lead, with four million bottles, followed by the United States with nearly two million, Germany having fallen behind due to poor Franco-German relations.

The table below shows the main markets at the end of the nineteenth century, with figures from the Vigneron Champenois of the 18 October 1899 for numbers of bottles exported during 1898:

These figures are for champagne and the sparkling wines of the Marne but the latter were not much exported. It should be noted that during this period the United States was usually in third place, taking 2,733,000 bottles the previous year. The exceptionally low figure for 1898 was due to the Spanish-American War.

Sales of champagne in Germany benefited from the Wars of the Consulate and of the Empire; Germany was in the front ranks of the Northern countries to which, according to Pierre Failly, as early as 1804, sales had risen to more than a million bottles, a figure that seems somewhat exaggerated, given that at the fall of the Empire total sales had not yet reached two million bottles. In any event, there is no doubt that champagne had already gained a firm foothold in the market on the other side of the Rhine. The 1870 war unfortunately set everything back, and signalled the beginning of a difficult period of diplomatic and trade relations that was to put a damper on exports to Germany for almost a hundred years. They did, however, remain at an appreciable level, except during the hostilities, and this was despite increasing competition from sekt, a sparkling wine produced in Germany.

We know the value that was placed on the Russian market by merchants in the first half of the nineteenth century. Even before the wars of the Empire had finished, Madame Clicquot secretly prepared to send a cargo of champagne to Saint Petersburg that was to travel on a small seventy-five ton sailing ship. Peace with Prussia and Russia had barely been signed when Monsieur Bohne, after a long, rough crossing, landed at Konigsberg, from where the first bottles were transported to their final destination. They were such a success that, having sold the entire cargo, Bohne wrote to Madame Clicquot: I already have orders for a further assault on your cellars. The Russian market was open. Word spread quickly, if not freely, during the allied occupation of 1815, to such an extent that Victor Fiévet could write: innumerable orders are arriving from the North bringing considerable wealth to our happy region . A great wave of sales, that was actively maintained by the merchants, was thus created in Slavic society, over which nineteenth century France seemed to exert a certain fascination, and was perfectly symbolized by champagne. Sales were, however, somewhat limited in Russia by the fact that only a small proportion of the upper classes of this immense country had the financial means to drink it regularly; we have already seen, from the works of Chekhov and Dostoyevsky, that champagne had begun to become "democratized" over the course of the century, but this was only to a very limited extent. There was also increasing competition from the sparkling wines of the Crimea and the Don River.

The American market was newer but progressed more quickly, for champagne, as a symbol of success, was especially appreciated in the land where fame and fortune are frequently displayed. Charles C. Heidsieck wrote that there is no country where one can can make ones fortune so easily, on the condition that one has a product that pleases and sells well (290). The banker, J. Pierpont Morgan, understood this so well that he attempted to buy the whole of wine-producing Champagne! But it was not for sale and, abandoning his plans, he accepted his first and only financial failure. The growth of sales in the United States was unfortunately irregular, and even at times checked, due to ups and downs in the economy. The 1857 crisis, the Civil War and the Spanish-American War caused such slumps; there were also temperance societies such as the American Society for the Promotion of Temperance campaigning against the use of champagne for the launching of ships, insisting that The Great Republic be launched in 1853 with a bottle of water!

New markets were opened, often full of promise, such as Holland, which, in 1899 was consuming almost as much as Russia, and above all Belgium which, during the same period, became the second largest consumer of champagne and even became the biggest, in terms of quantity per inhabitant, surpassing both France and Great Britain.

However, Great Britain maintained, as always, a special relationship with champagne, regardless of the state of diplomatic relations with France, whether it was war, when Monsieur Bohne referred to the English as the harpies of the sea, or the Entente Cordiale established by King Louis-Philippe and Queen Victoria. The British were not only faithful customers, but also the best connoisseurs of champagne, often more informed than the French, who were more interested in having fun than savouring the best wines, and supplied and advised by dynasties of remarkable wine merchants. As Vizetelly wrote, the very best wines of the best champagne producers, and naturally at the highest prices, are invariably reserved for the English market .

And yet trade with England was not always easy at the start of the nineteenth century! It was true that in 1800 and 1802 George III finally authorized decisions to let French wines in bottles enter his country without the cost of an import licence. But the wars with France and the Continental Blockade cancelled out any of the benefits might have been expected to follow these measures. Even when peace returned the champagne market remained subdued. London may have became the hub of European exchanges, but England took a long time to recover, in economic terms, from this disastrous period, which seriously shook the fortunes of the wealthy classes. André Simon considered that Trade in champagne did not draw any immediate profit from the end of the hostilities and remained virtually unchanged during the following ten years.

Prices were very high, due to the prohibitive import duties that French wines were subject to, and which stood at 13 s. 8 d. per gallon, compared to 4 s. 6 d. in 1794 . George IV reduced them by half in 1825 and the champagne market was healthy, although it had not yet begun its meteoric rise, despite the prestige that it enjoyed in London and the British seaside resorts. Champagne also had to contend with competition in England from good quality German sparkling wines, which were listed by its side on wine lists in top restaurants, but at lower prices. As in France, there was competition from other beverages, such as punch, even if champagne was itself sometimes barbarically employed in the preparation of this popular drink. It was also threatened by local imitations which assumed the name of champagne, but which were in fact made, as we have noted, from gooseberries or rhubarb. David Booth, while at the same time giving a recipe, deplored such fruit wines appearing under the name of champagne on the bills of British wine producers [11]. This abuse at least had the merit of facilitating the establishment of the great brands in Britain, the informed consumer giving preference to a trustworthy label rather than a substitute, or even a champagne of unknown origin sold under the name of an importer, a widespread practice on the other side of the channel in the nineteenth century.

From 1860 to 1862, a major change in Great Britain’s economic policy concerning wine sales finally took place, which was the key to champagne’s successful conquest of the British market. We owe it to Gladstone who, in response to Napoleon III’s views on free exchange, reduced duties on French wines, in a series of decisions, to a third of what they were in 1825 and encouraged the distribution of wine in Britain’s retail trade. It so happened that these fortunate measures were passed at a time when the economic environment was favourable, which multiplied their effects tenfold. In France, production costs of champagne were becoming more reasonable as a result of technical progress, while in Britain, above all in London, prosperity was rapidly developing, and many were keen to display it. Champagne thus became obligatory at fashionable dinners. The success of dry champagne gave a further boost to market activity, as did that of vintage champagne which, after the vintage boom following the release of the 1874, became popular with growing numbers of connoisseurs.

The latter were known to have a preference for old champagnes. In order to accelerate the ageing process, some London merchants stored their purchases in cellars dug in the cliffs of Dover. Others had wines that they had ordered from Rheims or Epernay sent via Sweden or even India! This was known at the time as back from India champagne. However, most of the old champagnes sold in Britain were vintage, that had been kept four or five years in cellars in Champagne and then for an equal period or longer by British merchants. Their price would rise after ten years, making them an interesting investment, and a regular lot at London auctions. According to the tables drawn up by André Simon in his History of the Champagne Trade in England, they would normally be auctioned after maturing for at least twelve years; prices would increase for champagnes up to fifteen or sixteen years old and then decline.

With the Naughty Nineties, the British market reached its height. From less than 500,000 bottles per year in 1830, it rose to nearly eleven million, making the British not only by a long way the biggest importers at the end of the nineteenth century, but also the biggest consumers, drinking twice as much champagne as the French.


[1Patrick Forbes recounts that the Kaiser was so furious that he recalled his ambassador. He adds that in 1906 Kessler sent a wagon of champagne to the victims of the San Francisco earthquake!

[2SUTAINE (Max). Essay on the History of the Wines of Champagne. Rheims, 1845.

[3TRIMM (Thimothée). Physiology of the Wine of Champagne. Paris, s.d. (preface dated 1866).

[4MATHIEU (L.). Etude des procédés rationnels de vinification el de conservation des vins (Study of the Rational Processes of the Vinification and Storing of Wines). Paris, 1903.

[5MACCULOCH (John). Remarks on the art of making wine, with suggestions for the application of its principles to the improvement of domestic wines. London, 1821.

[6TRIMM (Thimothée). Physiology of the Wine of Champagne. Paris, s.d. (preface dated 1866).

[7FIEVET (Victor). History of the Town of Epernay, from its Foundation to Modern Times. Epernay, 1868.

[8DELVAU (Alfred). The Pleasures of Paris, a Practical Illustrated Guide. Paris, 1867.

[9BERTALL. Vines, a Voyage around the Wines of France. Paris, 1878.

[10REDDING (Cyrus). A History and Description of Modern Wines. London, 1833.

[11BOOTH (David). The Art of wine-making in all its branches. London, 1834.