UMC - Grandes Marques et Maisons de Champagne

Champagne Guest Book

The Merchants

From the nineteenth century onwards the modern world as we know it began to take shape. This was also true of the sparkling wine of Champagne, which emerged from its infancy, and which we will now refer to as champagne (with a small "c"), for it was during the nineteenth century that this began to mean the sparkling rather than the still wines of the region. Several factors contributed to its success. Despite the turmoil of an age filled with wars, revolutions and changes of regime, both in France and abroad, the civilized world prospered. In Europe currency was stable and the gold franc, created in 1803, retained its value until 1914. Taxes were collected without any trouble and were not too much of a burden on revenues, inheritances or businesses. Clever and industrious merchants put these circumstances to good use and considerably developed the production and sales of champagne.


The commercial "houses" of the eighteenth century were still active and in general strengthened their position. Two of them in particular, Moët et Clicquot, quickly gained international fame.

Jean-Rémy Moët took over from his father, Nicolas-Claude, in 1792. He survived the upheaval of the Revolution without any mishaps, and substantially expanded the business under the Empire and the Restoration. Political regimes came and went but his credit remained intact. As the mayor of Epernay in 1801 one of his duties was to receive important visitors. Wishing to accommodate them in his own quarters he had built, opposite his house, according to plans drawn up by Isabey, the famous miniaturist, two twin buildings overlooking a classical French garden and an orangery. The Empress Joséphine inaugurated them on 16 October 1804. Returning from conquering the Russians at Eylau and Friedland, Napoleon himself, who honoured Jean-Rémy Moët with his friendship, stayed there on 26 July 1807, accompanied by Murat; he visited the house’s cellars, which that same year became those of Moët et Cie.

Napoleon stopped at Epernay several more times during his travels between Paris and the battle fields of Europe. On the 17 March 1814, returning to the capital before his first abdication, he visited for the last time and awarded Jean-Rémy Moët the Légion d’Honneur in return, he told him for your loyal services as an administrator, and above all for the admirable contribution that you have made in France and abroad, to the commerce of our wines [1].

During the splendid years of the imperial campaigns there was an incessant stream of kings, princes, marshals, commissioners, and officers of all ranks, who visited Jean-Rémy with a view to sampling the delights of the region. It was thus that he received Joseph and Jérôme Bonaparte, and the respective kings of Naples, Westphalia, Bavaria and Saxony. On 24 June 1811 the king of Westphalia placed an order for 6,000 bottles, and confided in Jean-Rémy that he would have ordered more, but he was afraid that the Russians would come and drink and them, thereby revealing to his host that Napoleon had just decided on war with Russia.

During the first occupation on 12 February 1814, Jean-Rémy Moët received the Allies in his capacity as mayor, and his noble conduct gained him the protection of the allied princes, and later the royal order of Louis XVIII. In 1815 he ceased to be the mayor of Epernay but adapted well to the allied occupation and to the return of the monarchy. In 1825 he received Charles X who restored him to his position of head of the city’s municipality. In 1832 he welcomed Louis-Philippe and showed him the cellars. His annual production was already 600,000 bottles [2]. He retired on 31 December 1832 at the age of 74. He died in 1841 at his Chateau de Romont, near the village of Mailly, at the base of the northern slopes of the Montagne de Rheims. The memory of this exceptional man remained alive. In the Vigneron Champenois of September 1873, Jean-Louis Plonquet wrote, It is to Jean-Rémy Moët that we owe this huge commerce, which extends to the four corners of the world and which causes the name of France to explode everywhere as bottles of champagne are opened in joy and in peace. In 1833 the house became the property of Victor Moët and Pierre-Gabriel Chandon de Briailles, two brothers-in-law who were partners and respectively the son and son-in law of Jean-Rémy. The company’s trading name became Moët & Chandon, thus inaugurating a brand that would, well before the end of the century, become well-known all over the civilized world .

In 1854 in Labiche’s vaudeville Les Marquises de la Fourchette (The Marchionesses of the Fork) , the restaurant waiter calls out, "Sommelier !... Two Moët on ice for table 4... The Moët is going well. Business is good!" And as a bellboy says, caricatured by E. de Beaumont in the Charivari of 22 July 1853, "Le moët, c’est chouette" ("Moët is the tops").

The accounts books for the nineteenth century read like a who’s who of the nobility, and include all the great families of France and Europe, starting with Napoleon and the Imperial family, Queen Victoria, Leopold I, and continuing with more than 126 dukes, marquises, earls, viscounts and lords! At the start of the twentieth century the company’s vineyard, at 360 hectares (890 acres), was the largest in Champagne. Moët and Chandon permanently employed 1,600 people and produced between two and a half and three million bottles of champagne every year. The reserves in the cellars reached thirteen million bottles.

François Clicquot died prematurely in Rheims in 1805. To everyone’s surprise his young widow, in partnership with Mr. Bohne, one of the house’s travelling sales representatives, and Mr. Fourneaux, an oenologist, took over the management of the business under the name Vve Clicquot-Ponsardin, Fourneaux et Cie, and then, from 1810, Vve Clicquot-Ponsardin. During this turbulent period, in an age when it was still unheard of for women to be involved in business, the thirty year old widow personally directed the champagne house with great authority and very soon managed to expand it considerably, with, from about 1825, the help of the equally remarkable Edouard Werlé2, who became her partner in 1831. She sent her salesmen all over Europe and did not hesitate to force a way through Napoleon’s continental blockade in order to sell her wines in Russia [3], where they became so prized that Prosper Mérimée wrote on 26 July 1853 that Madame Clicquot is quenching Russia’s thirst; her wine is called "klikofs koé" and they will drink no other. Her champagne became as widely known as Moët & Chandon.

In Anglo-Saxon countries it was known as the Widow, and in Spanish speaking countries as la Viuda. And when ordering it in France it was sufficient simply to ask for la veuve. In 1861 in Labiche’s comedy La Poudre aux yeux (Dust in Your Eyes), when the maître d’hôtel asks Frédéric, "Which brand of champagne do you prefer?" He replies "Veuve Clicquot. It’s the best". This success undoubtedly explains the excessive prestige which some people attribute to the mention of the word Veuve on a champagne label.

Prosper Mérimée declares in the above mentioned letter that, during the Second Empire, Madame Clicquot was the Queen of Rheims. However she withdrew to the Château de Boursault, a sort of smaller version of Chambord in the grand renaissance style, which she had built on the slopes overlooking the left bank of the Marne downstream from Epernay. Here she lived in great splendour, giving credit to the legend of the Widow Clicquot, a formidable but kindly grand lady, the uncrowned queen of champagne. She died there in 1866 at the age of 89. In the Illustration of 11 August 1866, Jules Claretie wrote, The press has already praised her kindness, and even more the noble-mindedness of this ’bourgeoise’ who came to power through the quality of her wines.

Mme Clicquot only had one daughter who married the Comte de Chevigné, who was the author of Contes rémois (Tales of Rheims), and more interested in poetry than business. The running of the house of Veuve Clicquot-Ponsardin passed to Edouard Werlé, then to his son, Comte Alfred Werlé, and in 1907 to the latter’s son-in-law Comte Bertrand de Mun, assisted by Prince Jean de Caraman Chimay. The Château de Boursault became the property of another great lady, Anne de Mortemart, the Duchess Uzès, granddaughter of the Comte de Chevigné. She held her great grandmother, who she had known in her childhood, in great reverence, and wrote of her that she had brought the wine of Champagne to such a high degree of perfection (630). Famous for her love of hunting with hounds, she died at the age of eighty six years old, riding after her pack through the forest of Rambouillet in pursuit of a stag (71).
Ruinart was always industrious. Amongst Claude Ruinart’s customers were Bonaparte, Talleyrand, the King of Prussia, the court of Denmark, the court of Bavaria, the Duke of Bedford, to name but a few. It was Irénée Ruinart, the founder’s grandson, who, as mayor of Rheims, received in the course of his municipal duties the Empress Marie-Louise in 1811, and then in 1814 Napoleon himself, who spent the night in his Château du Grand Sillery. On 28 May 1825 he presented the keys of the city to Charles X who had just been crowned king of France, and who granted him the title of Vicomte, the Ruinarts having been ennobled and made Lords of Brimont by Louis XVlll on 20 October 1817. After Irénée Ruinart de Brimont the house remained in the hands of his descendants, keeping the name Ruinart Père et Fils, which goes back to 1764.

Jacquesson, which became Jacquesson et Cie, was a large house which was often in the public eye. In 1850 Prince Louis-Napoléon Bonaparte, the President of the Republic, had champagne distributed at the military parades; Jacquesson champagne was chosen for the occasion and the Charivari published an article by Taxile Delord on 26 September 1850 with the title L’Empire-Jacquesson. Three days later a humorous article appeared in the same paper by the editor, Louis Huart, to the glory of Monsieur Jacquesson. This may seem rather political and light weight but the fact is that the house of Jacquesson et Cie, then in Châlons, became established on the French market [4].

Chanoine et Fourneaux kept the same name5 but some of the other eighteenth century houses changed name and sometimes ownership. Thus Vander-Veken, Dubois et Fils and Delamotte became respectively Abelé [5], Louis Roederer and Lanson Père et Fils.

At the beginning of the nineteenth century Nicolas Schreider took over the house of Dubois et Fils in Rheims. He brought in his nephew, Louis Roederer, in 1827. On the death of Nicolas Schreider in 1833 the house became Louis Roederer. In 1845 Eugène Roederer, Louis’s brother, and Hugues Krafft, who had entered the house in 1833 as a travelling representative, joined Louis as partners. Louis Roederer substantially increased the house’s activities, particularly focusing on the Russian market. He was extremely successful, despite competition from the other houses that were already established there. In 1876 the house created for Czar Alexandre II, at the request of his wine supplier, a special vintage in a clear glass bottle called Cristal. On the death of Louis Roederer in 1870 his son, Louis, took over, aided by his uncle Eugène, Hugues Krafft, and his brother-in-law Jacques Olry. The young Louis Roederer died prematurely in 1880, leaving his estate and the business to his sister, Madame Jacques Olry, whose two sons, Louis and Léon, added Roederer to their name.

As we know the house of Delamotte was founded in Rheims in 1760. In 1833 on the death of the knighted Nicolas-Louis Delamotte, the son of the founder François, Jean-Baptiste Lanson, a partner with Nicolas-Louis since 1828, presided with his widow over the fortunes of the house, which had become Louis Delamotte Père et Fils. In 1837 two of Jean-Baptiste Lanson’s sons, Victor-Marie and Henri, entered the business which became Lanson Père et Fils, and were soon joined by their brother, Ferdinand. All three of them shared the house when their father retired in 1843. At the end of the nineteenth century Henri-Marie, the son of Victor-Marie, considerably expanded the business, concentrating first on the French market and then rapidly diversifying to other markets, particularly Great Britain, Belgium and the Netherlands. In the next century the house of Lanson Père et Fils produced one of the legendary figures of champagne, Victor Lanson, the son of Henri-Marie, who maintained a remarkable degree of vigour until the age of 86, having drunk, it is said, more than 30,000 bottles of champagne during the course of his life.
There remains the house of Heidsieck to be discussed; this house underwent significant changes during the nineteenth century. Florens-Louis Heidsieck died in 1828 and the house that he had founded in Rheims in 1785 was dissolved in 1834. Over the following twenty years three separate establishments in Rheims took up the name of Heidsieck, all being linked to Florens-Louis by various nephews. They are today known as Piper-Heidsieck, Heidsieck et Cie Monopole and Charles Heidsieck; the three houses no longer have any common interests.

Charles and Amélie Heidsieck-Henriot

In 1834 Christian Heidsieck, a nephew and former partner of Florens-Louis, kept the Heidsieck name. He employed three assistants, amongst whom were Henri-Guillaume Piper, a great nephew of Florens-Louis, and Jacques-Charles Kunkelmann. On his death in 1837 his widow continued to run the house for some time under the name Veuve Heidsieck, she then married Henri-Guillaume Piper and the house became H. Piper et Cie, but continued to sell champagne under the name of Heidsieck, and then Piper-Heidsieck. Henri-Guillaume Piper expanded the business and successfully took on the American market. On his death in 1870 Jacques-Charles Kunkelmann, who he had taken as a partner in 1851, gained control of the house and changed its name to Kunkelmann et Cie. He brought in Paul Delius and then his own son, Ferdinand-Théodore, in 1877. Jacques-Charles Kunkelmann died in 1881. Paul Delius retired in 1892 and Ferdinand-Théodore Kunkelmann continued running the house under the same name, which later, under the double patronage of Florens-Louis Heidsieck and Henri-Guillaume Piper, became once again Piper-Heidsieck.

Another of Florens-Louis’s nephews, Henri-Louis Walbaum, founded with his cousin and brother-in-law Pierre Auguste Heidsieck, the house of Walbaum, Heidsieck et Cie in 1834 which, after several changes of name, became Heidsieck et Cie Monopole in1923.

Finally in 1851 Charles-Camille Heidsieck founded the house of Charles Heidsieck. He was the son of Charles-Henri Heidsieck, who was himself, like his brother Christian, a nephew and partner of Florens-Louis. He demonstrated exceptional energy and the brand became familiar to champagne lovers, particularly in the United States, where he went to personally promote his champagne. Charles-Camille Heidsieck was succeeded by his son Charles-Eugène in 1871, and then by his grandson, great grandson, and great great grandson.


Among the houses that appeared in the nineteenth century there were a few that achieved great fame either on account of the volume of their sales or through the quality of their champagne.

This was the case with P.A. Mumm Giesler et Cie, which was founded in 1827 in Rheims by two Germans, Pierre-Arnaud Mumm, a large exporter of wines from the Rhine and the Moselle regions, and Friedrich Giesler. By 1831 they could count among their customers the Rothschilds in England, and in Scandinavia the Royal Prince of Sweden and of Norway. In 1837 Friedrich Giesler left the house to set up his own establishment in Avize the following year with the help of two of his compatriots. In 1838 Georges-Hermann Mumm, the grandson of Pierre-Arnaud Mumm, entered the house in Rheims, which became G.H. Mumm et Cie in 1853 and expanded it very rapidly, with annual sales already reaching 2,600,000 bottles in 1900. However, the Mumm family did not become French nationals, with the result that in 1914 the house was placed under sequestration until the sale by auction of its assets and trading names by the Civil Court of Rheims in 1920 to a French limited company, the Société Vinicole de Champagne.

The house of Pommery et Greno offers another success story, due once again to the intelligence and energy of a widow, Madame Veuve Pommery, née Louise Mélin. In 1836 Messrs Wibert and Greno founded a small champagne house in their names. Wibert died and Greno became partners with Alexandre Pommery in 1856, a young wool merchant of Rheims, who himself died suddenly two years later. Madame Pommery, at the age of 39, took over the running of the house, with the help of Henry Vasnier, who had worked with her husband, and traded under the name of Pommery et Greno. Greno retired in 1860 and Pommery et Greno became Veuve Pommery, and then in 1885 Pommery, Fils et Cie, when Madame Pommery took on as partners her son Louis, her daughter the Comtesse Guy de Polignac and Henry Vasnier, and then back again to Pommery et Greno, this time permanently.

From the beginning of the twentieth century the cellars at Pommery benefited from an automatic bottle handling system and electric lighting (A 116 step staircase descends 35 metres underground)

Mme Pommery, who could have as easily run a government as a champagne house (61), gave enormous momentum to the house’s growth, and by 1870 annual sales were approaching a million bottles. Expansion of the premises was necessary, and so she moved to the top of the slopes of Saint-Nicaise, where she built an imposing collection of buildings in a mixed style inspired by English castles and Oxford colleges, going from late gothic to the eighteenth century of Robert Adam. Cellars were bored out which were reached by a monumental 116 step staircase. Vines and a shaded park covered the rest of the upper reaches of the slopes, where a prestigious residence, the Château des Crayères, was later constructed in 1907. Madame Pommery died in 1890 at the age of 71. Her partners passed on in the early years of the twentieth century and from 1907 it was her grandson, the Marquis Melchior de Polignac, who presided over the houses fortunes.

Philippe Bourlon founded a champagne house in 1836 in Cramant, and gave his name to the modest establishment. A certain Eugène soon joined the house and married his daughter. In 1858 he created a Union de Propriétaires, a group of small labels that included his father’s-in-law and his own; he set up a house in Epernay with registered offices in Paris. Eugène quickly developed the name, to the extent that in thirty years it became one of the most well-known in France. According to Pierre Andrieu, this great businessman only slept for three hours a night. "I even sleep fast!" he used to say [6]. possessed great vision and was a genius at publicity. He had 18 kilometres of cellars dug, which at the time was astounding, and at their inauguration a procession of carriages was drawn by white horses. When Sadi Carnot, the President of the French Republic, visited on 19 September 1891 he travelled in a similar procession that was lit by a thousand candles. In 1858 even though at the banquets of the Second Empire champagne was generally served in carafes, as was the custom with other great wines, he created the Réserve de l’Empereur Blanche, a blend reserved for Napoleon III and his court, the bottle of which was in clear crystal in the shape of a carafe with a cork featuring a bunch of grapes.

For the Universal Exhibition of 1889 he built the largest barrel in the world, which was one of the main attractions. Capable of holding 200,000 bottles it was decorated by the sculptor Navlet, a native of Champagne. The massively outsized barrel, which was far larger than anything in use at the time, took three weeks to transport by road from Epernay to Paris.

Navlet, an artist and sculptor decorated the Pommery cellars with frescoes carved in the chalk

The journey to Paris was in itself a tremendous publicity stunt. Mounted on enormous wheels the barrel was pulled by twenty-four white oxen, with extra help on hills from eighteen horses. Several houses that blocked the way were bought by Eugène and demolished; the toll barriers at Paris were removed for the occasion. As chance would have it an axle broke on the Rue Lafayette, with the result that a huge sign was displayed to onlookers for some hours and the press were duly called to the scene. On arrival at the Exhibition the barrel, made from Hungarian oak, accidentally demolished the exhibition’s restaurant, which just so happened to be... Hungarian.

Eugène equalled this performance at the Universal Exhibition of 1900 when he built a grandiose Palace and moored a hot air balloon on the Champ-de-Mars, in the cradle of which he operated a tasting bar.

Once again chance provided a superb publicity coup. A violent gust of wind broke the mooring cable; nine unsuspecting passengers and the barman landed sixteen hours later, luckily unhurt, in a forest in the Tyrol. The Austrian customs fined twenty crowns for fraudulent and undeclared introduction of six bottles of champagne.

Other champagne houses were founded over the course of the nineteenth century. Their production for a long time remained limited but the excellence of their wines was appreciated by champagne lovers and highly esteemed by their peers, for which reason they were included in the twentieth century in the Syndicat de Grandes Marques de Champagne. This was the case in 1811 with Perrier Jouët in Épernay, in 1818 with Billecart-Salmon in Mareuil-sur-Ay, in 1825 with Joseph Perrier in Châlons-sur-Marne, also in 1825 with Jean-Louis Prieur in Vertus, in 1829 with Renaudin-Bollinger11 in Ay, in 1834 with De Montebello in Mareuil-sur-Ay, in 1838 with Deutz and Geldermann in Ay, in 1843 with Krug et ie in Rheims, in 1849 with Pol Roger 12 in Epernay, in 1853 with Massé in Rheims, in 1860 with De Ayala in Ay. These houses quickly became well known. The same eulogy that appeared in the Vigneron champenois on 27 December 1899 on the death of Monsieur Pol Roger could be applied to all of them: A great deal of perseverance was required in order to establish a good reputation for a house in twenty -five years amongst those that had already existed for nearly a century.

It would be unfair not to list some of the other houses that quickly became well known for either the quality or the quantity of their production; today some of them are known for both.

This is especially true of the following:

In Avenay : Léon Sacotte [7].
In Avize : Auger-Eysert et Hatton; De Cazanove; Desbordes et Fils; Dinet-Peuvrel et Fils; Giesler et Cie ie; Koch Fils; Albert Le Brun; Lecureux et Cie; Vix-Bara.
In Ay : Besserat; Edouard Brun; Duminy et Cie; Gustave Couvreur; ]ules Camuset; Ivernel; Pfungst Frères; Philipponnat [8] ; Tirant de Flavigny.
In Châlons-sur-Marne : Aubertin; Benjamin Perrier; Chanoine-Ecoutin; Collin; Dagonel et Fils; Fréminel-Debar; Fréminet et Fils; J. Georg et Cie; Itam; Jacquart Frères; De Launay; Vallée; Vitry-Jonas.
In Dizy : Testulat-Brouleau.
In Épernay : Albert Chausson ; Alfred Gratien ; De Castellane 17 ; J.B. Chamonard; Deverney-Ravinet; Gauthier; Louis Boizel ; G.H. Martel; Michel Prévy et Fils; De Rochegré; Trouillard; Wachter et Cie.
In Ludes : Canard-Duchêne.
In Mareuil-sur-Ay : Alisse Moignon Fils et Cie; Bouché Fils et Cie; Bruch-Foucher et Cie; Miller-Caqué et Fils; De Venoge [9].
In Pierry : Gé-Dufaut et Cie; Louis Krémer; A. Lejeune et Cie.
In Reims : F. Bernard et Cie; VveBinet et Fils et Cie; Boll et Cie; Delaunay et Cie; Delbeck et Cie; Doyen; Duchâtel-Ohaus; Ernest Irroy; Eugène Cliquot; Charles Farre; Fisse-Thirion et Cie; George Goulet et Cie; Gondelle et Cie; Gustave Gibert; VveHenriot; Henry Goulet; L. Jaunay et Cie; Ch. Loche; Jules Mumm et Cie; Minet Jeune; A. Morizet; Périnet et Fils; Rivari; Roussillon et Cie; De Saint Marceaux et Cie; Sutaine; De Tassigny et Cie; Théophile Roederer et Cie.
In Rilly-la-Montagne : Roper Frères et Cie.
In Tours-sur-Marne : Chauvet; VveLaurent-Perrier.
In Vertus : Duval-Leroy.

It is to be noted that three of these houses, Vve Binet et Fils et Cie, Vve Henriot et VveLaurent-Perrier were run at some point in their history by women, who thus followed the example set by Madame Clicquot.

Three Unusual Widows

At the end of the nineteenth century there must have been more than two hundred other houses if one is to believe Victor Fiévet who wrote in 1868, in his Histoire de la Ville d’Épernay, that there are nearly three hundred houses trading in the wines of Champagne. The number of merchants had thus considerably increased. The ten houses of the eighteenth century had already become a hundred by 1821, fifty of which were known to trade in fine wines in bottles, and which were accompanied by a great number of second and third class houses [10]. A great many were set up after 1840, following progress in techniques to avoid losses from breakages. Armand Maizière gives the total number of houses in 1846 as one hundred and twenty. Other merchants began whenever circumstances were favourable, as for example in 1893, when there was so much wine that new houses were created that year (589). Conversely, there were also crises that resulted in closures and repossessions.

Amongst the modestly sized houses many were little known. Some of them rarely produced sparkling wine and, as early as 1821, there were a large number that limited their speculations to products that would fulfil the needs of the other houses. Henry Vizetelly, in Facts About Champagne, gives the example of a house that for a long time sold its wines mainly to other merchants, on the markets in Rheims and Epernay, where they had an excellent reputation. The other houses in this category generally limited themselves to the French market, catering for a less wealthy clientele than the bigger, well-known brands, who were keen to savour the joys of champagne, but at a lower price. Many of these houses were extremely small. In 1861, for example, there were five houses in Mesnil-sur-Oger employing a total of twenty workers and, in the three localities of Cramant, Monthelon and Moussy, five houses employed only eight workers between all five of them (553). Nevertheless, for the most part these houses prospered due to the never-ending growth in the success of champagne.

From a geographical point of view there was a grouping together of houses that continued all through the nineteenth century. In a process that began before the Revolution, the concentration of merchants increased around Rheims and Epernay at the expense of Châlons and the small vineyard towns; Ay and its region remained, however, privileged, as did the slopes of Avize. In 1821 the distribution of the main champagne houses was as follows: Rheims 25, Epernay 10, Pierry-Avize 5, Ay-Mareuil 4, Cramant-Oger-le Mesnil 4, Châlons 2. In Epernay the largest houses took up positions on either side of the road to Châlons, the future avenue de Champagne 19. In Rheims they were mainly on the hill of Saint-Nicaise, to the south-east, and in the surrounding area, but also occupied other neighbourhoods, especially that which today includes the Boulevard Lundy, the Rue Coquebert, Rue du Champ-de-Mars and the Rue de la Justice.


The very large number of merchants with foreign names, mainly Germanic ones, has already been noted. These newcomers were attracted by the economic prosperity and cultural influence of France. Just as in Bordeaux where historical and naval affinities with England resulted in the English coming to work in the wine trade, so in Champagne neighbourliness with the countries across the Rhine, with whom France maintained friendly relations until the 1840s, led to Germans, mostly from the Rhine, to come and settle there during the first half of the nineteenth century. They were very well-received and by the 1870 war most of them had become French naturalized. Some came with the specific intention of setting up a champagne house. This was the case with Charles Koch, from Heidelberg, who established himself in Avize in 1820 trading under the name Koch Fils [11], and also, as we have seen, with the founders of the house of P.A. Mumm, Giesler et Cie, Friedrich Giesler and Pierre-Arnaud Mumm, the latter from Rudesheim, on the Rhine, where his family had vines and cellars.

Another larger category was made up by young Germans who came to work in champagne houses and became owners, either in part or in full, often through the formation of a partnership or as the result of a marriage, as we saw was the case with Edouard Werlé, who was Madame Clicquot’s partner and successor. It is the dynamism of these Germans that was responsible for the success of the three Heidsieck houses, which were created by various nephews of Florens-Louis, namely Heidsieck, Walbaum and Piper, and J.C. Kunkelmann. The house of Louis Roederer is also in this category, becoming established thanks to N.H. Schreider, his nephew L. Roederer and to H. Kraft. Similarly Bollinger, whose founder, Admiral Comte de Villermont, gave his daughter in marriage to Jacques Bollinger from Wurttemberg, who then became his partner with a Lord Renaudin; Krug, created by Joseph Krug, who came from Mainz to work in Champagne in the house of Jacquesson; Deutz et Geldermann, founded in Ay by William Deutz and Pierre Geldermann, originally from Aix-la-Chapelle, after they had spent a few years at Bollinger.

There are perhaps also German origins to the houses of Braeunlich, the successor of Camuset, Bruck-Foucher et Cie, Goerg, Pfungst Frères, Roper Frères and Wachter et Cie. In the twentieth century the house of Taittinger, which followed Fourneaux, took on a German sounding name, but which is actually that of a family from Lorraine, who emigrated to Champagne after the 1870 war. There were also many Germans working as employees in in the champagne houses. Messrs Bohne, Boldmann and Hartmann were travelling representatives for Madame Clicquot, and managing the cellars were Messrs de Müller and Kessler, the latter founding his own house in 1822.

As well as the Germans there were also several foreigners of other nationalities who made a name for themselves in champagne. From as early as the eighteenth century there was Vander-Veken, which later became Abelé, the founder of which came from the Liège. In 1834 Jean-Baptiste Auguste Lecureux, from Luxembourg, founded Lecureux et Cie in Avize. From Switzerland there was Henri-Marc de Venoge, born in Morges, who came to trade in the wines of Champagne and founded De Venoge in 1837 in Mareuil-sur-Ay, but which is today in Epernay. Edmond de Ayala, the son of a Columbian diplomat posted in Paris, created the house of De Ayala in Ay in around 1860, having married Mademoiselle d’Albrecht, the niece of the Vicomte de Mareuil, the owner of the Château of Ay. There was also Messrs Barnett, the British owners of Périnet et Fils in Rheims. In the twentieth century there were several important positions held by Dutch immigrants, the house of Boizel was even run by a Dutch women, Erika Hoëtte, the widow of René Boizel.

All of these foreign merchants made a considerable contribution to the profession. As the Belgian historian, Léo Moulin, wrote, they helped the taste for champagne to spread more quickly and more widely. They very soon became integrated into the society of Champagne, even marrying the daughters of the aristocracy of their adopted country, with the result that today their descendants, with names that have become part of French heritage, are now at the head of several of the largest brands of champagne.

Many of those of foreign origin in the champagne trade in the nineteenth century had a great sense of their responsibilities, and became involved in such professional bodies as the Chambre de Commerce de Rheims, and 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, of which we shall hear more later); the first president was Florens Walbaum, who was succeeded by Paul Krug and, in 1895, one third of the membership was of foreign origin. They were members of the town councils and the Marne county council, such as Joseph Bollinger, who was the mayor of Ay, Louis Roederer, who was a member of the town council of Rheims and the county council, Edouard Werlé, who was the mayor of Rheims, a member of the county council, a deputy in the legislating body and president of the Chamber of Commerce of Rheims. In this their shared the preoccupations of their colleagues of Champagne origin, who considered it a point of honour to participate in the region’s political life, thus following the example set by Jean-Rémy Moët and Irénée Ruinart who, as we saw, were mayors of Epernay and Rheims under the Empire.

The growing fashion for champagne resulted in the turnovers of the champagne houses rising in a spectacular manner during the nineteenth century. Merchants enlarged and modernized their establishments. They built themselves magnificent residences; the properties of Jean-Rémy Moët and Madames Clicquot and Pommery have already been noted. However, very considerable sums were also given to good works.

The gifts that were lavished on the town of Epernay are astounding [12]: nurseries, dispensaries, retirement homes, orphanages, schools; there was no end to the generosity. The Auban-Moët family gave the town its hospital and the Chandon family the church of St Pierre-St Paul [13]. Eugène Mercier founded an asylum for deaf-mutes in Rheims. The merchants of Rheims were not to be outdone. Louis Roederer built a hospital. Madame Clicquot set up an old age home with the proceeds of a court case that she won in London against some counterfeiters. Madame Pommery devoted herself to helping distressed children.

The staff of the champagne houses were not forgotten. Vizetelly informs us that in 1880 at Moët & Chandon, in an attitude to welfare that was very advanced for the time, staff were given pensions on retirement, half-pay when they were sick, full-pay during any time off resulting from an accident at work, and free treatment and medicines at the establishment’s infirmary, which had its own doctor. Proceeds from the sales of broken bottles were divided between the workers and a banquet and ball was organised for them every year (651). Raphaël Bonnedame, in his Note sur La Maison Moët & Chandon, lists other benefits such as free home medical visits, bonuses, unsecured loans, housing allowances, life insurance, help for widows and orphans and the distribution of clothing and food. Madame Clicquot founded a retirement home for her workers. In an approach that was completely new at the time Melchior de Polignac created a leisure and sports park in 1911 for the staff of Pommery. The following year he made it available to the public and it is today still appreciated for its trees and sports facilities.
The smaller houses followed these examples on a less grand scale and the merchants’ prosperity had a generally happy effect on wine producing Champagne.

It is interesting to note how the society of the champagne houses gradually became more aristocratic over the course of the nineteenth century. Of bourgeois origins its members, when, like Jean-Rémy Moët and Irénée Ruinart de Brimont, they were not ennobled, were happy to bring representatives of the nobility into their families, which was made all the more easy by the fact that their daughters made handsome matches. It is thus not surprising to read in Nestor Roqueplan’s gossip column in his Nouvelles à la Main of 20 August 1841, that the chivalrous Vicomte Sosthènes de la Rochefoucauld, now the Duc de Doudeauville, a widower and sixty years old, will marry a young person whose family has made its fortune trading in the wines of Champagne, news that was however denied in the following issue.

Coats of arms generally attract coats of arms, and aristocrats, living in Champagne or coming there to live, founded their own houses. While some of them, like the Admiral de Villermont and Bollinger, were reluctant to see their names on a label, although this was not always the case and the Cazanove, Castellane, and Saint-Marceaux families did not have the same scruples. Thus in 1841 Jean-Alexandre de Saint-Marceaux of Rheims married the daughter of a merchant, Jean-Claude Morizet, and subsequently took over his father-in-law’s house and put his name and arms on the label.

One of these aristocratic merchants, the Duc de Montebello, deserves special mention because he also became involved with national government at a high level. Napoléon-Auguste Lannes de Montebello was the eldest son of Maréchal Lannes, a distinguished figure in the Napoleonic campaigns who died covered in glory at the battle of Essling in 1809. He took up residence in the Château de Mareuil-sur-Ay [14] and, in partnership with two of his brothers, Marquis Alfred, who became Deputy of the Gers, and General Comte Gustave, founded the house of De Montebello in 1834. He was then made Minister of the Navy in 1847. With his name already on champagne labels, the republican press took great delight in mocking his dual status. The Charivari of the 15 June 1847 declared that: M. Lannes, the Bottle Maréchal of Aï, is learning to be a sailor in a perfectly natural transition from the froth of champagne to the froth of the sea. (Translator’s note: in French there is an added pun because "mousse" (froth) also means a ship’s boy). By 1850 he was no longer a minister but was selected to be part of a committee studying universal suffrage. He was once again lampooned by the Charivari, which published an excellent caricature by Daumier on 30 April with the caption: Such a melancholy and lugubrious air: who could ever doubt that this is a champagne merchant.

As with all professions there were rivalries within the champagne trade. A kind of reciprocal jealousy seems to have existed between the merchants of Rheims and those of Epernay, which continued fairly late into the nineteenth century, although the pseudo-barrier of the Montagne de Reims did not hinder marriages, such as the one between the sister of the Duc de Montebello and the Comte Alfred Werlé.

Competition was ever present, but occasionally took underhand forms. Newly created houses would sometimes choose a name that very closely resembled that of one of the big brands in order to benefit from the possible confusion. Here is one example from several such instances. In 1861 a certain Théophile Roederer was brought from Strasbourg to serve as a figure head for a new champagne house in Rheims. This establishment then began to trade under the name T. Roederer et Co. and, with a view to benefiting from the fame of Louis Roederer, copied not only the latter’s style of label but also went as far as awarding itself Carte blanche and using wax of an identical colour on the bottles, which resulted in its being listed in 1883 in Baron de Foelckersahmb
-  Kroppen’s Les Archives de la Gastronomie as a house that was as universal as it was solidly established. The matter went to court but it was not until 1904 that the Olry-Roederer family took control of the house of Théophile Roederer, the two businesses did, however, remain separate.

There was friendly musical competition between the houses. Thus a famous English song entitled Champagne Charlie, of which the story is told in the last chapter of this work, was successively claimed, with words appropriate to their brand name, by Moët & Chandon and Vve Clicquot, while Charles Heidsieck benefited greatly from being another Charlie.

A more serious dispute erupted in 1849 between Jacquesson and Moët & Chandon. At that time the better brands of champagne were selling their regular blend for 3 francs 50 a bottle. Jacquesson, followed by several other merchants, decided to reduce their price to 2 francs 2524. Moët & Chandon had the following announcement printed in all the big newspapers: The supposed wines of Champagne at 2 francs will only serve to draw attention to the superior quality of the true wines of the best houses, such as, amongst others, that of Messrs. Moët and Chandon. Jacquesson retaliated on the 12 January 1850 with a half page in the Charivari. Giving their version of the story, they declared that they bought and sold more than three times as much of the true wines of Champagne as Moët & Chandon, and that the difference between their prices could only be explained by the excessive profits of Moët & Chandon and its agents. Retorting that the real reason lay in the origin of the wines, Moët & Chandon published their reply in the same newspaper, whose editors were no doubt delighted with such juicy material. There is, however, no doubt that the suspicion that was manifested on both sides regarding the wines and the good faith of competitors would have been detrimental to the whole profession.

There was, it must be noted, a certain individualism amongst many of the merchants. Has it not been said that anyone can build their own chapel, but Ne dit-on pas que l’on peut faire construire une chapelle à chacun mais jamais une cathédrale en commun ?

Solidarity finally prevailed in 1882 when on the 4 November the Syndicat du Commerce de Vins de Champagne was created in Rheims. Its official existence began on 11 April 1884, the day after the promulgation of the law on syndicats (unions). According to its statutes its goal is to protect, both in France and abroad, the trade in the sparkling wines of Champagne, to defend the general interests of this trade in France in the examination of issues concerning local taxes, state control, prices, transport, industrial ownership, i.e. the brands, trading names, places of origin etc., abroad in the examination of issues concerning... international prices, customs, industrial ownership, counterfeiting of brands and products and fraud of any other nature. The syndicat’s jurisdiction extended over the entire department of the Marne, but the solidarity was not complete because only fifty four champagne houses, the largest ones it is true, took part. By the end of the century there were only forty.

Merchants were very happy to personally promote their brands. Charles-Camille Heidsieck, for example, whilst travelling in the United States in 1860, had his best hunting rifle sent from France so that he could impress the Americans and, indirectly, stir up some publicity. In this he succeeded, judging by the paragraph that appeared in the Harper’s Weekly of 28 January 1860 and, more impressively, with the article in Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper of the same date, which was ostensibly about hunting but in fact consisted of a very detailed report on Charles Heidsieck champagne and even included drawings showing the production process. These marketing trips abroad were rarely for pleasure and, in fact, were often challenging and tiring, occasionally turning into epic adventures. Such trips were, however, essential since they were the only way merchants had of developing new markets, of positioning their products relative to the competition, and at the same time of studying the possibilities and particularities of the various markets. Pierre Failly, a dealer in the wines of Châlons and a small champagne producer, wrote on the 27 Brumaire Year X: In Germany they like the wines to be very sparkling and are less mindful of quality, in England quality is particularly important. Everybody has their own preferences and it is essential to know those of the person to whom one is selling. This tactic, commonly used for other products, was a necessity for champagne in the nineteenth century; for many it was a novelty and was a part of the image of French society that foreign countries would be more likely to adopt if they met one of its representatives on their home ground. This was, moreover, for a long time and in most countries the best way of taking orders because there were still very few representatives living abroad.

The practice of travelling in order to promote champagne goes back to the Consulate period at the turn of the century, when merchants or their representatives followed the French troops on the European campaigns, making it a point of honour, once the bloodshed was over, to transport their merchandise to the place where victory was being celebrated (81) . As a rule sales trips to Great Britain and Germany tended to be relatively straightforward: the distances were short, there were not huge differences in culture and the languages were traditionally already known within the society of the champagne merchants. However, in Russia, and even in the United States, where there was less of a language barrier, such trips were sometimes quite an ordeal. Cars stuck in the mud on terrible roads, highway robbers and unimaginable cold were regular occurrences, to which had to be added fleas and rats in accommodation and shipwrecks at sea. In times of war the journeys became dangerous adventures and the commercial benefits were highly unpredictable.

Russia seemed to have a particular attraction. François Clicquot was the first to go, and a good many others followed, if they had the means to do so. Tradition has it that Charles-Henri Heidsieck, at the age of only twenty-one, left Rheims on horseback with his servant in 1811, their baggage on a pack-horse, and travelled 6,000 kilometres, arriving a few months before Napoleon in Moscow to find war imminent, and pushing on as far as Niszny-Novgorod. René Gandilhon established that between 1819 and 1857 Russia was visited by Memmie Jacquesson and his envoys, François Goetz from one of the houses of Perrier in Châlons, Antoine de Müller, Joseph Bollinger, Louis Chanoine and Ferdinand Lanson. In 1860 Edgar Ruinart de Brimont carried out a long journey through Russia by sleigh and stagecoach and, at the end of the century, but in more luxurious style, André Lallier, whose wife was William Deutz’s granddaughter, went there hunting every year with his agents from Germany and Great Britain, at the same time improving Deutz et Geldermann’s Russian sales.

Merchants were also very tempted by the trade possibilities offered by the New World. Edmond Ruinart de Brimont, the father of Edgar, set off for America in 1831 on a three-master loaded with immigrants and underwent thirty-eight days at sea in the most unpleasant conditions, surrounded by storms and icebergs. Charles Perrier made a long trip to the United States and Canada in 1839 on behalf of Perrier-Jouët. Jacques-Charles Kunkelmann went on a similar trip for his house. Charles-Camille Heidsieck, as we have just noted, spent time in the United States. He made four trips, one in 1852, at the age of thirty, another in 1857, another from 1859-1860, and finally in 1861. His letters, saved by his family, well illustrate the ups and downs of the travelling salesmen of the period. He stayed in New York where he wrote: I am currently a great celebrity in New York, my every movement is followed by journalists, which is both extraordinary and rather tedious; but the more noise they make the more they help to popularize the wine that I represent and favour the further development of a clientele. In 1860 he tackled the South with such success that he wrote from Mobile in Alabama in May of the same year: the wine is quite popular here and they have shortened the name so that where it is drunk one only has to ask for a bottle of Charles. In 1861 the Civil War broke out and he was taken prisoner by the Yankees; kept for 110 days in the cells at Fort Jackson and then at Fort Pickens, located on the islands, the first in the middle of the Mississippi, the second in Pensacola Bay. He returned to France in 1863, his health severely affected and his fortune jeopardized.

So it was that, as André Simon wrote: in a time when publicity did not exist, and transport was both expensive and unreliable, the merchants managed to create, against all odds, a demand for champagne.


[1FIÉVET (Victor) 7.R. Moët and his Successors. Paris, 1884.

[2CAVOLEAU. French Oenology and Statistics on all the vineyards and all the wines and spirits of France, followed by general considerations on the cultivation of vines. Paris, 1827.

[3According to oral tradition this was the origin of the ship’s anchor that was chosen by the house of Vve Clicquot-Ponsardin as an emblem.

[4Jacquesson was taken over in the twentieth century by Léon de Tassigny and as a result moved to Rheims and then to Dizy.

[5After suspending its activities Henri Abelé, which had replaced Abelé in 1903, was taken over in 1942 by the Compagnie Française des Grands Vins.

[6ANDRIEU (Pierre). A short history of champagne and the region. Paris, 1965.

[7Relocated to Magenta and Epernay.

[8Relocated to Mareuil-sur-Ay.

[9Relocated to Epernay in imposing buildings on the Avenue de Champagne.

[10JACOB (Simon). Memoir in the form of a petition to Chambre des Députés des Départements (Chamber of Departmental Deputies) addressed to the Members for the Department of the Marne: Request for the abolition of the "excise" for the collection of duties on wines. Rheims, 1821.

[11Koch Fils ceased trading at the end of the century. In 1966 another German, Dr Christian-Adalbert Kupfelberg, took up the Koch family tradition and, in memory of an alliance that had been established with the Bricout family, he created, again in Avize, the house of Bricout, which a few years later became A. Bricout et Koch.

[12In 1810 J.R. Moët gave the town the land for the construction of a theatre in Epernay, and also much of the internal decoration, which he bought in Paris at the sale of one of Mademoiselle Montansier’s theatres.

[13A bottle of champagne was built in to one of the church’s foundation stones.

[14A large fortified castle used to stand on an island in the Marne, opposite Mareuil-sur-Ay. It was replaced in 1765 by an elegant château built by the Marquis de Domangeville de Pange, an aide-de-camp to Louis XV. The domain then became the property of Philippe égalité, Louis-Philippe Joseph, Duc d’Orléans who, before dying on the scaffold, planted a substantial vineyard. It is currently owned by the champagne house Ayala.