UMC - Grandes Marques et Maisons de Champagne

Champagne Guest Book

Between the Wars

On the 11 November 1918 the armistice was finally signed, bringing peace to a Champagne that had suffered harshly during the four years of war, paying with its people, many of whom were killed, injured or still remained unaccounted for, and with its possessions, which had been ravaged, mutilated and destroyed.

In the region of Rheims, the main export centre of our trade before 1914, wrote Bertrand de Mun in the Vigneron Champenois of December 1920, in November 1918 there were nothing but ruins, there was no housing or storage facilities, parts of the cellars were underwater, equipment had been scattered or disappeared, a few brave individuals had returned but did not even have a roof over their heads. Luckily in the region of Epernay the damage was infinitely less serious. It was nevertheless considerable. Thank God not a single shell or bomb of any size was able to reach the cellars; the stocks, despite some pillaging, were still substantial, but some wines had been spoilt through lack of care, and others destroyed whilst in warehouses or during transport. The merchants’ losses were estimated at about seventy-two million francs, corresponding to twenty million in buildings, twenty million in wines, merchandise, materials and equipment and the rest in bad debts in enemy countries and Russia [1].

The situation in the vineyards was grave. Between 1914 and 1918 the total area in production was reduced by 40% leaving only 6,000 hectares bringing in a full yield, of which 2,650 were grafted vines, representing a comparatively modest embryo for the restocking of the vineyards. Some grands crus in the Montagne de Rheims area only managed to save 20% of their vines; in Verzenay, out of 500 hectares, 75 remained in production. Vines that had had to be abandoned were ravaged by shell holes, covered in trenches and shelters, criss-crossed with barbed wire, and infested with unexploded bombs; the work involved in reclaiming them was enormous. Even those that had been spared the fighting were often only producing half the normal yield. Phylloxera had continued on its destructive course and, poorly controlled on account of the war, diseases and parasites had spread, particularly mildew, oïdium and grape moths.

The vine-growers situation went hand in hand with that of their vineyards. They had to replant the vines, rebuild their houses, buy furniture, horses and equipment! There was a severe lack of ready money because the harvests had hardly earned them anything since 1910; they had either received very little due either to poor sales, or nothing at all due to the war. And even though they had begun replanting they knew full well that they would have to wait four or five years until they started to see any return on the substantial expenses incurred. Furthermore, according to a survey published in the Vigneron Champenois in March 1935, the costs of growing vines in lines was three or four times higher than that of growing them "in crowds" as they had done in the last century. In 1935 the costs were between 12,000 and 18,000 francs per hectare depending on the type of production. Many were able to survive only because of the meagre allowance paid by the state, while they waited to receive war damages, the payment of which was still postponed. It is admirable to think that in these conditions a great number of vine growers kept up their spirits and set about the task of removing the scars left by the war, working incessantly for several years in order to accomplish a return to full production.
Here are the words of one such vine grower as they appeared in the newspaper Nord-Est, in January 1930, It was the start of a new life. The restocking of the vineyards was valued at 25,000 francs per hectare, and as there were also the costs of maintenance (10,000 F), buying equipment (3,000 F), buying and maintaining a horse (6,000 F), the total sum that had to be borrowed was 50,000 F. In 1920, 1921, 1922 and 1923 there was no appreciable harvest; we had spent 100,000 F without receiving anything, except war damages in the form of coupons! 1924 was a good year but, alas, there was no market for it. The costs of barrels and vinification had to be added to the money borrowed. The wine was sold six or seven months later. 30,000 F was thus received and nearly 110,000 F spent.

The numbers working in the vineyards were no longer what they were in 1914. Then there had been about 18,000, while in the years after the war the number fell to13,000; the missing ones had either been killed in the war or were unable to face the very difficult and costly task of putting their vines back into order, which they therefore sold to the merchants in order to finance a move to the city. Those who persisted were rewarded by two consecutive years of excellent quality in 1920 and 1921; the second was insufficient in quantity, and the merchants could not in any case buy all of it due to difficulties that will be examined later. During this period the years that were declared vintage were those of 1914, 1915, 1919, 1920, 1921, 1926, 1928, 1929, 1933, 1934 and 1937.

The challenge was to be able to produce enough and satisfy the demand that one could expect in the medium term, while still preserving the traditional quality of the grapes of Champagne. With this in mind the restocking of the vines was obviously the vine growers’ priority. All the more so because, while they may have won the war that the Germans had declared on them, they had lost the one against phylloxera, which they had not been able to fight properly for four years due to the shortage of labour and carbon sulphate.

Once again it was the A.V.C., the Association Viticole Champenoise, that, by uniting twenty-five champagne houses in 1921, would direct and finance operations. At its annual general meeting23 on 18 December 1919, Bertrand de Mun, the president, declared, Most of our unfortunate vineyards have disappeared or are about to disappear under attacks from phylloxera; rapid restocking is required. The A.V.C.’s first act was to appoint as director Georges Chappaz, the Inspector General of Agriculture, and former director of the Agricultural Services of the Marne, and to charge him specifically with the task of supervising the restocking operation. The association also set up its offices and installed laboratories in Epernay in a building that its secretary, Henri Gallice, had made available, on the Rue du Collège (now the Rue du Docteur-Verron). Under the impetus of Georges Chappaz the A.V.C. undertook a wide range of activities: they re-established the supply of root stock for grafting, drew up geological maps, carried out soil analyses, created trial areas for determining the best choice of root stock, carried out studies of pruning techniques and the best spacing, and re-established grafting and pruning competitions.

Moët & Chandon made its research establishment at Fort-Chabrol available to the A.V.C., where work had continued during the war under the direction of Gustave Philipponnat, a vineyard owner in Ay. At the same time the anti-phylloxera unions were relaunched for the protection of the French vines that were still in production. There were 142 unions in 1920, with 8,000 members, supplied with carbon sulphate through the A.V.C.

Many took the opportunity during the restocking to reorganize their vineyards, and efforts were made by the professional bodies to persuade them, when replanting, not to choose only the varieties that were already known to give good quality wines in Champagne, these being Pinot Noir and Chardonnay and, the grand crus excepted, Meunier in places where it did better than Pinot Noir. At the cost of a great deal of work the areas of grafted vines grew by 600 to 700 hectares every year from 1920 to 1930. After this heroic period of restocking, the vineyards of Champagne were virtually re-established, with 8,850 hectares of grafted vines, of which 7,800 were in production. Only 560 hectares of French vines remained and by 1939 there were just ninety-five.

The merchants’ demand for grapes could now be met and quality had improved. The cases in which the vine growers had abandoned the vines usually involved peripheral areas, and when these were replanted care was taken to remain in zones in which the geological conditions and microclimate best lent themselves to producing good quality grapes. Restocking was more actively pursued in the ’grands crus’ and the ’premiers crus’ than in the secondary properties [2], where it had even resulted in new plantations. Phylloxera had not been wiped out but was no longer a serious threat and the vine grower could contemplate his vineyard proud of the task that had been accomplished.

At the same time progress had been made in the techniques used in vine cultivation. Motorized cultivators were used to turn over the soil and interceps were mounted on ploughs that were pulled in order to work the soil in the gaps between the vines. It should however be noted that in 1939 mechanical cultivation with small tractors was still rare [3].

The sulphate and powders for diseases and parasites could now be applied with sprayers that had been perfected, either worn on the back or drawn by horses. The battle against disease intensified due to the anti-phylloxera unions who, already experienced, used them with great success, particularly against an attack of cochylis and eudemis in 1925. Cannons and rockets were used against hail without, it has to be said, a great deal of success.

Due to the improvement in cultivation techniques, more effective treatments against parasites, the successful acclimatization of the root stock and grafted vines to the region, and the presence of a majority of vines with high yields on account of their youth, the average yield, which had been 20 to 25 hectolitres per hectare in the nineteenth century, was now 46 hectolitres, and this was after it had been intentionally limited in order to maintain quality, and was low compared to some other wine producing areas.

A serious issue was still on hold, and this was the definition of the appellation d’origine Champagne. The vine growers in the Aube were making every effort to alter their inconvenient Deuxième zone appellation which excluded their wines from the cellars of the Marne merchants who made only champagne. The vine growers in the Marne were naturally concerned by these efforts, which risked challenging the Champagne appellation that was their exclusive privilege. The Law of the 6 May 1919 gave partial satisfaction to the inhabitants of the Aube, at the same time as specifying the rules for the Champagne appellation, effectively substituting the legal boundaries with those laid down in the Law of the 5 august 1908. From now on it was up to the courts, who were referred to by any person or syndicat (union) concerned, to decide if a certain appellation applied to a certain product correctly corresponded to its origin, and to local and habitual usage.

When making their declarations for the harvests of 1919 the vine growers in the Aube claimed the appellation Champagne and the courts supported them, against the Marne vine growers, who had attacked them in court through the intermediary of the Syndicat Général des Vignerons, the latter having received help in the form of grants totalling 40,000 francs from the Syndicat du Commerce specifically for paying the costs of the case. New boundaries for wine producing Champagne were thus created by a court ruling, which provoked a fresh Marne-Aube quarrel , which the protagonists wisely considered should be resolved at a governmental level. An arbitrator was found in the person of Monsieur Barthe,
the pope of wines, president of the Commission des Boissons de la Chambre des Députés (The Chamber of Deputies Beverage Committee). He proceeded in 1926 to carry out a detailed study and gave his decision on the 3 February 1927, the recommendations of which served to establish the articles concerning champagne that were inserted in the Law of the 22 July 1927 and which finally provided a satisfactory solution to the thorny issue of the appellations d’origine for all of France’s vineyards.

The law defined the general rules, reinforcing the notion of geographical origin by that of area of production and introducing criteria relating to the quality and the restriction of the permitted grape varieties. It included the Aube in the wine producing area of Champagne and abolished the appellation Champagne Deuxième Zone. It also granted the possibility to unions defending an appellation d’origine of intervening on a judicial basis in order to defend their rights to an appellation against anybody suspected of encroaching on them. All of the law’s prescriptions that are relevant to champagne will be examined in detail in the next chapter, at the same time as the articles that are particular to champagne in this law and the decrees that were to follow it up to 1938, the overall purpose of these texts being to generally reinforce any aspects of the regulations resulting from the Law of the 22 July 1927 that proved to be too liberal.

In accordance with the wishes of the French wine producing associations, the government created, with the Decree-Law of the 30 July 1935, the Comité National des Appellations d’Origine [4] , in order to fix, in cooperation with with the wine producing trades, the standards of certain appellations, maintain them, check production and deal severely with fraud. Having elsewhere accepted to submit to interprofessional inspections and to state inspections, the producers were granted by the Decree of the 29 July 1936, which confirmed and completed the regulation of the appellation d’origine Champagne, the benefit of an appellation d’origine contrôlée Champagne which, on the eve of the Second World War, meant that the champagne’s appellation was properly established and regulated.

The professions involved in the production of champagne had sometimes demonstrated an ability to act harmoniously and in each other’s interests, particularly in times of crisis, but there had also been serious disagreements. After voting in the law of 1927, they reinforced their cohesion, uniting in order to ensure that the texts that the government were preparing relating to its enforcement met their approval in terms of maintaining both quality and stability within the wine producing region of Champagne. In harmony with their views, the Decree-Law of the 2 September 1935 was a first step towards interprofessional organisation by instituting a permanent commission, made up of representatives of the vine growers, the merchants, the chambers of commerce, Parliament, County Councils, departmental financial controllers and the Ministry of Agriculture. Having its headquarters in the Prefecture of the Marne, and known for this reason as the Commission de Châlons, the commission’s main purpose was to ensure the respect of local and habitual usages, which were necessary to observe in order to maintain the quality of the wine of Champagne. It had a secondary purpose which was to study every year, and to propose to the Minister of Agriculture, desirable modifications to quantitative information relating to maximum yields. Finally it had to fix, eight days before each harvest, with the aid of a sub-commission made up of professionals, the minimum prices for each category of wine, the average degree of alcohol in these categories and the minimum degree for any wine having the right to the appellation Champagne. For the first time in Champagne, and no doubt in France, the intimate union of Commerce and Property had been legally sanctioned, prefiguring a more complete interprofessional organisation that would take place in 1941.


While Paris legislated production continued in the cellars, where the after-effects of the war were gradually being eradicated. Every attempt was made to turn the necessity to carry out so many repairs and to undertake so much reconstruction into opportunities to modernise, care always being taken to maintain the characteristics of champagne and, whenever possible, to improve its quality.
On a scientific level decisive progress was made between the wars. In 1905 Emile Manceau, the director of the Fort-Chabrol establishment, declared: The uncertainty of the practitioner over the results of a bottling is more or less the same as it was in 1840 when the operation was carried out by the contemporaries of François [5]. He carried out research on the sparkling process, in parallel with that carried out on yeast by Doctor Cordier, Professor at the School of Medicine in Rheims, and the chemist Weinmann. Followed up on a technical level by the oenologists of Champagne and the heads of cellars of the big houses, this research resulted, in the 1920s, in the development of the méthode champenoise as it is practised today..

The key modifications concerned the primary fermentation and the use of yeasts. In the eighteenth century, during the primary fermentation, the aim used to be to keep as much sugar as possible in the wine. This principle prevailed during the entire nineteenth century and for the secondary fermentation the quantity of sugar was added that was thought to be necessary to obtain the desired pressure. Subsequently, vinification was carried out in such a manner as to use up all the natural sugar, by aerating the wine and heating the cellars towards the end of fermentation. Weinmann wrote in 1929 that the must is vinified with care, from the moment of harvest, so that the first fermentation is fully completed and he even gives an account of the electrical heating devices that were immersed in the must to maintain the correct temperature. All of the sugar required for the wine to become sparkling is added, an allowance having been made for any that could nonetheless remain in the wine that has completed its primary fermentation and which is calculated by chemical analysis and processes that still rely on François’ "reduction".

The other major innovation was the systematic use of selected cultivated yeasts, giving healthy, vigorous and active fermenting agents, and thereby removing any danger of insufficient effervescence. The yeasts used also have the advantage that they form a clustered deposit, with a cheesy consistency, that facilitates remuage (turning of the bottles so that the deposit collects on the base of the cork). They also enable, if they have been acclimatised to the temperature of the cellar, bottling to be carried out at any point of the year; the spring remains, however, the most opportune time.

Bottles had progressed in terms of solidity. Mechanical blowing techniques had to be adopted after 1918 because so many glass blowers had been killed or gassed during the war. Bottle making machines were used from around 1924 and by 1930 roughly 50% of bottles were made "by hand" and 50% were "mechanically produced"; by 1936 this had increased to 100%. Bottles thus became completely standardized, in a range that went from an eighth to a double magnum26. Due to progress made in the manufacturing of bottles, but above all to the greater precision in the calculations relating to the factors controlling the sparkling process, breakages were reduced to usually less than 1 % for a pressure of generally around 6 atmospheres (2 1/2 to 3 atmospheres for crémant).
Changes and new techniques evolved for various processes and stages of production.

Thus filtering was no longer condemned as ruinous during primary fermentation; it was used as an operation to complement clarification, being carried out before or after fining. This was, nevertheless, the exception and not the rule. Décoloration became systematic. Here is what Weinmann wrote on the subject in 1929: This operation is frequently carried out on wines destined to be made sparkling. In general, both merchants and consumers, now want very white sparkling wines; the amber tint can easily be reduced using animal blackening made absolutely pure by a series of washes.

Pink sparkling wines were less and less in demand; these were reduced to limited special blends, which were only delivered when expressly requested. Their pink colour either came naturally from the grape skins at pressing, or from the addition of red wine to the blend, or from mixing "colouring wines" with the liqueur d’expédition. Small quantities of red champagnes were made by adding to a white wine, at the moment of bottling, a quarter or third of red wine, and then using a liqueur d’expédition prepared with highly acidified red wine.

Cheap champagnes were made in heated cellars (not underground) that accelerated the prise de mousse (the stage during which a wine becomes sparkling) to just three weeks or a month. Medium quality champagnes were made in colder cellars, but the wines of the great brands were always made deep underground at even lower temperatures, because, as Weinmann notes, fermentation takes place much more slowly in these conditions, but the resulting effervescence is much finer and longer lasting.

Despite the use of selected yeasts, the turning of the bottles could still be difficult. The deposit was, as previously, detached using machines à électriser (that gave the bottle a sharp tap); these now ran on electricity, at a rate of 800 taps a minute. Freezing tubs were used from 1906 onwards, in which bottles would remain at -10° or -15°, and turned energetically every eight days.

Dosage also evolved. To distinguish them from dry wines, the more heavily dosed wines were now referred to as demi-sec and demi-doux, and even doux for the sweetest. Brut remained a rare exception. However, in 1922, Doctor de Pomiane, the famous gourmet, wrote: Reject all sweet champagnes; drink only "brut" champagnes. Not on account of snobbism, or "Americanism", but because these represent wines that are virtually in their natural form, and are of the best quality. Sugar is an excellent masker of imperfections in wine (498) . Around 1930, the fashion was more for demi-sec wines, especially in France. Only the great brands tended to be drunk dry, the more ordinary champagnes were usually sweet and drunk with dessert. The extra-secs and the secs gained ground as they began to be more appreciated in France. By 1945 they accounted for 50% of total production. The unfortunate habit of adding all sorts of flavourings to the liqueur d’expédition disappeared; the concentration of sugar in the liqueur and the percentages used for the various dosages were the same in 1930 as those that had been set in 1913.

For the final bottling either a single piece of cork was still used or pieces stuck together, and there were also compressed corks, the part in contact with the wine being made up of one or several discs of best quality cork; these were expensive and therefore only used for corking the finer wines [6]. The compressed cork gradually became widespread, enabling production to be mechanized and therefore cost prices to be reduced. To make corks slide out of bottles more easily, paraffinage (treatment of corks with paraffin) was common practice; this was also called satinage when the layer of paraffin was extremely thin. Metal cages for the corks were now assembled in advance and equipped with an eyelet. These became the usual means of reinforcing the corks, but in 1929 string was still in use in some houses.

Machines for corking, attachment of cages, filling and dosage, started to become semi-automatic around 1909, and advanced significantly after the First World War. By 1930 there were machines à boucher et agrafer (machines for corking and fastening cages) that could process 18,000 bottles per day. Unsuccessful attempts continued to be made to replace the turning of bottles by hand. The convenience of electric lighting was joined by that of mains electricity from around the beginning of the century. As we have noted, heating and cooling systems were installed, but there were also transport systems, lifts etc. 5,000 people were working in the cellars of Champagne.

By 1939, and even before in many instances, the techniques used in the production of champagne had already acquired their current form.


Champagne, while keeping its role as a wine for celebration, had no trouble in re-establishing its place amongst the pleasures of life, which began to be enjoyed again after victory in 1918, and enjoyed to excess during the twenties in a reaction against the hardships of a long war. These were the Années Folles ("The Roaring Twenties") to which champagne was, of course, perfectly suited. Already familiar to members of the "smart-set", of which champagne was the symbol, both in France and abroad, it was as popular as ever. New fans came in droves: the stars of the screen and stage, great sporting figures, those who had profited from the war, and other nouveau riche from all corners of the world, for whom it was synonymous with success. Cocktails, despite being fashionable, did not displace the vin de la joie from its throne; the effects of champagne being so much more pleasant, as Scott Fitzgerald noted in a scene from The Bridal Party that takes place at the Ritz in Paris: At the first cocktail, taken at the bar, there were many slight spillings from many trembling hands, but later, with the champagne, there was a rising tide of laughter and occasional bursts of song.

Champagne was drunk in the nightclubs of Montparnasse, at the Bœuf sur le Toit with Cocteau, Poulenc and Dunoyer de Segonzac, at Fouquet’s, having applauded Le Tsarevitch which Franz Lehar had set to music, at evenings in the town houses of Parc Monceau where Isadora Duncan, lying Roman style on a bed, poured champagne from an immense jade amphora , at Maxim’s with the Dolly Sisters or Gaby Morlay who, as at her own house, offered an open table and unlimited champagne [7], in Maurice Chevalier’s box, for whom it is so good when the champagne is open! It sparkled everywhere that it was good from to be seen, and to spend money that had been quickly earned, in Monza with Fangio, the racing-car driver, in Deauville with Carpentier, the gentleman-boxer, on the Ariana, Monsieur de Faucumberge’s yacht, where there were rivers of pink champagne. On the Riviera, both the French and the Italian, champagne was the motor of a frenetic high society. In Monte-Carlo, André Citroën served his own label, André demi-sec, and Alfred Capus proclaimed that the casino is a world of gambling, women and champagne, so wonderful that it is pleasure to ruin oneself .

Sumptuous evening entertainment returned. Champagne was drunk at all the Grand Balls and receptions: Princess Murat’s Bal du Grand Prix, the Duchesse de Doudeauville’s Fête Régence, the Marquis de Cuevas’ soirées, the swan song of Boni de Castellane in his pink marble palace on the Avenue du Bois, which became the Avenue Foch!

At the same time champagne began to be enjoyed in more modest environments. Almost exclusively the reserve, a century ago, of the privileged and wealthy, wrote Yves Gandon, the wine of kings and the king of wines gradually submitted to becoming a wine of the people, but is no less noble for becoming so. It is now the essential companion of joy and pleasure, of friendship as much as love, on the tables of both factory workers and bankers, drunk in luxury restaurants and in the crowded aisles of the meat market. It has extended its empire without tarnishing its sovereignty . This was to become even more true during the fifties, but was already the case in the thirties.

Of course, champagne kept its faithful followers abroad. Gabriele d’Annunzio consoled himself over his defeat concerning Fiume by drinking champagne beside lake Garda in goblets that had been specially made for him in Murano by Signor Venini. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, living at the New York Plaza hotel, drank champagne over meals with Dos Passos, who gives an account in La Belle Vie.

The figures for sales between 1914 and 1939 are given below, in numbers of bottles, from April to March:

Champagne suffered from two serious economic crises during the years between the wars, as can be seen from the above table. Production recommenced in reasonable conditions in 1919 and by 1920 had reached 85% of its pre-war level. But in 1921 the merchants of Champagne began to experience a drop in sales which worsened in 1922, and obliged them to leave part of the harvest with the vine growers, despite its excellent quality. The reasons for this sudden slump were multiple and cumulative in their effects. In the first place, there was the increase in the bottle price of champagne which, like almost any other merchandise had tripled since 1914. The retail price was between twenty-six and thirty francs, while restaurants charged between forty and fifty francs, these being the prices given by the Vigneron Champenois in December 1920 for a good brand of non-vintage champagne, and for restaurants of a reasonably high standard. The rise resulted not only from rises in the price of grapes, materials (the prices of bottles, corks and labels had quadrupled), and the value of stocks, but also in the cost of labour and the introduction of the eight hour day. Higher taxes also added to the bottle price. There had been hefty increases in all taxes, the droits de circulation (duty) to 19 F per hectolitre, luxury tax to 15%, and then there was a new tax on turnover of 1.10%. The state thereby managed to collect 4F 05 on bottles of champagne sold on the retail market and 15F90 on bottles sold after ten o’clock in the evening in restaurants. The people of Champagne rose up against the sumptuary taxation system in France, a country famed for its luxury products, but where a democratic style of legislation penalizes external signs of wealth [8]

Champagne was given an even rougher ride abroad due to the protectionist policies of many countries, whose financial situation was such as to discourage the consumption of luxury goods that had to be paid for in foreign currencies. Inflation and devaluations constantly destabilized the markets, and in many countries taxes and custom duties increased bottle prices by 60, 100 or even 200%, which, combined with transport costs that were frequently high, resulted in a prohibitive retail price. Still more intolerable was the fact that champagne was generally taxed on entry at a rate that was between two and ten times higher than that for still wines: for example, in 1932, the duty per bottle in England was 11F40 for sparkling and 2F15 for still, while in Argentina it was 22F and 2F10 respectively.

Even more serious was the temporary or permanent loss of several of the largest markets. Paralyzed by exchange rates and monetary crises, Germany, Champagne’s third largest customer in 1914, Austria, Hungary and Poland closed their borders. In Russia the revolution did away with the aristocracy, who were virtually the only people who drank champagne. In several countries, anti-alcohol organisations and temperance leagues managed to persuade their governments to totally ban alcoholic drinks, this was the case in Finland, and the United States, while Canada and Scandinavia introduced partial bans. In this latter case, in order to be able to tightly control alcoholic drinks, the governments created state or regional monopolies, that, in Scandinavia for example, were granted to groups of importers. In Canada, seven out of nine provinces adopted a dry regime and laws that enabled purchasing to be controlled by monopoly were introduced in Quebec in 1922.

Uncle Sam, the fourth largest customer before the war, had brought in prohibition. The movement grew under the vigorous direction of the Anti-Saloon League, financed by J.D. Rockefeller, founder of Standard Oil, and a zealous member of a Baptist church. By 1917 prohibition had been decreed in what were known as "dry states". In 1919 it was extended to the entire country by the Volstead Act and was the subject of the eighteenth amendment to the Constitution. In 1921 restrictive measures were further reinforced by the Willis Campbell Bill.

These laws were constantly violated over the following fourteen years and had very unpleasant effects on both the country’s health and morality. Bertrand de Mun wrote in the Illustration Economique et Financière of the 26 April 1924 that the Great American Republic has become a land of contraband and fraud, in which gangsters such as Al Capone and his consorts thrived. When the American liner, the Leviathan, crossed the Atlantic, mineral water was served, but there was champagne under the table. Anyone with enough money could obtain alcohol of dubious origin from "bootleggers", including ersatz champagne. Here is an example, from amongst thousands, given by Paul Poiret: I was in New York and wanted to invite a few friends to dine with me in a hotel...One of my guests offered to obtain, for the occasion, three bottles of Pol Roger 1906 at a cost of 300 francs each. I decided to be extravagant. Why not! He brought them to me the following evening but, at the end of the meal, when I saw the maître d’hôtel pouring something resembling brown dishwater into the glasses, I cried: "Don’t drink it, it’s poison"; they brought me the bottles, and I could see that the labels and collar had been falsified. It was fake Pol Roger for which I had paid 300 francs a bottle. I moistened my lips and it was undrinkable, but the Americans swallowed it and declared it very good! Note that, at that time, one would have expected to pay, in a restaurant in France, around 50 francs for a bottle of champagne.

Fraud was also rife in the other prohibitionist countries. Here is another anecdote from Paul Poiret: I was invited by a big Canadian industrialist to spend an evening on his yacht on Lake Erie. As soon as the ladies had retired to their cabin, panels creaked and rattled open, like something out of an Alexandre Dumas novel, and we were surrounded by bottles of champagne and liqueurs.

Not everything that the bootleggers sold was fake. They did bring real champagne into the United States and Canada, which they obtained via the Bahamas, Bermuda, Saint-Pierre and Miquelon, or Mexico. Maurice Hollande wrote: According to unofficial sources, clandestine imports of champagne to the United States during prohibition was of the order of 2,300,000 to three million bottles per year, but these figures seem exaggerated, and the reality was probably a half or even a third of this [9]! Whatever the case may have been, until its official end, which began in 1926 with Norway and continued in the United States, state by state, until 1933, prohibition certainly reduced exports of champagne. This led the merchants of Champagne to actively campaign in the ranks of the International League of Adversaries to Prohibition, founded in 1921, which resulted in the creation, on 15 February 1922, of the Commission d’Exportation des Vins de France (Export Commission for French Wines).

In short, due to excessive taxes and prohibition, of all the big pre-war markets the only one that could really be said to have remained satisfactory during the twenties was that of Belgium. Having lost most of its best clients abroad the merchants of Champagne focused their efforts on France. Circumstances were favourable. Peace had brought back joie de vivre, while the unstable franc meant that many people preferred to buy goods, even consumables, rather than save their money. But duties were very high, champagne was considered an expensive item and there was increasingly serious competition from sparkling wines, whisky, cocktails, and newcomers such as gin, aniseed flavoured aperitifs, vermouths, etc. In 1923, in Les Vignes du Seigneur, Flers and F. de Croisset’s famous comedy, the characters drank whisky; if the piece had been written before 1914, they would have drunk champagne.

The national market fortunately remained stable and in 1923, for the first time, it surpassed the foreign markets, exports having fallen by 55% between 1920 and 1922. The champagne merchants endeavoured to make up for the ground lost abroad and to consolidate positions gained in France. They united on 1 April 1922 to create a Comité de Propagande des Vins de Champagne (Public Relations Committee) in association with the Comité National de Propagande en Faveur des Vins de France. It had funds available to deal with the costs of receptions deemed useful for the promotion of our wines, wrote the Vigneron Champenois of October 1922, and was supposed mainly to direct its efforts at the internal market. It established relations with the press and restaurants and employed André de Fouquières to organize conferences in the metropolis aimed at the medical profession. Some of his activities, however, benefited the foreign markets and he would invite celebrities and journalists to Champagne.

Thus in 1925 he invited the the lord-mayor of London and, on account of the British taste for older champagnes, held a reception at which only vintages prior to 1914 were served: 1903 (Delbeck and Krug), 1904 (Vve Clicquot, Deutz and Pommery), 1906 (Ayala, Binet, Bollinger, Heidsieck & C° Monopole, Goulet, Irroy, Mumm, Perrier-Jouët and Pol Roger), 1911 (Charles Heidsieck, Joseph Perrier, Lanson, De Montebello and De Saint-Marceaux).

The Comité de Propagande did not concern itself exclusively with champagne. It had been agreed at its creation that it would endeavour at the same time to promote white and red wines that had not undergone the sparkling process. For, during the slump in champagne sales, the merchants had been buying very little from the vine growers, who found themselves obliged to make still wine with a substantial part of their harvests.

Epernay’s Foire aux vins de Champagne was resuscitated in 1922 and 1923. The Comité de Propagande opened a permanent tasting "cabaret", in Place Thiers, in order, wrote the Vigneron Champenois of October 1922, to introduce the general public to the unparalleled qualities of our natural red and white wines, and also to inform them of the affordable prices at which the great brands of champagne may be obtained, but the operation was not particularly successful. Advertisements were also placed in the regional press with slogans drawing attention to the still wines of Champagne, such as: When in hotels and restaurants insist on local wine, or The best aperitif is a glass of the white wine of Champagne.

From 1924 a degree of prosperity seems to have returned to wine-producing Champagne. By 1928 the huge replanting project that had been necessary after phylloxera and the war was well underway, with young vines providing an abundant harvest; more than 7,000 hectares of new vines had come into production. Grapes were still fetching the comparatively high price of ten francs per kilo in 1928, this being justified by their remarkable quality, which came only two years after the excellent harvest of 1926. While exports remained difficult, the internal market was reassuring. Fortunately France was enjoying a booming economy and champagne sales doubled between 1922 and 1925, but the intensity of the publicity campaign had somewhat reduced profit margins. The merchants remained concerned, and with reason, because reserves were steadily being used up; low yielding harvests and payment difficulties made it difficult for many of them to keep up with the rise in sales. Stocks stood at 180 million bottles in 1908; by 1927 they had fallen to 100 million. This was the equivalent of three years of sales, which was considered the lower limit below which quality would almost certainly be compromised. Influenced more or less directly by this situation, the French market plummeted by 50% in 1927.

In 1929 the world economy fell into a slump and in Champagne mild concern was quickly replaced by alarm. The crisis spared no country and resulted in a drop in world trade of nearly 40%. The devaluation of the pound in 1931, as just one example, caused the British champagne market to fall by a third. In France people were tightening their belts and purchases of luxury products were rare. However, the merchants, having replenished their stocks with the harvests of 1928 et 1929, desperately needed sales. They therefore lowered prices, with the result that the sales not only stabilized but even slightly increased. However, the French market would only support very moderate prices, and so while the mid range champagnes sold, the vintage wines remained in the cellars, and revenues were not in proportion to the volume of sales.

Once again a publicity campaign was launched, this time directed at improving both exports and national sales, and everybody participated. The government gave the Comité de Propagande a grant of one million francs. In 1931, under the direction of the prefect of the Marne, a Commission de Propagande et de Défense des Vins de Champagne was created which was to work with the county council and would play a role in the interprofessional organisation that was soon to come. In 1932, the Union des Commerçants et Petits Industriels (Union of Tradesmen and Small Manufacturers) of Epernay, even produced postage stamps on which were written: Buvez du champagne (Drink champagne).

The Comité de Propagande invited groups of journalists to Champagne: the South American press in 1931, the representatives of the foreign press in Paris in 1932, etc. All over France, and even on the ocean liners of the Compagnie Générale Transatlantique, the Comité organized Journées du champagne ("Champagne Days"), with the cooperation of the hotel industry and various celebrities. A series of events were organized from the 26 to 28 July 1932 in Hautvillers: the Fêtes du 250e anniversaire de la découverte du champagne par Dom Pérignon, (Celebrations of the 250th anniversary of the discovery of champagne by Dom Pérignon) The Comité participated in fairs and shows, notably the International Exhibition in Paris in 1937, for which a Comité des Délégués à la Propagande pour le champagne was assembled. Thirty one million people visited the Pavillon de la Champagne where there was a presentation of the various procedures and tasks involved in the making of champagne and a bar serving different brands in rotation, which visitors could sample (for a fee). 35,000 bottles of champagne were drunk in the pavilion and a further 10,000 in the exhibition’s restaurant.

Georges Chappaz, the secretary of the Comité de Propagande, had a brochure about champagne produced and translated into several languages, of which more than a million copies were printed; it was also reproduced in the Christmas issue of the New York Herald - even though prohibition was in full swing! In 1931 the publishing house Draeger brought out a luxuriously produced book entitled, Champagne, 30, 000 copies of which were bought and distributed by the Comité de Propagande. In 1938 a film was made about champagne called Le Vin du bonheur (Wine of Joy).

Despite these efforts, stocks continued to increase due to the severe drop in exports. By 1934 these had reached 146 million bottles, which at the level to which sales had fallen, was the equivalent of five years of reserves. It was not until 1936 that recovery finally came, both in the French and foreign markets. However, for many this was too late; the crisis dealt a harsh blow to the merchants, even the big houses, the largest of which managed to ride the storm, while some went under and others had to take out loans or downsize their operations, sometimes selling part of their property in order to finance their cash flow. [10].


During the difficult after-war years the Commission de Châlons introduced an important measure that benefited the vineyards. By virtue of its powers concerning the fixing of the minimum price of the harvest, the Commission finally resolved the irksome question of the prices at which grapes and wines made by vine growers were sold to the merchants. One can reasonably compare the situation of vine growers, who offer the product of their harvests, to that of workers, who offer their labour. Both are faced with strong economic forces, in the first case the merchants and in the second their employers; both have a single source of income, in the first case the harvest, and in the second their work, and both need an immediate buyer for what they have to offer (485). Vine growers want to be certain that the harvest will be sold, but it was not until after the Second World War that solutions to this difficult issue were found. They, at least, wanted an assurance that they would receive a stable and worthwhile price for the fruit of their labours, and this was the problem that the Commission de Châlons endeavoured to resolve.

During the nineteenth century the custom had become established of agreeing the price for the harvest beforehand, in often difficult negotiations between the merchants and the vine growers. To facilitate matters, a system had been adopted whereby a price per kilo was fixed for the grands crus (i.e. the best wines) and the prices for the other crus were calculated on a percentage basis of this top price. For example if this was fixed at 4F per kilo, then the grapes from a cru valued at 80% would be bought at 3F20 le kilo. There were usually several of the grand crus base prices, each corresponding to a different region of the vineyards. Thus one would buy Cramant at 7/10ths or Bouzy at 9/10ths.

A classification of the crus had been established empirically on the basis of their traditional values, which had already been recognized in the eighteenth century when Nicolas Bidet wrote that the vineyards of Sillery, Verzenay... produce Wines that are superior to the lower Montagne de Rheims (51). Initially used only in the context of the negotiations between the merchants and the vine growers, it had been codified in 1911, following general agreement, with a view to its being applied systematically to future harvests. Still unofficial, it was known from that time on as the échelle des crus (scale of crus), and covered three-quarters of the crus in the Marne, the bottom bracket being valued at 46%. The petits crus, which were not listed, were generally valued at 25% of the grand cru price.

In 1919 the range of the scale was slightly narrowed, and then again in 1920, but this time on the basis of an agreement in due and proper form amongst the union organisations, the result of which was the inclusion of all the communes in the Marne and the raising of the lowest level to 56%, and the upper crus at 80% nearly all gaining 5 points. The base price was that of the vin de cuvée, reduced by 20% for the first taille ("cut" - see Vines, Wines and Vine Growers in the nineteenth century) and 40% for the second. It was the same for all the grands crus and as grapes were bought at 100% of this price, they were referred to as the crus à 100%, of which there were eleven: Ambonnay, Avize, Ay, Beaumont, Bouzy, Cramant, Louvois, Mailly, Sillery, Tours-sur-Marne, and Verzenay . This was definite progress, in that it facilitated discussions between the vine growers’ unions and the merchants. Despite this, there were several occasions on which they parted without deciding anything. Fluctuations in prices continued and, due to the crisis, became insane. In 1926 the price per kilo was 11 F, but in 1934, which was of equally good quality, it fell to 0 F50!

Finally, in 1935, due to the pressure arising from the unpleasant economic situation, the Commission de Châlons, through the intermediary of an ad hoc sub-commission, fixed a minimum price per kilo for the purchase of grapes, made obligatory by a prefectorial decree, eight days before the presumed start of the harvest. Without going into the details of the various divisions within the scale of the traditional crus, the commission created four categories of cru, this then increased to seven categories in 1940, and set a minimum price for each category, with a lower overall limit of 50% of the base price. The effects of these decisions were immediate. In 1935, despite an abundant harvest, the price for grapes was fixed at between 1F and 1F20 (about one euro in 2004) per kilo, depending on the cru, and until 1939 prices remained relatively high and stable; from 1940 they increased with inflation.


While this slightly improved the vine growers’ lot, their situation remained extremely difficult in the thirties because they could not sell their harvests. The merchants, whose stocks were overflowing, had neither the money to buy grapes nor space to store wines, which he was, in any case, unable to pay for. As ill luck would have it, and what would have been a blessing at any time, there were two successive bumper harvests: 1934 with more than 768,000 hectolitres and 1935 with 568,000 hectolitres. Despite its exceptional quality, only part of the 1934 harvest was sold; and that of 1935 remained entirely in the hands of the vine growers, many of whom were on the brink of poverty. There was talk of going into the production of table grapes but, given Champagne’s climate, the chances of this being successful were virtually non-existent. The vine growers had no choice but to make wine with their harvest, which meant that they suddenly had to press the grapes, store the wine and find ways of selling it, with the result that magnificent wines were offered for everyday consumption by vine growers who, apart from being short of containers to put wine in, needed money to support their families.

The vine growers’ main problem was storage capacity for the wines that they were obliged to make, as well, of course, as the fact they they were not being paid for their labours in the months following the harvest. As a result, several vine growers had the idea of forming a cooperative. Such a manoeuvre would enable them to obtain funds from the bank (the Crédit Agricole) more easily than if they applied individually, not only for the the setting up of communal facilities but also the provision of the short terms loans that they needed in order to survive.

Furthermore, a cooperative would be better equipped, both in terms of machinery and manpower, to successfully make and store wines. A few tentative attempts had already been made in this direction by the Syndicat des Vignerons, before 1914, in Avenay, Champillon and Cumières. After the war other communes had done the same with mixed results. The initiative progressed slowly, despite official encouragement. Of the two general secretaries of the Commission de Châlons, Maurice Doyard, for the vine growers, declared at the union’s annual general meeting in 1937 that the future of champagne resides in the quality that can be achieved through cooperative wine-making, and Robert-Jean de Vogüé, for the merchants, wrote in the Vigneron Champenois of August 1939 that it is towards the formation of a network of cooperatives, with a regional oenological centre, that we must necessarily work, if we wish to resolve Champagne’s problem through rational professional organisation.

The Fédération des Coopératives Vinicoles Champenoises was created in 1939, bringing together twenty-six cooperatives. One of them stood out: L’Indépendante, a cooperative press, was founded in 1927 in Festigny by Marcel Berthelot; it became a full winemaking cooperative in 1931 under the name of the Union des Viticulteurs de Festigny. The key difference between it and the other cooperatives, whose main purpose was to deal only with surplus production, was that it aimed to make wine every year with all, or at least part, of its members’ harvests. The latter numbered seventy-five in 1937, and accounted for 90% of the commune’s vineyards. Showing considerable audacity and courage, they constructed wine-making vats themselves, using the innovative material of concrete. The Festigny cooperative’s success demonstrated that the formula worked, and was to prefigure Champagne’s modern day cooperatives.

The logical progression of the cooperative wine-making movement was to continue the production process and make champagne. This had been attempted by a cooperative in Damery in 1898, but the results were disappointing and it did not last long. However, in 1922, determined to make champagne in the same way as the merchants, the leaders of the Syndicat des Vignerons founded the Coopérative Générale des Vignerons in Dizy, initially called the Société Coopérative Vinicole de Production et de Vente des Vins Naturels et Champagnisés de la Champagne Viticole Délimitée, which is located today in Ay and known by the acronym COGEVI. The regional cooperative formula was chosen both because it enabled a sufficient number of subscribers to be involved to cover the necessary investment, and also because it provided enough wines from different crus to enable a blending process to take place like that carried out by the merchants. The results of this operation, which was, ultimately, a commercial firm, were encouraging, with production just prior to the Second World War reaching around 60,000 bottles of champagne, which were sold at a profit both on the wholesale market and to a private clientele.

Two other cooperatives produced champagne but had trouble getting started. One was the Coopérative des Grands Crus, founded in Rheims in 1926. The other was the Société de Producteurs de Mailly, founded by Gabriel Simon in 1929 as a wine-making cooperative, but which began making champagne as a result of the crisis in 1930, in order to use its unsold wines. With admirable fortitude, the members of the Mailly cooperative took up picks and shovels, dug their own cellars, searched their attics for old bottles that could be reused, and, with hardly any experience, began producing champagne, thereby saving their cooperative, whose wines are now justly famous.

This collective search for a solution to the problem of surplus grapes, with its progression towards the direct production of champagne, was also conceivable at an individual level, and this was how manipulation came about. In champagne terminology, manipuler means to produce champagne by carrying out the sparkling process.

This had always been the merchants’ privilege, but there were no rules preventing vine-growers from making their own champagne from the wine from their vines. Thus, since the start of the nineteenth century, several had become récoltants manipulants (harvesters and champagne makers) but for a long time this remained extremely unusual and limited mainly to the Epernay region where cellar workers in contact with vine growers, or vine growers themselves, were able to disseminate a few oenological practices.

In Boursault, for example, Joseph-Benjamin Bénard, a vine-grower, was producing champagne as early as 1876. From 1907, the parish priest, abbot Tourneux, made his own champagne from his own grapes and sold it under two labels, Tourneux à Boursault and Le Curé de Boursault, both of which were labelled as Champagne de Propriétaire.

In the thirties, a number of vine-growers saw manipulation as a solution to the dire situation and undertook to make and sell champagne themselves, insofar as they were able to resolve the issue of equipment, which was significant, and of clientele, who were hard to come by during a period of economic depression, and in a market that was dominated by the merchants’ brands.

At the annual general meeting of the Syndicat des Vignerons in 1938, Maurice Doyard declared: The collective has sold, encountering the difficulties known by those who have tried to establish and maintain a retail clientele, around 1,800,000 bottles per year, only during the last two years. The figure given is in fact that for 1933, the first year when the vine-growers’ sales were counted separately. In 1939 they reached two million bottles, having peaked in 1936 at nearly two and a half million, which were sold almost entirely by the vine-growers of the Marne. The operation, while experiencing difficulties, was nonetheless well underway. The collective’s champagnes now appeared with those of the merchants at exhibitions. With around 1,300 récoltants-manipulants in 1939, even if most of them sold little more than a thousand bottles per year, a social phenomenon had taken place that would become more significant after 1950, and which marked the end of the principle of Au vigneron le raisin, au négociant la bouteille ("To the vine-growers the grapes, to the merchants the bottles") which had ruled Champagne’s economy for two centuries.

Meanwhile, during the thirties, as interesting and as full of hope as all of these initiatives may have been, the only option for most of the vine-growers was to make still wine with their surplus grapes, with all of the difficulties and uncertainties that this involved. The publicity organizations once more came to the rescue, and in 1932 the Foire aux Vins de Champagne was staged again in order to provide exhibition stands. There were even some non-sparkling rose wines offered at the event; as far as champagne was concerned, only bottles from growers who were members of the collective could be exhibited. Vine-growers went from door to door to find customers. They took the train to Paris and offered their wines to the restaurants around the Gare de l’Est (the station in the east of the city). Some excellent quality still wines thus found their way into the capital’s restaurants, notably those of the good years of 1928, 1929, 1933, 1934 and 1937; they were relatively cheap, and sold fairly well.

In 1932, the Rapport sur la Champagne (Report on Champagne) presented in Rheims to the Société des Viticulteurs de France did not hesitate to declare that the production of the vines of Champagne and the grands crus of the Marne, the pride of France, were in decline. The standard of living was declining and in January 1937, at the festival of Saint-Vincent in Epernay, in a talk entitled Le Vignoble et les Jeunes (Young People in the Vineyards), Claude Gosset warned that: We have to accept that the sons of vineyard owners and workers are leaving the vine-growing profession at such a rate that, if it is not stopped, will affect the entire Champagne region. The vineyard owners themselves were beginning to desert.

Their number, which had risen to 14,000 in the Marne in 1934, fell to 13,300 in 1937, a far cry from the 25,000 that there had been at the end of the nineteenth century. There was a decline of 20% in the Aube over the same period. In the Marne, only 17% of vine-growers cultivated more than a hectare, 2,080 had between one and five hectares, eighty-seven between five and ten hectares, thirty-eight between ten and twenty hectares, eighteen between twenty and fifty hectares and five had more than fifty hectares; the situation was similar in the Aube and the Aisne. There were 275 vine-growing communes, of which 144 were in the Marne, 67 in the Aube and 64 in the Aisne.

There were 8,702 hectares in production in 1937 in the Marne, 2,444 in the Aube and 574 in the Aisne, bringing the total for wine-producing Champagne to 11,720 hectares, of which slightly less than 2,000 belonged to the merchants. In the Aube and the Aisne, the vines had declined because of the economic crisis. In the Marne they had expanded, but this was due to the inflexible replanting program. Overall, even if the total area of vines was maintained, the crisis had been disastrous both for the vine-growers and the merchants.


[1PIARD (Paul). The Organisation of Wine Production in Champagne. From Syndicates to Incorporation. Paris, 1937.

[2CHAPPAZ (Georges). The Vineyards and Wines of Champagne. Paris, 1951.

[3LARMAT (Louis). Atlas of Wine Producing France. The Wines of Champagne. Paris, 1944.

[4The Comité National des Appellations d’Origine became the Institut National des Appellations d’Origine, in 1947, more well known as the I.N.A.0. In 1936 a Comité Régional d’Experts pour le champagne was created within the Comité National, of which the first president was Monsieur Poittevin, president of the Syndicat des Vignerons.

[5MANCEAU (Emile). The Theory of Sparkling Wines. Epernay, 1905.

[6WEINMANN (J.). Manual for the Working of Sparkling Wines. Epernay, 1929.

[7CHEVALIER (Maurice). Môme à cheveux blancs (I Remember it Well). Autobiography. Paris, 1969.

[8PIERRE (Brother). Treatise on the cultivation of the vines of Champagne, located in Hautvillers, Cumières, Ay, Epernay, Pierry and Vinay, from a manuscript by Brother Pierre, pupil and successor of Dom Pérignon, belonging to Madame La Comtesse Gaston Chandon de Briailles and deciphered by Monsieur Le Comte Paul Chandon Moët. Epernay, 1931.

[9HOLLANDE (Maurice). Acquaintance with the Wines of Champagne. Paris, 1952.

[10FEYRET (Gabriel). The wine crisis in Champagne, in the Revue d’Economie Politique, March-April 1934.