UMC - Grandes Marques et Maisons de Champagne

Champagne Guest Book


The end of the war commerce in champagne was in a critical situation. If it had kept up the soldiers’ morale during the war then it now needed to do the same for the inhabitants of Champagne. It was true that, on the 10 May 1947, at the spring meeting of the A.V.C., René Chayoux, president of the merchants, was able to say, with the approval of Henri Macquart, the president of the vine growers: At the end of a period of terrible torment, the situation in Champagne is relatively fortunate. Our vineyards have not suffered as much as we might have feared. A sensible policy of restriction of prices and quantities sold has both maintained substantial levels of stock and Champagne’s reputation from the point of view of price and quality. But in 1945, in the vineyards, many men had not come back, average yields had fallen to 32 hectolitres per hectare, a great deal of work which had been postponed for five years now had to carried out with some urgency if the prosperity of before the war was to be recovered. As for the merchants they, too, had a lot to do in order to restore and develop their businesses.

However, little by little the after-effects of the war disappeared. 1954 marked the beginning of an extraordinary phase of expansion for champagne both in terms of its means of production and its sales.

As time passed sales in France and exports to various countries grew rapidly.

Several remarks may be made concerning this dramatic evolution. Between the end of the hostilities and 1953 sales remained more or less at the level in 1938, i.e. around thirty million bottles annually, with a peak of thirty-five million in 1951. People restocked their cellars after the war but the stocks of the producers had not yet returned to their correct levels and the economic climate was hesitant. From 1954 the professions were able to evolve in a climate of healthy cooperation due to the creation of an interprofessional body, the spirit of competition seized the producers, merchants, growers who sold their own champagne, and the cooperatives; their combined efforts would, in a quarter of a century, multiply sales of champagne by six, which is considerable for a product with a relatively high price that, while it was certainly desirable and pleasant, was not a prime necessity.

Between 1910 and 1940 there was a stagnation in the level of sales, which hovered around 30 and 40 million bottles, with considerable and frequent peaks and troughs. The opposite was true in this period of expansion, of which the steadiness was remarkable. There were, however, four hiccups, which occurred for accidental reasons. The first in 1958-1959 was caused by a poor harvest due to frosts in 1957. The second, in 1968, resulted from the introduction of value added tax (VAT)42 and political and industrial problems. The 1970s began with a euphoric period of growth in sales, of the order of 10% per year, but then a third interruption occurred in 1974 as a result of the recession that was triggered by the fuel crisis. From 1973 to 1975 the British and Italian markets fell, in terms of bottles sold per year, from 10 million to 3 million and from 9.8 million to 2.8 million respectively. The French market fell by 6% in 1974 but quickly resumed its growth in 1975.

The fourth drop in sales occurred after a substantial jump of 53% over three years. The vines suffered badly in 1978, 1980 and 1981 with the result that four years produced the equivalent, in terms of harvests, of two and a half years. The shortage of grapes added to the drain on reserves that had resulted from the extremely rapid growth during the preceding period; producers found themselves obliged on the one hand to limit sales in order to safeguard quality and on the other hand to raise prices in order to make up for the loss, the increase also serving as brake on sales growth. The result was another dip in the sales curve in 1980, for in France as in a lot of foreign countries purchasing power had stagnated or even declined, the second fuel crisis also having had its effect. Fortunately the harvests of 1982 and 1983 were splendid, and also the largest of the century; they gave the economy of Champagne the boost it needed and paved the way for further growth.

We may conclude from the above that while sales of champagne are linked to the stability of the general economic environment, which can all too suddenly be upset, they also seem to recover very quickly from any such upsets, because, with surprising consistency, the losses were recouped and growth resumed within one or two years.

Whatever the case may be, the figures for the champagne trade in the years from 1950 to 1980 are undeniably magnificent. In less than thirty years sales increased by a factor of five, a record being achieved in 1978 with 186 million bottles. Theses results were, of course, obtained during an economic climate that was generally favourable, especially in France where in the period up to the fuel crisis the average income multiplied by two and a half, which meant that champagne became more accessible to the section of the population for whom it had previously been a great luxury. The price of a bottle now corresponded to a few hours work for an unskilled worker, as against a few days work in the previous century. Champagne also benefited from the growing consumer taste for dry sparkling wines that were drunk at celebrations, of which it remained the king.

This success was, nevertheless, not won easily, and we shall see further on the threats that arose from sparkling wines and other drinks and the obstacles that were encountered in external markets due to customs duties, taxes and quotas, and, in some of them, instability. As a result we can say that the growth would not have been what it was if the merchants and vine growers had not followed a policy of quality and reasonable prices which favourably influenced the way the market developed.

While in the middle of the nineteenth century growth was essentially linked to the developing export market, after the Second World War the internal market did nearly twice as well, accounting for three quarters of total sales by the beginning of the 1960s.

The growers who produced and sold their own champagne, who did not export much, played an important role in this change of direction by progressively increasing their sales in metropolitan France, to the point of covering half the French market at the beginning of the 1980s. However, due to the dynamism of the merchants, it was the exports that, from 1963, grew the most rapidly, representing by 1973 a third of total sales against a quarter in 1962. Upset by the 1973 fuel crisis, which had a greater impact on the external markets, this trend resumed strongly between 1976 and 1980.

The efforts of the trade were supported by the publicity campaigns carried out by the C.I.V.C. (Vignerons et Maisons de Champagne), in the name of the wine producing community of Champagne, under the direction of the successive presidents of its Commission de Propagande et de Défense des Intérêts du Champagne, which soon became the Commission d’Information et d’Accueil. Publicity initiatives were carried out via the press, radio, television, and cinema. From 1951 the Fêtes de Dom Pérignon were reintroduced which take place in Hautvillers. The Commission distributed quality publications that enhanced champagne’s image [1], and increased involvement with prestige cultural events, participating in particular in 1962 in the 32e Gala de l’Union des Artistes, given at the cirque d’Hiver on the 9 March with a champagne theme.

The publicity activities of the C.I.V.C. (Vignerons et Maisons de Champagne) were not limited to the French market and reinforced those of the exporters and their agents in foreign countries. This took the form of the creation of a network of public relations offices that progressively covered the main importing countries, and also by considerable activity on an international level. In 1962 champagne participated in the second inaugural voyage of the France, from Le Havre to New York, the Voyage de l’Elégance et du Goût Français (A Voyage of Elegance and French Taste) playing such a major role that American journalists baptised it the Champagne Voyage. The C.I.V.C. (Vignerons et Maisons de Champagne) involved itself in certain festivities in various countries, notably sponsoring New York’s Grand Balls, April in Paris, Débutantes Cotillon, and the echoes of these sparkling events were added to receptions in Champagne of substantial groups, such as in 1972, when a dinner was given for the nine hundred participants at the International Silk Congress.

It was for the benefit of visitors, as well as the French themselves, that the C.I.V.C. (Vignerons et Maisons de Champagne) instituted the Route du champagne, inaugurated on the 26 September 1953 by the Minister for Public Works, Transport and Tourism.

A tour of the wine producing region, the circuit is indicated by signs with an emblem involving a vine, some grapes and a white feather, symbolizing the lightness and panache of champagne. Despite its name the route could obviously not take in all the various localities of wine producing Champagne; there are thus three itineraries: the Circuit Bleu (Blue), which goes from Rheims to Epernay via the Montagne de Rheims; the Circuit Rouge (Red), which follows the right bank of the Marne, on both sides of Epernay; and the Circuit Vert (Green), which leaves from Epernay and passes through the Côte des Blancs. There are details and a commentary on the three circuits in a map-guide, entitled La Route du champagne, of which numerous copies have been printed in several languages [2].


From the1950s onwards there was thus a period of huge expansion of the champagne market. The production of grapes, of course, had to increase in tandem with sales, and this was accomplished both by planting more vines and by improving yields.

From 1945 planting initiatives had been included in the general restocking program, which was carried out with a view to bringing the grape varieties used and planting practices in line with the new rules, thereby rationalizing the cultivation process, improving quality and quantity and ultimately resulting in a reduction of production costs. The A.V.C. encouraged and coordinated this second restocking, as it had done during the restocking following the abandonment of the vignes en foule ("vines in crowds") technique. Taking a degree of initiative that was unprecedented in France, the A.V.C. set up Commissions de Reconstitution and encouraged the vine growers through subsidies and various other incentives, such as discounts on vines that were recognized as being appropriately selected. There was also a drive to tidy up and restore vineyards and to encourage exchanges and consolidation of properties.

The Aube on account of the grape varieties particular to the region, undertook a more intensive restocking program, with the aim of bringing its vineyards in line with those of the Marne and the Aisne. This was successfully carried out from 1945 under the vigorous direction of Georges Lucot, the representative of the Aube vineyards within the Syndicat Général des Vignerons de la Champagne Délimitée, with the efficient help of Monsieur Dechambre, the director of the county’s Agricultural Services, and then of Monsieur Maury, the Aube representative within the C.I.V.C. (Vignerons et Maisons de Champagne), which provided grants to help support these initiatives. In 1951 there were still only 250 hectares of restocked vines against 1,250 hectares of old vines, but the transformation was accomplished by the seventies, much to the benefit of the vine growers of the Aube and the harmony of wine producing Champagne.

In 1958 the total area in production in the official wine producing zone was 11,500 hectares. By using a part, and that it was only a part should be emphasized, of the land entitled to the champagne appellation, the area of vineyards was doubled in twenty years with the planting of 12,460 hectares, which, taking into account the effect of the unused plantation rights in 1958, gave a total of 24,252 hectares in production in 1978, the highest level of the decade following the stop in new planting in 1975. Vines also reappeared on hillsides from which they had long been absent, especially in the Sézanne region, in the valleys of the Aube and along the Marne, from Dormans to Château-Thierry and even beyond.

It should be made clear that it was not only in the Aisne and the Aube that new vines were planted, in fact it was rather the opposite. The vineyards in these two counties or départements expanded by 16 and 17.5% respectively, against 22% in the Marne and in 1978 the latter represented 79.5% of the total area of vines in the Champagne’s wine producing zone, i.e. about three quarters, the Aisne and the Aube accounting for 5.5% and 15% respectively. The grands crus, which were already well-stocked, had taken little interest in planting new vines and the average price of vineyard land had thus slightly fallen. But it should not be forgotten that all the smaller vineyards were graded, and presented characteristics which had always been recognized as being suitable for producing good quality champagne.

At the same time yields had increased as a result of improvements in the productivity of the vineyards, and rose from 33 hectolitres per hectare in the 1950s to more than 60 hectolitres in the 1970s45. This was obtained not through changes in pruning techniques or increasing the amount of fertilizer used, which would have compromised quality, but through better growing techniques that reduced the number of factors that could adversely affect the yield, such as parasites and diseases. The annual capacity of the vineyards, which had been between 50 and 70 million bottles in 1950 was thus increased by 1980 to between 180 and 200 million, in accordance with demand.

In order to be prepared for the future and to be able to cope with the continued growth in sales that was, naturally, hoped for, it was considered necessary to gradually increase production capacity to 240 million bottles and to plant in such a way that the merchants, in particular the exporters, would be able to obtain the grapes that they needed, without the vine growers being exposed to the risks of overproduction, the memory of which still lingered from the dark years between the wars. It was thus decided by the C.I.V.C. (Vignerons et Maisons de Champagne)’s board of consultants that 5,000 hectares, within the wine producing zone, would be planted over ten years beginning in 1981, at an average rate of 500 hectares each year, which by 1992 would increase the total production area to 29,000 hectares. This initiative would begin to literally bear fruit from 1984-1985 and enable an increase in sales of between 5 and 8 million bottles per year, corresponding to a growth rate of 3%, which was more restrained than that seen in the 1970s, but still very satisfactory compared to numerous other economic sectors.


In the years between 1950 and 1980 growing techniques were modernized. Tractors gradually replaced horses, which practically disappeared from the vineyards [3]. Perhaps this is to be regretted in an age when energy is metered and expensive, for, as was remarked at a meeting of the A.V.C. on 1 May 1948, the horse could be said to constitute the perfect engine for the wine producers of Champagne; able to go everywhere, responsive to verbal commands, capable of extra effort when required, they have excellent instincts and frequently prevent the ploughs that they are pulling from causing damage.

But a desire to fully mechanize the vineyards was born, not so much to reduce production costs as to reduce the amount of manpower involved, and the accompanying problems. The invention of a young engineer from Epernay, Vincent Ballu, did much to advance this goal. In 1946, in his garage, he built and perfected a tractor that was specially adapted to the steep slopes and narrowly spaced vines of Champagne. Revolutionary in design, the tractor could straddle a row of vines, the two left wheels going on one side and the two right wheels going on the other, giving rise to its name of tracteur-enjambeur (stradle tractor or high clearance tractor). Presented to the A.V.C. in April of 1947, in competition with a three wheeled tractor from Montpellier, Vincent Ballu’s machine was unanimously selected and was awarded a grant from the C.I.V.C. (Vignerons et Maisons de Champagne) enabling its builder to perfect its design and make it suitable for use during all stages of the growing process.

With the industrial manufacture of the high clearance tractor in 1952 the motorisation of the vineyards of Champagne was born, and celebrated by a Journée de Motoviticulture d’Ay (Motorized Vine Growing Day at Ay) on the 30 October 1954 at which various tractors and motorized aids were presented. Despite corresponding to an investment that was, depending on the type, the equivalent of the price of between three and six horses, the high clearance tractor was immediately a huge success in the vineyards of both the merchants and the vine growers. They became even more attractive in 1961 when the C.I.V.C. (Vignerons et Maisons de Champagne) launched a campaign to restore all the roads through the vineyards, resulting in the renovation, over twenty years, of 110 kilometres of roads, spread over 114 communes, with grants equivalent to well over a million pounds in 1980.

The contemporary period was rich in innovations for facilitating the cultivation of vines and reducing the manual labour required. With special attachments the high clearance tractor, of which a larger model that straddled two rows was developed, became capable of carrying out ploughing, pruning, leaf stripping, transporting the grapes during the harvest, spreading new earth and manure, and treatments against disease, being helped in this last task, from the beginning of the 1960s, by helicopters. For small parcels of land motorized cultivators were perfected, as were sprayers that were worn on the back. Experiments were carried out with new growing methods, the use of chemical herbicides, and methods of protecting against frost. All of which were developed later.


The evolution in wine-making techniques went hand in hand with that of vine growing. It displayed the same prudence that has always been characteristic of Champagne and which had been noted by Urbain and Jouron a century beforehand when they wrote: We are totally in agreement with practical and useful improvements, but Champagne’s products have such a superior reputation that we consider the system which has brought glory, profit and fame to our country, as being like a sacred ark that should not be touched without a great deal of circumspection [4]. Nonetheless, progress and research, such as the constant improvement of procedures and equipment were to enable Marc Brugnon, president of the vine-growers, to declare at the general meeting of the A.V.C. in 1979, that we may now consider that we are approaching totally reliable techniques and a precise definition of the processes involved.

Barrels were gradually replaced by vats. In the early eighties several houses were still making and storing their wines in barrels, but by then this had become the exception. The large merchants’ operations that had 10,000 to 20,000 barrels in their cellars between the two wars, did not have a single one by 1960. The two barrel making factories in Châlons and Ay closed their doors in 1950. There were still a hundred coopers in Florent-en-Argonne in 1939, but by 1980 there was only one.

Clarification techniques improved with centrifugation and filtering becoming standard, but it was mainly in the field of temperature regulation that decisive results were achieved. Heating and cooling in cellars provided greater control over fermentation and ensured the production of wines with excellent stability. Automation progressed rapidly. The great workrooms were replaced by production lines for bottling, disgorgement, labelling. Machines that could fill 1,000 bottles per hour in 1914 have since increased to 5,000 to 6,000. Automatic disgorgement obliged crown tops to be adopted in 1964, after fifteen years of trials; a good example of the precautions that are taken before the adoption of a new procedure.

The issue of remuage à la machine (mechanical turning of the bottles), which had been studied for more than a century, was finally resolved at the end of the seventies, when various systems, involving racks, pallets, and automatic or semi-automatic "turning containers", having been tested over the course of the sixties, began to give satisfactory results. In 1982 it was estimated that only one bottle in twenty was turned automatically, but it is likely that the pleasant sound of the bottles being expertly turned by hand in wooden racks will become increasingly rare. There will no doubt be a certain nostalgia amongst those who have practised remuage by hand, and amongst those who have witnessed it, but there is no denying that its mechanization represents progress, as is the case every time a machine reduces the efforts required by men and women.

We have already seen that the search for a way to mechanize remuage began almost as soon as remuage itself was invented. Numerous patents have been filed [5] with this purpose, and Paccotet and Guittonneau wrote in 1918: Remuage is a costly, slow, delicate operation. And for a long time its mechanization has been sought in Champagne [6]. They cite "turbine" systems and others using the agglomerating effect of electric currents which were tried and must have been abandoned due to their failure to provide satisfactory results. The procedures used today are, however, highly effective. They reduce labour, and, although the machines are expensive to buy, production costs are lower because they can run outside of working hours; they also enable considerable savings to be made in terms of space [7]. Most important of all the process complied perfectly with "local and habitual usage" (c.f "Between the Wars"), thereby enabling the C.I.V.C. (Vine Growers and Champagne Houses) to make an unqualified declaration on July 1981, that the principles of production were not challenged. It specified for both manual and mechanical remuage, the precision and end result are identical; analyses and tastings have proved that there is no difference between the resulting wines provided, of course, that automatic remuage is carried out in the right conditions and that, notably the procedure is regularly monitored.

The Journal du Vin of January 1979 very justly wrote: While the people of Champagne have always been cautious regarding new procedures that could affect the quality of the wine, they have also been quick to introduce any techniques that facilitate packing and handling operations. From as early as 1945, the cellars were equipped with lifts, fork-lift trucks and pallets; wood became scarce after the war and so wooden crates were replaced with cardboard boxes that were not only cheap and light but provided an opportunity to advertise. Cardboard was also used increasingly inside boxes and crates, competing with plastic from the sixties onwards.

All of this progress simplified the tasks of the cellar workers, eliminating some of the less pleasant jobs, while at the same time enabling economies to be made in terms of labour. In 1980 the ratio was just one cellar worker per 40,000 to 50,000 bottles, whereas in 1950 it was still as high as one per 6,000 bottles. These figures demonstrate very clearly the extent to which production techniques have evolved.

The range of bottle sizes increased. The double magnum, which had appeared in the nineteenth century, became known as a Jeroboam. Towards the end of the forties, and particularly in the fifties, these were joined by triple magnums or Rehoboams and quadruple magnums or Methuselahs. There were also occasional Salmanazars, Balthazars and even Nebuchadnezzars 49, which contained the equivalent of six, eight and ten magnums respectively; these very large bottles were soon abandoned, but production of Salmanazars started again in 1973.

The reason why biblical names were chosen for these larger sizes is unknown. The term Jeroboam appears to have been used in Bordeaux from around 1725. Adopted in Champagne, the other bottles were probably named simply by analogy with the first in the series. Jeroboam was the founder and first king of the kingdom of Israel at the beginning of the first millennium before Christ. It is curious to note that Eustache Deschamps lists Jeroboam, Roboan (Roboam or Rehoboam) and Balthazar in his Balade MCCXLIX. As for the explanation of why Jeroboam was chosen by the wine-makers of Bordeaux, perhaps the answer lies in the Bible, in which Jeroboam is described as a man of great value; a jeroboam of Château Latour is undoubtedly a bottle of great value!

During the sixties a number of bottles appeared that differed from the classic champagne style, which were designed for cuvées spéciales (special blends), following the example of Dom Pérignon, which was launched in an eighteenth century style bottle by Moët & Chandon [8] in the United States in 1937 with the vintages of 1921, 1928 and 1929, in Belgium in 1947, and then in France in 1949 with the vintages of 1934 and 1937. Gradually, most of the champagne houses created a cuvée de prestige, with or without a special bottle, and some of the vine-growers did the same. The range of champagnes available thus became wider.

The dosage of wines moved very strongly in the direction of less sugar. Doux (sweet) disappeared and the average proportion of brut and extra-dry champagnes, which was still only 50% in 1945, gradually rose to 90%. Champagnes even appeared that had not been dosed at all. However, some countries remained more attached than others to heavily dosed champagnes. This was the case in Belgium, where the percentage of imports of sec and demi-sec was still at 85% in 1945 and 20% in the seventies. In 1980 federal Germany, the Netherlands and Venezuela respectively imported 29%, 44% and 46% of sec and demi-sec.
As for vintages, blancs de blancs (made with white grapes), crémants and pink champagnes, they continued to find favour amongst champagne lovers, but non-vintage has remained the backbone of production. There have been some exceptional vintages, notably 1947, 1955, 1964, and 1973, with some people also including 1961 and 1975. Here is a list, up to 1983, of the all the years in which a vintage was generally declared since the start of Second World War: 1941, 1943, 1945, 1947, 1949, 1952, 1953, 1955, 1959, 1961, 1962, 1964, 1966, 1969, 1970, 1971, 1973, 1975, 1976, 1979. Some houses also produced a vintage in 1974 and 1978. In 1983, the wines of 1980, 1981 and 1982 seemed likely to be declared vintages, but since 1980 and 1981 were both years in which the production was comparatively small, there is little chance that this will occur on a large scale.


From 1950 onwards the vine-growers played a major role in champagne’s progress, both as sellers of grapes and as récoltants-manipulants. Very fortunately, the vineyards were able to invest in equipment during a period when, as we have seen, champagne was selling well. As s result the vine growers could, for the first time in history, afford to invest and improve their standard of living.

The work force remained stable, and even increased slightly. Numbering 13,300 in 1958, there were 14,200 vine growers in 1982, however, for 54% of them vine-growing was a secondary activity. The average area of vines for each grower increased from 0.75 hectares (a little less than two acres) in 1958 to one hectare (2.47 acres) in 1982, whereas, in the same year, for vine -growers relying solely on vines for their income, it rose to two and half hectares (just over six acres). The number of vineyards with an area equal to or greater than two hectares increased from 535 in 1950 to 3,607 in 1982, of which 582 had an area greater than five hectares, against ninety in 1950. This reflected the social changes that took place over the course of a generation, and signalled the end of the disenchantment with vines that had been developing amongst the young vine-growers of Champagne.

At the same time, the vineyards’ independence from the merchants became considerably more marked. Areas of vines cultivated increased between 1958 and 1982 by 33% for the merchants but by 125% for the vine-growers, encouraged by the social policy that was followed concerning the granting of authorizations for planting and the intervention of the Société d’Aménagement Foncier et d’Etablissement Rural (S.A.F.E.R.). Over the same period, sales of champagne for the merchants increased fourfold, while those for the vine-growers increased eightfold. Manipulation (growing grapes and producing champagne) played a decisive role in this. The number of récoltants-manipulants, having stood at 1,300 just before the Second World War, had already increased to 3,000 in 1968 and to nearly 5,000 twenty years later. During the forties their sales totalled around three million bottles. These rose to seven and a half million in 1958, ten million in 1960, twenty-six million in 1970 and nearly sixty-one million in 1980! By 1982 the vine-growers were responsible for a third of all champagne production and, as we have already noted, supplied half of the French market, against only 13% in 1960.

In these figures are included the sales of the cooperatives which, with the support of the government and Champagne’s interprofessional organizations, had risen considerably. From 1947, the state offered to finance 20% of new construction and the C.I.V.C. (Vignerons et Maisons de Champagne) also contributed towards set-up costs. During the sixties aid increased, to the extent that a project could be financed up to 80% by grants. A new cooperative would thus be given grants for a substantial part of its installation costs, and be eligible for a loan from the Crédit Agricole for the rest. By 1950 there were already fifty-two cooperatives; rising to 120 in 1965 and 145 by 1980. Amongst these were powerful regional cooperatives, and unions of cooperatives, which assembled the production of local cooperatives.

A very large union of cooperatives, the Centre Vinicole de la Champagne, was created in Chouilly, near Epernay, in 1971. Its members include five regional cooperatives, sixty-three local cooperatives and twenty individuals, representing 4,000 vine growers, cultivating 1,200 hectares spread over 150 crus. It has storage capacity for 80,000 hectolitres and, in a normal year, produces six million bottles of champagne (three different blends offer a range of quality), four million of which are then returned to members. It is equipped with the latest technology, including a system for the analysis of musts as they arrive in tankers that allows forty analyses per hour. In May 1983, in order to further develop its sales, it became associated with the Berger group, outside Champagne.

Since 1950 the vine-growers purchasing power has been maintained in both good and bad years, despite inflation, due to the almost continual increase in the price of grapes (30%, allowing for inflation, between 1962 and 1979) combined with improved yields, without forgetting, for the récoltants-manipulants, the added value of the finished product.


The merchants continued to display the dynamism that had been responsible for the meteoric rise of champagne in the nineteenth century and which enabled, in combination with that of the vine-growers, the prodigious growth that took place between 1950 and 1980. As a result of active and enterprising leadership the champagne houses adopted a semi-industrial strategy. Open-cut excavation work was carried out to create multi-level cellars, spectacular vat rooms were installed, and disgorgement and labelling became totally automated. Thus while the quality and character of each brand was preserved, productivity was improved, thereby enabling production costs to be kept down and sale prices to be maintained at a level that would not hinder the continuous growth of the market.

The merchants planted vines in accordance with decreed limits, but this did not enable them to increase the size of their vineyards as much as they needed to in order to respond to demand. It thus became increasingly difficult during this period of expansion to obtain enough grapes, particularly as the merchants were now in competition with the récoltants-manipulants. These purchases were costly, not only due to premium prices during shortages, but also as a result of the progressive narrowing of the scale of crus. Furthermore, some merchants, in order to improve their stocks, were obliged to take the expensive risk of buying vin sur lattes (wine that had already been dosed and was in bottles awaiting disgorgement).

While growth in the merchants’ trade was spectacular, it was also unevenly distributed. Several new houses were created during the early twentieth century outside of the main areas and have achieved fame, such as René Brun, Collery and Gosset in Ay, Oudinot in Avize, Brice-Martin-Tritant in Bouzy, Gardet in Chigny, Legras in Chouilly, Gobillard in Pierry, amongst others. They generally have their origins in a vine-growing tradition, sometimes of very long date, such as the Gosset family, whose ascendants cultivated vines in Ay in the sixteenth century. However, some houses, both old and new, in general of modest size, saw their businesses grow very little, sometimes stagnating or even shrinking. Several ceased trading, especially between 1956 and 1964, a period during which forty-five businesses either closed their doors or were absorbed. With few exceptions these were small houses, whose disappearance was compensated for in the seventies by the creation of new ones, to such an extent that between 1945 and 1980 the number of négociants exploitants only decreased by 20%.

In contrast, the larger houses grew rapidly, six of them achieving, during the ten years between 1969 and 1979, growth of more than 200%, one of these alone selling eighteen million bottles in 1978. The gap widened between the ten largest houses and the rest of the Négoce. This leading group, representing less than 10% of all the houses, and the members of which remained more or less constant, accounted for an increasing percentage of the merchants’ sales, rising from 46% in 1955, to 55% in 1959 and then, after flattening off between 1959 and 1967, continuing up to 71% in 1979 and 76% in 1982. These were the houses which, on the basis of an already substantial trade, were able to best reconcile fame, productivity, financing, and price and market strategy.

On the individual scale, a family structure sometimes had to be modified, or even abandoned, to make way for larger companies, some of which have raised capital by offering shares to the general public. However, many houses have retained a family style management and, as in the nineteenth century, there have been some remarkable women at the head of several of these at certain periods during the twentieth century.

This was certainly true in the case of Madame Olry-Roederer who, having taken over from her husband, Léon Olry-Roederer, in 1932 , ran the business for many years with great dynamism and authority, and caused the brand to become very solidly established in Sweden. Then there were the instances of Madame Claude Rouzaud (daughter of Madame Olry-Roederer), of Madame Boizel, already mentioned in the section on the contribution made by champagne merchants of foreign origin, of Madame Chayoux, at Ayala and De Montebello, of the Baroness of Alès, at Piper-Heidsieck, of Madame Abel Lepitre, at Abel Lepitre, of Madame d’Anglemont de Tassigny, at Jacquesson, and of Madame Mérand at De Castellane. Madame Bollinger personally ran the house that bears her name, with great authority and competence, from 1941 to 1977, deciding blends herself, and extending the excellent reputation of her brand even further.
The thirty-five years following the Second World War saw fairly numerous and sometimes spectacular mergers, either involving the taking over of a brand and the retention of its character, or simple absorption, a phenomenon that also took place sporadically between the wars.

Over the same period some of the larger houses, finding themselves unable to expand their activities due to limitations on the availability of grapes, started to diversify into the production of sparkling wines outside Champagne, and even in California, and also into perfumes, haute couture, hotels, etc. As H. Pestel, the director of the I.N.A.O. (Institut National des Appellations d’Origine) declared on 26 November 1966 at a talk given at the general meeting of the A.V.C.: The producers of A.O.C. wines whose need or desire for further expansion is unlimited must satisfy this passion not with never-ending growth in the sales and production of their appellation, but rather by complementing them with other products.

There have also been cases, from just before the Second World War onwards, of small old houses expanding rapidly into large, sometimes even very large, businesses as a result of the energy of new management, and restructuring programs. The house of Fourneaux which dates back to 1734, was taken over by Taittinger, in Reims, rin 1932, and very quickly became well-known; with its turnover in constant progression it was eventually floated on the stock exchange. Veuve Laurent-Perrier, in Tours-sur-Marne, of old but modest origins, having changed hands in 1938, become a large house of great quality, in continual expansion. Besserat de Bellefon, starting out as the house of Besserat, founded in Ay in the middle of the nineteenth century, joined the Compagnie Générale Dubonnet-Cinzano group in 1959, combined with the house of Salon, regrouped near the southern exit of Rheims, and then in 1976 joined the Pernod-Ricard group, finally absorbing another house of Besserat, Edouard Besserat, in 1981. There is one last category, consisting of houses dating from between the wars and immediately after the Second World War that have gained an important place within the industry. In this category may be listed: Trouillard et Cie, which was founded in 1919, and took over the excellent and old house, de Venoge; Abel Lepitre, which was founded in 1924 and then expanded during the fifties, helped by a merger with George Goulet and De Saint-Marceaux, both solid brands with long-standng reputations; Marne et Champagne, which was founded in 1933, and became a very large organization, managing a hundred brands, some of which also originated from traditional houses such as Giesler, Gauthier, and Geismann; A. Charbaut et Fils, which was founded in 1948, and very quickly gained an enviable position both in France and abroad, including the difficult American market. Despite these notable changes, the overall impression of the champagne houses is one of striking continuity, a continuity made even more remarkable considering that they have doubled their sales in fourteen years.


When one considers all the obstacles that have been overcome during the last century and a half one can only pay homage to all the professionals, merchants and vine-growers. Their concerted efforts created, and then maintained and developed, the incredible success of champagne and have had the result that Champagne has been the wine producing region that has grown the most, in terms of area, production and sales, between 1950 and 1980 in France. The crises of the seventies did, however, show that a certain prudence was necessary amongst the businesses making up Champagne’s wine-producing economy. Here is what Claude d’Hautefeuille, president of the Syndicat de Grandes Marques de Champagne, had to say on the matter at the meeting of the Syndicat Général des Vignerons de la Champagne Délimitée in the spring of 1974: Our objective should not be triumphant, uncontrolled progress, but rather the measure of a market that we must plan according to realities.

The task of those responsible has never been easy in this domain: during periods of growth, success can become intoxicating and the reversal of trends then deals a harsh blow. Following the harvests of 1978 and 1980, which, as has already been noted, were disappointing in terms of quantity, here are the words of Marc Brugnon, president of the vine-growers, at the A.V.C.’s banquet in 1981: Champagne is very much a product of mother nature. We have been reminded of this twice in three years. In consequence, our activities will always be subject to her whims, her variations, and her accidents; the organisation of our activities and our economy, must, of course, take this into account. Jean-Michel Ducellier, president of the merchants, declared at the same banquet: This crisis is serious, without doubt the most serious that we have ever known, but we will survive and success will soon return, for one must never despair in Champagne.

In reality, as Jean Piérard pointed out in the C.I.V.C. (Vignerons et Maisons de Champagne)’s Bulletin d’Information for the fourth quarter of 1979, under its brilliant exterior, wine-producing Champagne is usually obliged to live dangerously, half way between fragility and uncertainty. While it is true that the harvests of 1982 and 1983 have been reassuring, the eighties have brought, amongst other things, shortages in stocks, recession of sales and exceptional taxes that have aggravated the effects of a tax system that is not suited to wine production. However, as we have just seen, it will take more than that to damage the morale of the vine-growers and merchants of Champagne. The history of champagne (in which there have already been more chapters since the publication of this book!), displays a dynamism, and a facility to adapt that, combined with excellent interprofessional organisation, have created a success that is very far from ending.


[1The C.I.V.C. (Vignerons et Maisons de Champagne) notably published, Il n’est champagne que de Champagne (It’s only champagne if it’s from Champagne) a pastiche of Rabelais’ Proph�tie de la Dive bouteille (Oracle of the Holy Bottle), with drawings by Jean Effel, and La Clef du Secret (The Key to the Secret) a sumptuous album published by Draeger in 1961, inspired by the one that had been published in 1931.

[2The C.I.V.C. (Vignerons et Maisons de Champagne) subsequently published La Champagne vous invite (An invitation from Champagne), a map showing all the vineyards; the champagne producers of the Aube also set up their own Route du Champagne, connecting the Aube at Bar-sur-Aube to the Seine de Gy and Polisy, with a spur off to Riceys, with signposts and an illustrated brochure. The C.I.V.C. (Vignerons et Maisons de Champagne), with the help of the regional department of the I.N.A.O., published a map of wine producing Champagne in 1973, which was updated in the eighties, showing the areas which make up the wine producing zone.

[3The number of horses in the vineyards stood at 3,244 in 1929, falling to 2,422 in 1954 and only 450 by 1967. Mules and donkeys had by that time completely disappeared, although in 1954 there were still a hundred.

[4URBAIN (Paul) and Léon JOURON. The Vines of Champagne, their Cultivation and Products, from the Fifth century to the present day. Neufchâtel-en-Bray, 1873.

[5A patent (number 109255) was filed on 17 April 1875 for a machine to turn bottles during the production of the wines of Champagne.

[6PACOTTET and GUITTONNEAU. Wines of Champagne and Sparkling wines. Paris, 1918.

[7To turn one million bottles by manual remuage required about 1500 m2 , whereas an automatic system requires only 400 m2.

[8The Dom Pérignon blend was created by Robert-Jean de Vogue, the then chairman and managing director of the house of Moët & Chandon, in an attempt to boost sales during the depression of the thirties.