UMC - Grandes Marques et Maisons de Champagne

Champagne Guest Book

Revolution in the Vineyards

During the first decade of the twentieth century the vine growers of Champagne were envied by their colleagues in other wine producing areas, not just in France but all over the world, who were in the midst of a serious crisis, highlighted in the South of France by the unfortunate events that took place in Narbonne in 1907. Champagne was associated with a prosperous trade and in the fight against phylloxera had benefited from the experience of other regions that had been attacked earlier on. However, while the destructive parasite may have been the primary concern there were other causes of anxiety and discontent: the high price of land, and the problems that this generated for young growers trying to get started, or existing ones wishing to expand; as always the heavy burden of taxes; and above all the chronic uncertainty over the sale of the harvest.

This last point was a matter of some friction with the Merchants, who were criticized by the vine growers, as they had been in the nineteenth century, for making the law and often buying wine from outside Champagne at lower prices, but nevertheless labelling all of their production as champagne, even though, according to the merchants themselves, the wine production of Champagne was limited to the Marne region. The vineyards considered these digressions an insult and, compounded with their loss of income, as deliberate fraud, the latter all the more serious when the proportions became considerable and concerned wines of various origins sometimes made sparkling by artificial means (531). In 1891 René Lamarre called in his newspaper, La Révolution Champenoise, for the prohibition of the entry into Champagne of foreign wines which, whatever may be claimed, insinuate themselves into the blends. We know that they were doing more than "insinuating themselves", and in 1900, as Jean Nollevalle wrote in L’Agitation dans le Vignoble Champenois (Unrest in the Vineyards of Champagne) 9, there was no doubt that in a good number of the houses wines were arriving in torrents, from the Saumur region, the South of France and even from Algeria.

These deplorable practices were carried out on a large scale by a minority of merchants, but who were nevertheless often large and influential. The great houses in general stood by their tradition of loyalty to the region, but they alone could absorb the entire production of Champagne’s vineyards, and prices dropped to such an extent that vine growers suffered a slump in sales. For a long time the larger houses condemned the fraudsters but did nothing to combat them. The vine growers therefore had a tendency not to distinguish between the merchants and to treat them all with anathema; finding themselves forced into a precarious situation they accused them of having made their fortunes at their expense. And yet, wrote Pierre Hamp, Champagne’s vine growers have the same interests as the honest maker of champagne. The real parasites are those who bring in foreign wines in order to sell them as if they were of the region ( [1].

The vine growers had for a long time been isolated, and had always felt unarmed against the various evils that were heaped upon them. But finally, in 1904, they were to benefit from an association that defended their interests10. It was on the 21 August 1904 that the Fédération des Syndicats Viticoles de la Champagne was created, bringing together thirty-one local unions for the repression of fraud that had been established that same year, and which by 1914 had 121 local offices. The Fédération, which on the 31 March 1919 became the Syndicat Général des Vignerons de la Champagne Viticole Délimitée, included in its statutes that one of its main objectives was to crack down on any fraud relating to the wines of Champagne. It immediately began to play an important role due to the efforts of its active and devoted secretary Alphonse Perrin, and of Gaston Poittevin, one of the great figures in the history of champagne, who died during deportation in the Second World War, and who was editor and director of La Champagne Viticole, the union’s monthly publication which first appeared on the 22 January 1909.

The general mood of the vine growers in the years that followed suggested that a crisis was brewing, which finally erupted in 1911 and was to be known as the Révolution en Champagne. Let it not be thought that this was due to the Fédération throwing oil on the fire, if anything the opposite was true. It was hoped that the threat could be avoided, and the Féderation joined the merchants in making every effort to do so.

The logical priority was to attack the fraud that was so unpopular with the vine growers, and to do this by obtaining from the government a law that forbade the use of the name Champagne for any wine not of Marne origin, even, and especially, if such wine had been made in Champagne using wines from elsewhere. The merchants had already moved in this direction in 1903 by requesting, in response to a survey carried out by the Marne County Council, that the penalties against fraudsters be fixed. At the same time a law was being drawn up in Paris aimed at the repression of falsifications and fraud in the sale of all types of merchandise and the Syndicat du Commerce requested that it be applied to the defence of regional names in the context of the provenance of wine products. The Law of the 1st August 1905 partially satisfied this request in that it permitted the government to give rulings by regulatory means on the inscriptions and brand names indicating the composition, origin of the merchandise, for the wine of general and particular areas. It also gave courts the right to pursue offenders, which they did from the end of 1905: a merchant of Rheims was severely dealt with, and his sentence was published in twenty daily newspapers and on bill posters. As a result of difficulties in its application the 1905 law was replaced by the Law of the 5th August 1908, according to which rulings could be made by decree in order to set the boundaries of regions that are able to claim an exclusive right to names giving the provenance of products, using as a basis local and habitual usage.

It was therefore then necessary to define the geographical limits of the zone entitled to the use of the name of Champagne. The merchants had been collectively pursuing this matter and had already proposed to the county council in 1903 that the only districts to be included in the Champagne area should be those of Rheims, Epernay and Châlons; the vine growers had also acted, 6,000 of them signing a petition drawn up by the Fédération des Syndicats Viticoles that made a similar request. The Decree of the 17th December 1908 provided satisfaction, by defining a Champagne Viticole, i.e. the area from which any wines used in the making of champagne had to come from, and which consisted of, in the Marne, the three districts proposed by the merchants, in the district of Vitry-le-François, the communes of the cantons of Vitry-le-François and Heiltz-le-Maurupt, and, in Aisne, 46 communes of the cantons of Condé-en-Brie, Château-Thierry and Charly as well as 36 communes of the cantons of Braine and Vailly.

This was all well and good but, even though the decree only permitted the use of the name for wines harvested and manipulated entirely in the delimited territory, it was now necessary to ensure that measures were introduced on a national scale to prevent foreign wines, by a simple clandestine passage into Champagne, being wrongfully baptized champagne. The merchants were active in this matter from 1905, when they requested via the mouthpiece of their union, in a long study dated the 1st December, regulatory texts prescribing numerous security measures, notably a specially coloured certificate11 for the wines of Champagne, the obligatory mention of the word champagne on the labels, corks and packing, and the application of the principle of separate storage, which meant that wines from Champagne could not be stored in the same cellar as wines from elsewhere. The vine growers supported these propositions and requested that to them be added the abolition of the state control’s professional secrecy and the institution of declarations of harvests and stock, in order to facilitate checks.

In 1909 everyone in Champagne expected that the decree concerning delimitation would, as seemed logical, be followed by legal texts dealing with the necessary complementary measures. The obligation to make an annual harvest declaration had been taken care of in the Law of 25 June 1907 and an important administrative decision stipulated that local officials should include the phrase Vin de la Champagne Viticole on the certificates accompanying wines coming from the prescribed area. But the other measures were slow in coming and the vine growers became impatient, and with good reason because unscrupulous merchants, under the threat of imminent legislation, were hurrying to bring in substantial quantities of wines, particularly from the Aube. In the Illustration of the 21 September 1907 we read that, despite there being large quantities of unsold wine in the cellars of the Marne, 30,000 barrels came into the department last year, to leave again in bottles falsely labelled as champagne , or as coming from Ay, Crémant, etc. The powers of the Service de la Répression des Fraudes, which had been created following the law of 1905 and whose agents were paid by the vine grower’s Fédération, enabled, it was true, the bringing of some merchants before the courts; but the press made much of these cases, and the parading of such irregularities did not exactly have a calming effect.

Anger deepened when it was learnt that certain merchants had been exerting pressure in parliament to wreck the law concerning complementary measures. In September 1910 Gaston Poittevin wrote in the Champagne Viticole, It is thus for Parliament to say whether it wishes to remain consistent in its actions. Let us hope that we do not have to wait too long for the reply, for we know that the vine growers are in such a state of exasperation that just one wrong word could spark off a riot.

It has to be said that the ghost of poverty was once again haunting the vineyards; as always in such situations empty stomachs have no time for talk. The vine growers had now been nursing their vines like sick animals for ten years. They had been ravaged not only by phylloxera but also by cryptogamic attacks and a host of other parasites! Nearly all the harvests since 1902 had been either disappointing or catastrophic.
In 1903 the yield was average but irregular; the vine grower Ciret noted in his records that many areas of the Marne had frozen or had hail... a storm during the harvest caused a great deal of grapes to be lost and damaged the quality. 1904 was abundant and excellent, but the harvest exceeded the market’s requirements by half and remained at the property or was sold in the town at a disastrous price (156), and at the same time some merchants were buying in grapes from elsewhere! The situation improved in 1905 and 1906, but then again, one after the other, came four bad harvests: 1907 was of disappointing quality; 1908 gave a yield of only 10 hl to a hectare; 1909 experienced widespread rot; and in 1910 for most districts there was no harvest12. Here is what the Syndicat du Commerce des Vins de Champagne had to say about this terrible year at its annual meeting on the 23 September 1910, The year has ended in a disaster that has been more widespread and more complete than that of 1908. Our unfortunate land has been spared nothing: floods, storms and hail, mildew that has been ruthless everywhere in repeated attacks, grape moth and cochylis.

Danger of Hail

The merchants did as much as they could to alleviate the vine growers’ burden, while endeavouring to maintain the potential of their sources of supply. From 1908 the Syndicat du Commerce initiated donations in kind and loans from the regional agricultural fund. These efforts were continued: several champagne houses consented to substantial advances to their grape suppliers and offered to guarantee their loans13. However all of these were no more than palliative measures and could not alone be hoped to rescue the situation. In some localities more than two thirds of the land was mortgaged. By 1907 the following lines had already appeared in the Illustration: The vine growers of the Marne are truly unfortunate; the costs of maintaining the vines have increased but selling prices have not followed the same progression. We can well imagine how pitiable their state of affairs would have been by 1911. A vine grower in Pierre Hamp’s La Peine des hommes ("The Woes of Men") says, Its hard to live. For a while the smaller ones can earn a few shillings helping at the larger properties, who never have enough people to sulphate quickly; in this weather the mildew is rampant in the vines.

It may well be that poverty offers bad counsel, but people with subversive ideas had taken it upon themselves to stir up the vine growers’ discontent. After René Lamarre, whose militant exhortations were still in the air, adventurous spirits revealed themselves, such as the brothers Moreau who were affiliated to an anarchist federation which had tried to create a commercial union in 1906, not to be confused, they wrote, with the unions or so called syndicates which had never existed until now. Some doubtful elements came from Paris, apparently to ferment revolution, and spread a profusion of tracts, making themselves known by the violence of their attacks on the merchants. They spoke of the implacable ferocity of the tyrants who listen lugubriously to the furious howling of their innumerable victims! The anarchist news sheets joined in a chorus, in particular the Observateur, of which the issue for 1st February 1911 is almost entirely devoted to the subject of fraud in Champagne. The red flag and the singing of the Internationale sometimes played their role in the demonstrations that were soon to take place, but not without the vine growers giving them a revolutionary meaning. They considered them a symbol of the oppressed and of their economic demands. Was there a plot, political or anarchist, to stir up the troubles in Champagne? The idea was entertained but the justice of the time declared not, after having examined in court the agitators mixed up with the events. In any case spirits were sufficiently overheated to make the intervention of political activists superfluous.

Mention must also be made of the astounding Bolo, who took on the name Bolo-Pacha, a spy and a bigamist who lived in grand style in Paris. From a good Marseilles family, he had been made a pasha by the khedive of Egypt. He was politically very well connected and, as Jean Nollevalle wrote, the vine growers could not but be taken in by this magnificent and seductive bourgeois, with the most flattering connections (446). He was shot in 1918 for providing intelligence to the enemy, but before that became involved in the events that took place in Champagne in 1911, presenting himself as a saviour, in his capacity as the president of the Confédération Générale Agricole pour la Défense des Produits Purs (General Agricultural Confederation for the Defence of Pure Products), which he had created through philanthropy, and which the Fédération had joined.

On the 16 October 1910 the Fédération organized a protest meeting in Epernay. The large demonstration, which was attended by 10,000 vine growers, remained peaceful, but the mood was tense and Jean Nollevalle wrote, the authorities watched uneasily, no one hed forgotten the riots in 1907 in the South (446). The Fédération thanked the vine growers for their calmness with a communication that ended with, Down with fraud! Long live wine producing Champagne with borders, while in fact the order of the day said simply Down with fraud! Long live wine producing Champagne! It would seem therefore that a new awareness had developed during the demonstration, and that civil unrest was only a short step away.

On 4 November several wine producing communes decided to refuse to pay taxes. For two and a half months there was a succession of minor incidents, the vine growers began to disrupt the transport of foreign wines, piercing a few barrels in stations or store houses and some windows were broken. But irritation mounted and each time the call to arms of the vineyards was sounded with alarm bells, bugles and the launch of anti-hail rockets. On the17 January 1911 a wagon’s load was thrown into the Marne at Damery, the cellars and storerooms of a fraudulent merchant were ransacked, and the red flag was hoisted at the town-hall. A similar incident occurred the next day in Hautvillers and two days later the vineyards of the Marne Valley were under siege. The 31st regiment of dragoons, in garrison in Epernay, and reinforcements from four other regiments blocked access to Epernay and, setting watches at the station and the merchants’ premises, spread out between Damery, Venteuil, Lumières, Ay and Hautvillers. On 20 January the prefect, accompanied by the inevitable Bolo, addressed, in the strongest terms, 2000 vine growers in Venteuil and requested that they stop causing damage, promising in exchange to ensure that the transport of foreign wines would be stopped. Negotiations between the prefecture, the merchants and the vine growers continued on this theme for two weeks without there being any further incidents.

Parliament finally adopted the complementary measures by voting in the Law of the 10 February 1911. Under the new law it became obligatory to put the word champagne on labels, corks and packing, and the phrase Vin Déclaré Originaire de la Champagne Viticole on the transport documents for any wines coming from the wine producing area of Champagne. The law also stipulated that in order to benefit from the name of Champagne sparkling wines had to be made exclusively from grapes and wines that came from the delimited area. Moreover, all the handling and storage of the wine had to take place in storage areas that were separate from those containing harvests or wines from outside the region. The law was a great victory over fraud for the people of the Marne, who rejoiced and cheered the Fédération, Bolo and of course the soldiers, who returned to their barracks.

Alas! Disenchantment was soon to come. The measures severely displeased the people of the Aube, who were now deprived of any possibility of selling their harvest to the merchants in the Champagne zone. They thus did everything to prevent their application, helped by their representatives in parliament and by the fraudulent merchants who formed a Syndicat de Défense des Négociants en Vins de Champagne et Autres, en Cercles et en Bouteilles (Syndicate for the Defence of the Merchants dealing in the Wines of Champagne and Others, both in Barrels and Bottles) and founded a virulent newspaper, La Champagne Commerciale, which attacked delimitation and grand commerce (the big houses). Concerned by this challenge to their hard won gains the exasperated vine growers prepared to act. A notice was displayed in Cumières that read, Vine Growers of the Marne, a serious situation is upon us! The interests of our fine vineyards are to be ruthlessly sacrificed. Before perishing we must do our duty. We know who is behind all this evil. Let us stand up to these miserable fraudsters.

On the 11 April 1911 news arriving by telegraph from Paris was the spark that ignited the powder. That very day the Senate had passed a motion, expressing its confidence in the government to set down as soon as possible a bill of law that will ensure the repression of fraud without upholding the the territorial boundaries that are causing unrest. The vineyard workers immediately took action. During the night the cellars and buildings of supposed fraudulent merchants were ransacked in Damery, Dizy and Ay.

Troops were assembled by dawn, and this time a full cavalry brigade was sent, under the command of a general.

On 12 April, confronted by between five and six thousand vineyard workers from fifty-one wine-producing communes, Ay was secured by four squadrons of dragoons and chasseurs, which amounted to about six hundred cavalrymen. Towards one o’clock in the afternoon a column of two thousand rioters, colliding with barricades, made for the only possible remaining means of entering Ay, the Boulevard du Nord, which ran along the hillside where several large champagne houses were located. The assailants were resolved; there were many women among them, who were even more determined than the men, and other dubious elements that were foreign to the vineyards They had soon taken control of a section of the boulevard and ransacked several establishments. Remaining on horseback and bombarded with various projectiles from the top of the retaining walls, the soldiers were powerless against the escalating violence. Instead of reinforcing the troops a squadron was sent to Mareuil-sur-Ay, which was, however, relatively calm, at the request of Monsieur de Montebello, the deputy mayor. Outflanked on all sides and observing the orders not to shoot, the cavalrymen had to draw their swords to free themselves, leaving the field clear to the rioters who burnt the houses of Ayala and Bissinger, although neither of these houses had been implicated in any way in fraudulent trading. Jean Nollevalle wrote: before these excesses the riot was carried by popular sentiment, but after the ransacking of those two houses, about which nobody had complained, it became loathsome. The Boulevard du Nord was a scene of devastation. The Réveil de la Marne newspaper wrote: All that remains are charred and blackened walls; all that can be seen of former wine making rooms and store rooms are their carcasses and a few twisted metal supports. Inside the ground is littered with broken glass, labels, half consumed cases of wine, and smashed in barrels, indicating the relentlessness of the burning and pillaging.

On that same 12 April another group of rioters headed for Epernay singing the Champenoise , which has the same tune as the Internationale. These were the vineyard workers of Moussy and the surrounding communes and, although less numerous than those in Ay, they were just as excited. On the way they ransacked a merchant’s premises in Pierry. Arriving in Epernay, in the early afternoon, they continued with a haulage contractor and a notorious fraudster. The Prefect of the Marne, who was in Epernay, made it a priority to defend the town, and this was why the cavalry in Ay were not sent much needed reinforcements. He thus deployed considerable military force, consisting of six cavalry squadrons, three companies and two sections of infantry, all under the command of General Abonneau. The mass of vineyard workers had reached the centre of Epernay when the troops were given the order to disperse them. Dragoons and chasseurs, backed up by foot soldiers, cleared the squares and streets. By 5.30 pm the army was in control of the situation, and there was not a repetition of the devastation that had taken place in Ay a few hours earlier.

The 13 and 14 April saw some smaller scale disturbances as the unrest died down: some barricades in Venteuil, several isolated incidents of damage being caused around Epernay and in Trépail, and an alarm in Vertus. By the 15 April the revolt had been subdued and, in order to be sure that it did not flare up again, the vineyards were occupied until the harvest by 40,000 troops, divided into seven sectors, each of which was commanded by a colonel!

At a local level there had been considerable damage but, overall, the wine producing area did not suffer unduly. It was a miracle that no one was killed or even seriously injured during the riots. But the authorities had been caught unawares and the suppression was correspondingly severe. There were numerous arrests and very heavy sentences, that were perhaps out of proportion with the crimes committed, especially for the more minor offences. However, the leaders, or the reputed ones, and those guilty of arson, were judged less harshly in August 1911 by the Court of Assizes in Douai which, out of forty-six cases, only passed sentence on seven. This may be explained by the fact that four months had passed since the events, and that the trial did not take place in Champagne; moreover, merchants from the great houses came to testify in favour of several of the vineyard’s representatives.

And so came to an end a period of conflict, of which the excesses were regrettable, but which served a purpose in the establishment of champagne’s authenticity. There was also a new cohesion in the vineyards, which improved their union structures, and the respectable merchants benefited in that the complaints of the vineyard workers enabled them to combat the fraudulent ones more effectively and to put an end to the disgrace that they brought to the profession. Both merchants and vineyard workers saw, in a spirit of mutual respect, the possibility, or rather the necessity of working together to defend their common interests.


However, another revolt rose up in the Aube where, as we have noted, complementary measures were coming into force that would prevent the sending of local wines to the cellars of fraudulent merchants in Rheims, Epernay and other places. The Aube had initially requested, during the preparation of the Decree of the 17 December 1908, to be included in the area defined as wine-producing Champagne, backing up their claim with historical and economic arguments. Under the Ancien Régime, the Aube formed what was known as la basse Champagne right next to, but without being opposed to, la haute Champagne, which was part of what is now the department of the Marne. However, while the Bar-sur-Aube district had always belonged administratively to Champagne, that of Bar-sur-Seine-Les Riceys was not included in the general Champagne region, being considered, from a wine-producing point of view, as still belonging in 1910 to la basse Bourgogne (lower Burgundy) , for, as Guyot noted, it has the same grape varieties, same soil types and the same climate (284) . In any event, from an administrative point of view, the chief town in the department of the Aube, including what was then the district of Bar-sur-Seine, was Troyes, the historical capital of the counts of Champagne; the people of the Aube thus had good reason to consider themselves part of Champagne.

It is true that the inhabitants of the Marne maintained that only their wines had the right to be called champagne. On the 1 June 1888, Chambre Syndicale du Commerce des Vins de Champagne wrote to the Revue des Vins et Liqueurs that the products of any grapes that have not been harvested in the Marne, whether they come from the vines of the Aube or any other department... are considered as wines that are foreign to Champagne, and may not, from this moment on, legitimately bear its name. But it was also a known fact that certain businesses were unscrupulously using the wines of the Aube to mix with their own; this was made perfectly clear by Eugène Maury, in 1900, in his book, L’Ancien Vignoble Bar-sur-Aubois: Nowadays, the merchants of Rheims and Epernay come and buy the white wines of our region to make champagne. Moreover, the people of the Aube pointed out that their wines were particularly well-suited to the production of sparkling wines and that in the 1830s, before they began supplying the cellars of the Marne, a proportion of them used to be made into good quality sparkling wine locally.

To deprive the vine growers of the Aube of the possibility of selling their wines in the Marne was like putting a knife to their throats. While historically there had been 20,000 hectares of vines in the region, and a sizeable wine trade with the whole of France, there were now only 5,000 hectares, producing wines that could no longer compete with those from more southerly vineyards, for the same reasons that had led to a decline in still wines in the rest of Champagne. Their only hope of selling their wines, apart from a limited German market, was participation in the production of champagne.

The Aubois were made all the more furious over their exclusion from the wine-producing area of Champagne by the fact that the Decree of 17 December 1908 had included therein the vineyards of the Aisne which, historically and administratively, could not really be said to be in Champagne, and furthermore had never been considered as such by the people of the Marne (when phylloxera reached Tréloup, the Vigneron Champenois announced that it was not yet in Champagne). According to the vine-growers of the Aube, the wine of the Aisne was a revolting jus de Soissons, an allusion to the beans that the region was known for growing.

This profound discontent in the Aube was exacerbated by other misfortunes, as in the Marne, such as phylloxera and the replanting of the vines (although this was nearly finished), various diseases in the vineyards, no harvest in 1910, and the resulting poverty. Because the law refused to recognize them as part of Champagne, the vine growers of the Aube, with the support of the fraudulent merchants in the Marne, challenged the principle of delimitation that would prevent them from selling the wines that they would make after the next harvest.

Early in 1911, in February and March, the vineyard workers began to stir, spurred on by a certain Gaston Checq. A small, energetic, terse man, he set up the Ligue de Défense des Vignerons de l’Aube in February.

This quickly replaced the Fédération des Vignerons de l’Aube, which had been formed in Bar-sur-Aube on 29 January during a large demonstration involving 1500 vine growers, with Paul Meunier as president of honour and Paul Caillot as the acting president. They organized demonstrations and refused to pay taxes; the municipal councils resigned, and 125 of the department’s communes had no town council, including the town of Troyes.

Having learnt on the 15 March that the president of the Council had declared that the boundaries have been set and well set, the vine growers marched on the 19 March to Bar-sur-Aube and Polisot behind the red flag and singing the Hymn of the Vineyard workers of Champagne in the Aube . After a demonstration in Bar-sur-Aube, they burnt their tax forms in the harvest baskets, along with effigies of the president of the Council and of Léon Bourgeois, the senator for the Marne. It was only thanks to Gaston Checq that a more serious situation was avoided. On the 27 March the vineyard workers adorned the buildings of Bar-sur-Aube with red flags, including the town hall, and a rowdy crowd of demonstrators obliged the sub-prefect to call in the troops, who did not, however, intervene.

On the 9 April 1911 a large scale demonstration took place in Troyes, when between five and seven thousand vineyard workers, who had come on special trains from all over the Aube, were joined by the bataillons de fer ("battalions of iron") made up of several hundred of their colleagues who had come on foot from Bar-sur-Seine and Bar-sur-Aube. The motto of these diehards was: Vaincre ou mourir (conquer or die) . They included men of all ages, some in their seventies, and even a few women. the vineyard workers carried their hoes, held up like spears, with their satchels and kegs of wine. They all had pink badges with the words: Champenois nous fûmes, Champenois nous resterons, et ce sera comme ça! ("People of Champagne we are, and people of Champagne we shall remain, and that is how it shall be") . The local workers’ organisations also participated and procession in Troyes was impressive; the entire population of the town was out on the streets, particularly as it was a fine Palm Sunday. The demonstration was euphoric, for three days earlier it had been announced that the Agricultural Board of the Chamber of Deputies had passed a motion with a view to integrating the vineyards of the Aube into the official wine-producing Champagne region. There were a few unfortunate incidents towards the end of the day when the crowd mistakenly thought Gaston Checq had been arrested, but nothing serious.

The decision to reconsider the boundaries, which had been the cause of the riots in the Marne on the 11 and 12 April, should have calmed the people of the Aube, but this was not the case, and they remained suspicious in the absence of more precise information on such vital issues. Demonstrations, sometimes bordering on riots, continued through June, and particularly from the beginning of this month when it was learnt that Paris was developing a compromise solution that was unlikely to be very satisfactory to the vineyard workers, in which the department of the Aube would be given the special appellation of Basse Champagne or Champagne Deuxième Zone. The second of these two was finally chosen in the Decree of the 7 June 1911. It applied not only to the districts of Bar-sur-Aube and Bar-sur-Seine, and to the cantons of Chavanges and Villenauxe, but also, in the Haute-Marne to the district of Wassy, in the Seine-et-Marne to the communes of Nanteuil and Citry (to the north-east of La Ferté-sous-Jouarre), and in the Marne to the district of Sainte-Menehould and to the communes of the district of Vitry-le-François that had not been included in the boundaries set by the Decree of the 17 December 1908.

The people of the Aube had been right to be suspicious. The text of the decree did not allow them to sell their wines to merchants in the Marne producing wines under the Champagne appellation. They could at the very best sell their production under the appellation Champagne Deuxième Zone, which had to appear in full on the label. The vine growers’ lot thus seemed grim. The authorities once again called in the army which, with reinforcements from Auxonne and Gray, came to maintain order until the harvest. This busy time of year created a diversion and calm soon returned, further helped by initiatives introduced by parliament once again raising the issue of boundaries, in the face of protests in various wine-producing areas at the decisions that had been taken. A bill was formulated on the 30 June 1911 and not debated until 1913, the war then preventing it from being passed. The vine growers were to have other worries for several long years. Thus ended a tumultuous period in the history of the vineyards of Champagne. Taking an impulsive course in the Marne, and a more considered one in the Aube, it has not been forgotten by the vine growers of today.


[1HAMP (Pierre). Men’s Troubles. A Fresh Tide. The Wine of Champagne. Paris, 1913.