UMC - Grandes Marques et Maisons de Champagne

Champagne Guest Book

The Belle Epoque

The success of champagne at the beginning of the twentieth century contrasted sharply with the problems of the region that assailed its production and those who worked there . The Belle Epoque was its golden age. It was a period of unbridled pleasure for the wealthy classes and a phenomenon occurred whereby champagne became synonymous with the celebrations that always involved flutes and coupes and which were what Comtesse de Pange called the last balls before the storm [1].
Champagne had managed to make itself indispensable. Youth rejoiced in it: it was perfect for enlivening spirits that had become dulled by an over abundance of pleasures; in his foreword to Emile Richardin’s L’Art du bien manger (The Art of Eating Well) Lucien Tendret gives his advice to hosts, for those who sparkle with youth and gaiety, pour some good quality champagne, some iced Piper-Heidsieck or Roederer Cristal. It was the confidant of the ladies and the appointed companion of those men for whom opening a bottle of champagne was a virtue, provided that it was accomplished with grace (243). Turkish baths and hammam were fashionable and champagne was regularly served to men as part of the post bath relaxation ritual. Armand Lanoux specifies that certain foods and wines are rich and we praise them for their aphrodisiac properties. A scarlet woman, he continues, puts her glove in her flute of champagne. She laughs, "I feel a bit tipsy!".

Grand society evenings multiplied and bottles of champagne were poured by their hundreds, or even by their thousands at, to list just a few of these Parisian events, Boni de Castellane’s parties, who was the cousin of the founder of the champagne house of the same name, Princess Jacques de Broglie’s Gem Ball, the Duchess of Gramont’s Second Empire Ball, and the Comtesse de Chabrillan and the Comtesse de Clermont-Tonnerre’s remarkable Persian parties. The couturier Paul Poiret recounts that one evening he found himself alone at a table with Isadora Duncan, the famous dancer, who would often perform without her flowing robes, and this worshipper of Bacchus had drawn him to her demanding champagne and kisses. The festivities were equally numerous in Dinard, La Baule, Biarritz, and above all on the Côte d’Azur where as an example amongst hundreds, Elisseïef, a joyous boyard (former member of the Russian aristocracy), a son and grandson of the kings of the food trade during the rule of the tsars, and an ogre when it came to festivities, had set up, in the centre of the table, a swan carved out of ice, heaped with a mountain of caviar, and swimming on a lake of champagne.

High society was even more cosmopolitan than in the previous century and for them champagne flowed in the spa towns of Germany, in the hunting lodges of Scotland and Slovakia, in Budapest and in Venice where Gabriel-Louis Pringué, at a dinner at which were present, amongst others Paul Bourget and Henri de Régnier, sat next to the pretty blonde Princess Ruspoli who, he wrote, loved champagne, adding that when she drank it , her witty eloquence became stunning (505) . The tango appeared in France in around 1910 and, despite its South-American origins, was often accompanied by champagne; in a picture advertising Tea-Tangos at the Volney Restaurant, which appeared in the Vie Parisienne of the 20 December 1913, the only glasses visible on the tables are champagne coupes.

Champagne was still very popular at the races, but was also linked with the beginnings of the automobile. Michelin’s famous slogan that its tyres drink up obstacles, was given a humorous twist in a drawing in the Assiette au Beurre that appeared on the 9 December 1904, in which the Michelin man arrives at the finish of a race and knocks over the judge’s table in a flood of champagne; the caption reads, drinking up champagne.

The Belle Epoque was the kingdom of demi-monde celebrities such as Emilienne d’Alençon, Cléo de Mérode, and Caroline Otéro. They were feted by the grandest aristocracy, by Dukes and by Kings; the twenty-five year old Prince Ghyka, nephew of Queen Nathalie of Serbia, married Liane de Pougy who was forty-one. The life of these doe-eyed belles was inconceivable without champagne! It was now acceptable for ladies of good society to rub elbows with them in fashionable places where good taste and the finest luxuries were to be found. Everyone could thus dine out together and drink champagne in the restaurants that were à la mode.

But champagne’s temple was a famous restaurant in the Rue Royale, opened in 1891 by an obscure gentleman by the name of Maxime Gaillard, which in 1893 became Maxim’s, on the same day as the famous horse race the prix de Diane. The rich clientele made up the elite of the champagne drinkers. The men would drink it at the bar, or they would offer it at the table to the grand ladies who would accompany them, along with the demimondaines of renown. At Maxim’s dry champagne (brut) was drunk by those who liked novelty, but more willingly, wrote Armand Lanoux, sweet champagne, very sweet and non-vintage.

A certain Maurice Bertrand, who Sem called the monsieur-de-chez-Maxim’s, became a representative for the house of Heidsieck & C° Monopole in order to ensure his supply of champagne. André de Fouquières recounts that he had requested that a funeral be allowed to take place at Maxim’s. The hearse arrived outside and four undertakers carried out the coffin, followed by Bertrand who, sobbing, suggested to customers that they join him in seeing his unfortunate friend for the last time. The coffin was opened... to reveal bottles of champagne, which were immediately opened and a toast drunk to the health of Cornuché.

There was another sector of the entertainment industry which should be mentioned, albeit briefly, namely the brothels; for a great deal of champagne was drunk in them, or at least in the more select ones such as the Chabanais, the >Sphinx, the One-Two-Two, and... in Rheims, at the Palais Oriental, better known as the P.O., which had such a reputation that clients would come from Paris. In Maisons Closes (Brothels), Romi states that the monthly champagne consumption of the P.O. exceeded that of all the other restaurants and cafés combined. Elsewhere he writes that at the auction of the furnishings of the Chabanais in 1951 the highest price was paid for the red copper bath that the Prince of Wales used regularly to fill with champagne at the time of the Belle Epoque. Another famous place for amour vénal was the bar at the Folies-Bergère, and one can see from Manet’s splendid painting that it was well supplied with bottles crowned in gold.

Indeed it was at the end of the nineteenth century that bars became so popular as meeting places. Champagne was frequently drunk in those of hotels and luxury restaurants, most likely, as a result of the fashion for cocktails, in the form of a champagne cocktail, which could be found in most worthy establishments after about 1905. People still went out for late suppers, but would also, over the course of an evening, drink champagne in several of the restaurants de nuit in Montmartre. Whenever these establishments were portrayed by the artists of the period there is always a bottle of champagne in an ice bucket in the foreground. It was considered good form to drink it dry, but this was not yet to everybody’s taste. Maybe it is a passing fashion, wrote Francis de Miomandre in the Vie Parisienne of the 10 May 1913, but it is most certainly a heresy; the night café’s champagne is the invention of the devil. Another manifestation of the champagne-party association was the existence of imitation pressurized bottles that sprayed confetti when the string that held in the cork was cut .

We must not forget that while champagne was the companion to numerous pleasures it also had an important place at family gatherings at all levels of aristocratic and bourgeois society. Considered for a long time a luxury wine, it has become universal, and is now found on the table at holiday celebrations and special occasions everywhere [2]. It was increasingly appreciated for its own merits, in a period of which André Simon, an acknowledged expert, wrote that it had produced a lot of good quality champagnes, some excellent and even remarkable, the best being the wines of 1904 and 1906, followed by those of 1905, 1907 and 1908 (589). We can add that the vintages of 1911, 1913 and 1914 were also of first class quality, and of course 1900 should not be omitted, which produced excellent and abundant wines.

It had become usual to serve champagne as soon as one was at the table. Edmond Richardin wrote that the wines of Champagne may be served all through a meal, and in Les Classiques de la Table Justin Améro sings the feasts where champagne rains. Champagne was however still considered primarily as a dessert wine; in his book Le Vin et la Chanson (Wine and Song), which appeared in around 1913, Octave Pradels entitles the chapter that is devoted to champagne The King of the Dessert. These were, and still are, wines that have been heavily dosed with sugar. Champagne continued to be served iced or at least very cold, but the corks no longer sailed through the air at ceremonial meals, at which the maîtres d’hôtel had to open the bottles outside the dining room in order to spare the guests the noise of the exploding cork.

While the flute was not abandoned the coupe gained preference, as can be seen from the drawings and posters of the period. It even appears in literature, in À l’ombre des jeunes filles en fleurs (In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower), Proust wrote, When Monsieur Bloch let us wet our lips in flat coupes... True champagne lovers regretted it, and in 1922 Edouard de Pomiane wrote, Return to the flute that the people of Champagne have never abandoned; leave the coupe to those who do not understand the poetry of champagne and the ballon to the cosmopolitan clientele of the cabarets of Montmartre.

Men of letters and playwrights, in as much as when it was appropriate in one of their works, gave champagne more than its fair share of appearances, as, moreover, did cartoonists.

In the Vie Parisienne of the 29 November 1913 there are two drawings with champagne, signed by Préjelan, under the heading Béguinette sups in Montmartre. One is entitled The tenth glass of champagne, the other Le Baptême de la Ligne (a play on words meaning literally "baptising the body" but also "crossing the line" in the nautical sense) , the latter shows Béguinette, scantily clad, dousing her curvaceous form with a bottle of champagne. Willette, who was of Champagne origin, often used champagne in his drawings for the Chat-Noir, the Courrier Français, the Boulevard, and the Rire. Abel Faivre, in his series Les Médecins (The Doctors), drawn for the Assiette au Beurre, has champagne chilling in the operating room, and in the same satirical journal has caricatures of Grandjouan and Radiguet challenging Doctor Doyen, a surgeon and producer of champagne, of whom Maurice de Waleffe wrote, The cynical surgeon Doyen, gambled his reputation with the knife; celebrating his victories with champagne, he has launched his own wine, champagne Doyen, which has caused a scandal.


Between 1900 and 1914 the commercial expansion of champagne went hand in hand with its success, but not with quite the same momentum as in the last years of the nineteenth century. The various activities were similar and benefited from a period when the national economy was in excellent shape. The merchants in particular showed remarkable drive in their business affairs, and the Association Syndicale des Négociants en Vins de Champagne was founded in 1912 and operated in parallel with the Syndicat du Commerce des Vins de Champagne (which became the Syndicat de Grandes Marques, and then in 1994 the, Union des Maisons de Champagne). But wine production in Champagne was suffering from the evils that we have already seen. These led to a slight increase in prices, which, in 1913, brought the cost of a bottle to between three and nine francs, while for export customs duties increased even further to 4F15 per bottle for the United States and 4F40 for Germany.

Sparkling wines had always been in lively competition with other fashionable drinks, and the latest to enjoy increasing popularity in Paris was le scotch and soda. The champagne merchants therefore kept up their publicity campaigns. A Collectivité de maisons faisant partie du Syndicat du Commerce des Vins de Champagne (A Group of Houses from the Syndicat du Commerce des Vins de Champagne) (which became the Syndicat de Grandes Marques, and then in 1994, the Union des Maisons de Champagne) participated at the exhibitions in Liège in 1905 and in Milan in 1906, at the Anglo-French Exhibition in London in 1908, at the Universal and International Exhibition in Brussels in 1910, at the exhibitions in Quito, Saragossa, Seattle, and, in France, at Bordeaux, Lyon, Nancy and Roubaix. At the exhibition in Brussels erected a model of the Arc de Triomphe made out of 15,000 bottles and Moët & Chandon recreated the Royal Abbey of Hautvillers and Dom Pérignon’s wine press. In Champagne the merchants, of course, participated in the International Exhibition in Rheims in 1903. In Epernay they joined up with a group of vine growers, the Union Syndicale des Viticulteurs Champenois, which was created in 1889, to organise the Foire aux vins de Champagne d’Épernay (The Epernay Fair for the Wines of Champagne), which took place every year from 1905 to 1910, a period when sales in grapes were slow, with the aim of improving the sales of still wines, known as vins nature, both reds and whites, but the big names in champagne were also present. The fair included an exhibition of vine growing and wine producing equipment.
Champagne accompanied the beginnings of aviation, which provided numerous promotional opportunities. A full page of the Vie Parisienne of the 28 August 1905 shows an enormous Gallic cockerel on a background of aeroplanes and air ships with the caption, Cocorico... That’s us Clicquot, Mumm, Roederer, Moët and Pommery, who triumph in the air! All the French cocks crow in the countryside, the best motor is the wine of Champagne. In 1909 with the help of various key figures in Rheims, several of whom were champagne producers, under the honorary presidency of Doctor Langlet, the mayor of Rheims, Melchior de Polignac, head of Pommery et Greno, organised for the first time in France a week of aviation known as the Tournoi d’oiseaux ("Tournament of Birds"). The Grande Semaine de Champagne took place from the 22 to 29 August in Bétheny, at the gates of Rheims, and champagne benefited greatly from the publicity. It was an audacious idea; it had only been a year since Farman had managed to fly a kilometre and the handling of aeroplanes was still a very unpredictable business.20. But it was a great success, acclaimed internationally, due to the participation of flying aces of the day, including Blériot who had just crossed the Channel, and to the impressiveness of the test flights, which included the the qualifying heats for the Gordon-Bennett Cup, with records being broken; the event was even visited by the President of the Republic, Armand Fallières. Champagne also, of course, lent its stimulating effect to the proceedings, and appeared in pictures everywhere; the Illustration of the 4 September 1909 reported that it had been drunk in great quantities at the tribune-buffet, one of the successes of Bétheny and at the numerous official banquets. André Simon, who participated, recounts that at one of them each guest was given their own magnum, and that at the end of lunch there was nothing left in the bottles.
In 1910 the Grande semaine d’aviation was recreated on the same basis, with more involvement on the part of the merchants, of both Rheims and Epernay. It was just as successful as in 1909, but there was a shadow cast by the death of a pilot, Wachter, and the injury of Madame de Laroche, the only female pilot. In the same year, on the 21 May, J. de Lesseps won the Ruinart Père et Fils Prize which had been created in1906 by Ruinart Champagne for the first person to cross the Channel in a machine heavier than air, moving solely by the means of propulsion on board.
The sales figures for the years from 1900 to 1914 are shown below in numbers of bottles sold per year counting from March to April.

Examination of the table reveals a 35% increase from 1900 to 1911, but given the large gains in the French market, which was the main outlet for the other sparkling wines of the Marne, and the relative stagnation of exports, which was the domain of champagne, it would seem that sales of the latter only saw a moderate progression. From 1911 sales fell, as the logical result of several poor harvests, and had the effect of exhausting stocks that were already at a critical level; the Vigneron Champenois of the 8 July 1914 wrote, We having nothing left to sell, we are not selling.
Export sales remained more than double those in France.
The main export markets are shown in the table below, which shows the numbers of bottles sold in 1913.

Since the start of the century exports to Belgium, Argentina and Russia had multiplied by three, ten and two, respectively. However the English market was very irregular and had fallen by a third. This was a side effect of the economic climate. On the other side of the channel champagne was drunk as a luxury table wine (589), by a growing market; in The Man Who was Thursday, Chesterton even has anarchists drinking it. Furthermore, with Edward VII as King and Emperor, champagne ruled, becoming the symbol of Entente Cordiale, sanctioned by the signature of the 1904 agreements and by the Anglo-French Exhibition of 1908.

In the United States sales of champagne had nearly quadrupled between 1900 and 1909, despite exorbitant duties, competition from local products, the domestic champagnes, and the growing influence of the temperance leagues.
The new millionaires drank large quantities, and in 1906 in San Francisco, two hours before the earthquake, at the sumptuous Pacific coast residence of exceptionally wealthy James Ben Ali Haggin, the famous tenor Caruso, having sung an aria from Carmen, was performing Paillasse’s comic air, his hand resting majestically on the neck of an empty magnum of champagne [3]. As in France champagne had become the obligatory drink in the United States in places offering entertainment for gentlemen. In the red light district of New Orleans, the wine flowed in rivers, wrote Alan Lomax, as if it was water, when in fact it was...champagne either Clicquot or Mumm extra-dry.
However the arrival in power of Wilson in 1912 saw the start of an era of official austerity. While the president banished wine from his table, extraordinarily luxurious private parties continued, and the champagne flowed as abundantly as ever, but the power of the temperance league brought sales on the American market back down to those of 1900, a disappointment made even keener by the high hopes that had been held.

New markets opened up as the fortunes of nations and their citizens gradually developed. This was the case for example with Australia; Marcel Heidsieck wrote in 1909, from Kalgoorlie, in the middle of the gold mining area, Pay day is on Saturdays and the miners take their pounds to one of the city’s numerous hotel bars ...and buy the best champagne. We can, therefore, say that from then on the entire world was subject to the sparkling law of champagne.


[1PANGE (Comtesse Jean de). How I Saw 1900. Paris, 1965.

[2Rheims in 1907. Report of the Rheims Congress of the French Association for the Advancement of the Sciences, 1 to 6 August 1907.

[3SAPIN (Louis). Terror in San Francisco, in The True Story of the Half Century 1900-1918 by Gilbert GUILLEMINAULT. Paris, 1960.