Champagne sales flourished, rising from hundreds of thousands of bottles a year to several million, a success that did not go unnoticed by rival merchants in Tours who began passing off their own wines as Champagne. In 1843 the Champagne Houses responded by forming a special committee, chaired by Henri Louis Walbaum, to explore and where appropriate prosecute misuse of the name Champagne.
In 1882, the Champagne Houses formed the Syndicat du Commerce des Vins: a Champagne wine trade union with a much broader remit than the now long disbanded special committee, born out of a dissatisfaction with the ostensibly partisan politics of the textile-industry dominated Reims Chamber of Commerce. The Houses had good reason to be angry as the Chamber had just published a Ministry of Commerce circular accusing them of making such bad wines that Champagne shipments were tumbling!
Meanwhile, Saumur producers were claiming that far from being a “natural” wine, Champagne was a “manufactured” product whose name referred more to a method than a terroir.
They based their claims on the writings of Reims pharmacist, Maumené, who said that the “dosage” added to Champagne accounted for up to one third of the bottle contents and contained a mixture of such exotic ingredients as Cognac, Madeira wine and raspberry eau-de-vie. They also maintained that since the arrival of rail freight, even the Champagne Houses used Saumur wines in their blends.
In 1887, the Angers court of appeal found in favour of Champagne producers. However, it was now clear to the Syndicat that protecting the name “Champagne” depended on setting strict rules restricting its use to wines exclusively produced within the Champagne region. So it was that the turn of the century saw fierce lobbying by the union to have the limits of the Champagne production area defined by law. It also demanded an effective method of controlling the supply of grapes and the use of separate warehouses for wines reserved for Champagne production
The union at the time consisted wholly of the leading Champagne brands (la grande bouteille) with a very narrow view of the Champagne region. In their minds this did not include the Aube, albeit an ancient province of Champagne, which was accordingly excluded from the first official delimitation in 1908 – an omission corrected in 1927, under mounting pressure from Aube producers, when the Council of State revised the delimitation to include the Côte des Bar.