Drawings, inscriptions, graffiti … the chalk walls of the Champagne cellars are inscribed with simple messages that represent an important historical record. A priceless treasure at the heart of UNESCO World Heritage.
Text and photos by Jérôme Baudouin (RVF special issue n°23 - November 2012)
The region of Champagne, like its wine, has journeyed through history. It is the place where the kings of France were anointed; the arena of Napoleon Bonaparte’s last battle; the front line in the war of 1870; a battlefield in two World Wars … And we find that story written on the walls of cellars and chalk galleries — a mixture of great history and personal anecdotes, etched in the stone across time. Testimonies, memories, left by workmen in their break-time, tucked into the corners of galleries. Here a love message for a sweetheart. There a tribute to four workers who died in their place of work, victims of a fire in a Champagne House. Workers memories flash before your eyes in the torchlight.
An American prisoner languishing in the Nazis’ improvised gaols in the Perrier-Jouët cellars has written his name and the date. What story lies behind these few words? Was the man executed or freed? A mystery. Long forgotten, neglected by the great Champagne Houses, these graffiti have been rediscovered and indexed in the galleries of the major Houses of Rheims and Epernay. Memories rescued from the shadows thanks to the work of Michel Guillard — a tireless classifier of the hillsides, cellars and Champagne Houses now listed as UNESCO World Heritage. They offer unique insights into the history the of men and women who lived, in some cases all of their lives, under ground in the service of the greatest wine of celebration.
Acte de bravoure au génie militaire, le périple de taxis parisiens transportant les troupes françaises sur le front, à la fin de l’été 1914, marque les esprits. La célèbre automobile prend également ses quartiers dans une galerie des caves de la Maison Louis Roederer cachée contre un pupitre.