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How it began

Faced with the vagaries of Nature and believing that sharing knowledge is the best way forward, the Champagne Houses have always cultivated a sense of "team spirit". This is how they share the fruits of their work between shareholders, Champagne Growers, staff and local organisations — always with an eye to meeting the expectations of their customers.

In 1882, thirty-five Champagne Houses formed themselves into a union: the Syndicat du Commerce des Vins de Champagne, now known as the Union of Champagne Houses (UMC). Created to protect the name Champagne, in France and across the world, from misappropriation by other producers of sparkling wines, the Union gave a formal framework to the collective action that had been in motion since the middle of the 1830s. Despite resting on a very weak legal foundation (it was 1935 before the concept of appellation d’origine was enshrined in law) the Houses then obtained a ruling from the Court of Cassation in 1889 that stipulated as follows:

The term Champagne is taken to refer alike to the place of production and the method of production of certain wines specifically known by that name and no others.

In short, "Champagne only comes from Champagne". Without this collective action, Champagne would have become a generic name like Eau de Cologne. Simultaneously the union established contacts with French embassies and consulates in all of the countries that imported Champagne. That way, they obtained timely information that allowed them to take diplomatic and legal action as necessary.

The closing years of the 19th Century then saw the alliance of Champagne Houses mobilize against a new foe: phylloxera, which first appeared in Champagne in the late 1880s. The Houses threw themselves into the struggle, creating the Association Viticole Champenoise (1898) to provide Growers with the materials and advice necessary first to attempt to save and then to reconstruct the Champagne vineyard. The House of Moët & Chandon made a particular contribution to the fight against phylloxera, providing the community of Winegrowers with a building in the heart of the vineyard bearing the fitting name of "Fort Chabrol".

Now a museum, this site commemorates the exceptional efforts made in those times to further fundamental viticultural research and provide training for all Champagne Growers in the technique of grafting, which was the only means to counter phylloxera.

To make the fight more effective, the Houses encouraged Champagne Growers to form themselves into local unions, which came together as one federation in 1904 (the Fédération des Syndicats de la Champagne), becoming the Syndicat Général des Vignerons de la Champagne in 1919. So began the first formal collaboration between Champagne Growers and Houses, which culminated several decades later in the formation of the Champagne cross-industry body known in French as the interprofession.

Champagne had meanwhile fallen prey to a new kind of fraud, this time originating within the region itself. Certain non-union negociants were using grapes bought from other French vineyards to produce their wines "in Champagne". From the start, the Champagne Growers union chose to join forces with the union of Champagne Houses. Their alliance saw the passing of several laws, among them the law of 5 August 1908 that allowed for "administrative delimitation" on the basis of "usages locaux, loyaux et constants" (local, loyal and constant practice). The decree of 17 December 1908 implemented the first delimitation, so making it possible to reserve the Champagne appellation for wines entirely harvested and produced within the delimited area. It was a resounding victory for the alliance of Growers and Houses, the first of several successes in their battle against fraud: for instance, the passing of a law requiring producers to declare the volume of their annual vintage and produce certificates for the movement of stock (law of 29 June 1907).

The major losers in these battles were the Winegrowers of the Aube who were excluded from the the administrative delimitation of 1908 — a defeat that must be largely ascribed to the pressure brought to bear by the alliance of Champagne Houses and Growers. On 29 January 1911, with frustrations at boiling point, Aube winegrowers formed themselves into a union (the Fédération des Vignerons de l’Aube). After successfully lobbying government to open a new enquiry on delimitation, their union won its case and the delimitation was adjusted to include the Aube. Against a background of poor harvests, this news caused uproar in the Marne, with full-scale rebellion breaking out on 11 April 1911. The premises of merchants who were suspected rightly or wrongly of buying supplies from the Aube were ransacked and in some cases burned down.

To calm things down, the government decided to maintain the administrative delimitation and create a "secondary Champagne zone" in the Aube — a solution that obviously did not satisfy winegrowers in the Aube.
Interrupted by the First World War then relegated to the back seat, the dispute between the Aube and the Marne eventually subsided as both sides made concessions. Despite these difficulties, the people of Champagne finally saw their persistence rewarded on 22 July 1927, when a law was passed specifying the production conditions that defined the product.

In 1936, "Champagne" was recognised by the Institut National des Appellations d’Origine (the INAO, created in 1935) as one of France’s very first appellations — a fitting result for an idea that began in Champagne.

Fraud and phylloxera Two words that retain unpleasant associations for the people of Champagne but from which emerged the indestructible ties that bind the Champagne Growers and Houses together — proving that something good comes out of all bad things.
In the years that followed, responsibilty for viticultural research and the defence and promotion of the Champagne AOC, which had been driven by the Syndicat du Commerce for the past 60 years, was transferred to the Comité Interprofessionnel du Vin de Champagne (CIVC or Comité Champagne, founded in 1941.

The Syndicat du Commerce did meanwhile play a decisive role in consumer education, providing information about the specific characteristics of Champagne Grandes Marques.

Ever since the time of Louis XIV, each Grande Marque has worked continuously to promote the reputation of the Champagne terroir, in France and around the world. In the days when consumers were largely uninformed about Champagne, public events were sometimes held to acquaint people with the nature of its terroir, methods of production, etc.

The Universal Exhibition of 1889 was the opportunity to showcase a Champagne Grandes Marques pavilion — the first ever pavilion to be awarded First Prize by a President of France. A masterpiece of good taste and art, the pavilion featured J. F. Millet’s painting Les Glaneuses which had been acquired by Madame Pommery.

At the Universal Exhibition of 1989 the Champagne Grandes Marques pavilion dazzled visitors from all around the world, and was once again awarded First Prize by the President of France, Emile Loubet.

In the area of social welfare, the Syndicat du Commerce helped to fund the creation of the Société de Secours Mutuels which became the Corporation des Tonneliers) founded in Rheims in 1886 on behalf of coopers and cellar workers. It was the aim of this society to "guarantee its members medical treatment and financial support in time of sickness; short-term assistance in cases of invalidity; and in case of death, suitable funeral arrangements." In the minutes of its Annual General Meeting of 25 May 1887, Syndicate president Florens Walbaum expressed hope that this kind of association would not be restricted to the town of Rheims and promised that the Syndicate would lend its "sympathy and help" to mutual funds set up elsewhere in the department. Thereafter, two joint committees were set up in 1919, one in Rheims, the other in Epernay, each one designed to reflect the different earnings and social benefits in each location. The House of Moët & Chandon, won a gold medal at the Universal Exhibition of 1900 for its social initiatives: a free medical service, financial support for the sick, family support, housing, social finance, gardens, legal aid, pensions ... Since that time, salaried employees (vineyard workers, cellar workers and office workers) have enjoyed a level of welfare that is the envy of other workers.