There’s no more prosecco – drink champagne instead!

Good news from Italy. Last year’s harvest of the Glera grape was poor. This one is looking worse.

Glera is the main grape in Prosecco. Now: here at Cambridge Champagne Company we are an open-minded lot. We don’t mind the odd glass of cheaper, inferior fizz. The contrast with the astonishing quality of our best-selling Brut Réserve is a comfort to us. But last year was a bit much. Prosecco sales overtook those of champagne for the first time! Naturally, this has to be stopped. It’s the first time since the Roman Empire that the Italians have successfully invaded anywhere.

It’s good to see that God is a woman who likes her champagne. The bad harvest will mean prosecco prices will rise and everyone will see that, relatively-speaking, Prosecco is to Champagne what Mr. Bean is to George Clooney.

So next time you’re thinking Prosecco, think Champagne Dominique Boulard instead.

(Incidentally, last year’s harvest of champagne grapes was spectacularly good, and this year may be even better – so our delicious Brut Réserve may beat even more of the world’s most famous brands in blind tastings than it does now.)

Addio, Prosecco.

Christmas in La Champagne: Giant Serpent eats Baby Squid in Épernay!

 

Most people don’t realise that the Champagne Region is an easy day trip from Paris or under three hours by car from Calais. And December is a wonderful time to visit.

In Reims, they don’t have a Christmas market, they have an entire Christmas village, packed with ‘chalets’ selling local treats, gifts, and plenty of Champagne of course.

While it’s just one weekend event in December (12-14th this year), the Habits de Lumière in Épernay is amazing. The Avenue de Champagne, normally a destination for champagne tastings, transforms into a winter wonderland of lights, animations and insane mega puppets, and the Champagne houses throw huge street parties with incredible food.

In addition, forty villages between Reims and Épernay host spectacular Nativity scenes and local Christmas markets.

Here is last year’s Habits de Lumière. Anyone would think they’d been drinking.

La Champagne in The Second World War #2: The Champagne Führer – The CIVC, The Resistance, and The Uncomfy Chair

 

Following the surrender of France on 22 June 1940, the major winegrowing regions were placed under charge of a ‘weinführer’, with a mandate to supply the Third Reich with copious quantities of wine. In Champagne, the man appointed for this task was Otto Klaebisch. Born in Cognac to the family firm of Matteüs-Müller, the Champenois were initially relieved to learn that ‘The Champagne Führer’ (as they nicknamed him) had actually been involved in the wine trade. As one said: ‘If you were going to be shoved around, it was better to be shoved around by a winemaker than by some beer-drinking Nazi lout.’ Little did they know.

Herr Klaebisch was bad-tempered and callous. After one look at the château of Veuve Clicquot-Ponsardin, he kicked out the family and moved in. Because he demanded that the Champenois should cough up 400,000 bottles per week for The third Reich, winemakers were compelled to mislabel and conceal as much of their stock as they could. Some built fake walls in their cellars. Others adulterated their champagne. Twenty year-old François Taittinger was summoned by Klaebisch, furious that Taittinger had submitted inferior bottlings. ‘How dare you send us fizzy dishwater!’ he shouted. Taittinger retorted: ‘Who cares? It’s not as if it’s going to be drunk by people who know anything about Champagne!’ He was immediately jailed.

Count Robert-Jean de Vogüé united and helped to protect his fellow producers by founding the Comité Interprofessionnel du Vin de Champagne (CIVC). As head of Moët & Chandon, with links to some of Europe’s most powerful families, de Vogüé was just about the only person to whom the weinführer ever displayed any deference. Klaesbich was forced to negotiate with the CIVC.

The French Resistance were extremely active in the Marne département. They became aware that major Champagne shipments to a specific part of Europe or Africa tended to precede a significant German offensive. In late 1941 one enormous order included the strange request that bottles be specially corked and packed so that they could be sent to ‘a very hot country’. That country was Egypt, where General Rommel was about to begin his North African campaign. Naturally, the Resistance passed along this to British intelligence in London, undoubtedly contributing to Rommel’s defeat by Montgomery at El-Alamein.

 Rommell & champers

The Desert Fox learns that champagne corks are being popped by the British 😉

There were other ways of resisting. The Champagne Führer was greedy and fat. At Bollinger, Madame Jacques found a uniquely subtle way to manage his bloated volatility. Receiving Klaebisch with courtesy and dignity, she offered him an armchair so narrow that it was unable to accommodate his enormous girth, compelling him to stand uncomfortably throughout his visit. For the remainder of the occupation he never called on Bollinger again, and the uncomfy chair remains in pride of place at the house today.

La Champagne in the Second World War #1: Occupation & Capitulation

 

In June 1940 the German Army swept into France from the Aisne to the Seine and crossed the Marne without meeting serious resistance. Despite appalling destruction in places like Châlons-sur-Marne, the vineyards were spared under four years of German occupation.

The production of champagne continued mainly because the Germans required a supply for their army and to use as currency in their exchanges with neutral countries. On their arrival in Champagne they carried out prélèvements incontrôlés (‘uncontrolled levies’) which resulted in the disappearance from the merchants’ cellars of millions of bottles. The occupation authorities established an office in Rheims charged with the coordination of German purchases and the fixing of levies. It was run by Otto Klaebisch, nicknamed ‘The Champagne Führer’ (who will be the subject of a dedicated blog). The levies continued, but they were carried out in an orderly fashion; the merchants were paid and they were free to sell the surplus in France and to the neutral countries.

By the end of 1943 the Resistance became active in Champagne and the Germans hardened their attitude. Having been tipped off that an organisation existed within Moët & Chandon, they arrested those in charge; Paul Chandon-Moët was deported to Auschwitz and Robert-Jean de Vogüé, who was condemned to death and incarcerated in a fortress, narrowly escaped execution. Numerous merchants and vine growers were deported, amongst them Bertrand de Vogüé, president-director-general of Vve Clicquot Ponsardin. Piper-Heidsieck was put under sequestration when English Army parachutes were discovered in their cellars.

Epernay and Rheims were liberated on 28 and 30 August 1944 by the Third Army under General Patton. There was tremendous gratitude amongst the people of Champagne towards the architects of the victory, Churchill, de Gaulle and Eisenhower, who had his headquarters at the end of the war in the Lycée Moderne et Technique in Rheims, where the capitulation of Germany was signed on 7 May 1945.

German surrender

General Alfred Jodl signs the instrument of surrender

Is Bigger Better?

 

Many Champagne enthusiasts claim that the differences between a magnum (1.5 litres) of Champagne and smaller bottles are not limited to size. Magnum photoAccording to them, Champagne that has been aged in a magnum bottle tends to be of better quality than that which has been aged in standard ones.

This difference in quality, they argue, is due to the fact that Champagne stored in larger bottles is exposed to less air than that stored in small bottles, and as a result ages at a slower rate.

Whatever: a magnum is a party in a single bottle. Share one with your friends and find out for yourself whether bigger means better!

 

 

 

 

We sell magnums (1.5 litres) of Cuvée Réserve at £54.60 each or at a discounted price of £150 for a case of three (including VAT).

To order, please email info@camcham.co.uk

The Original Champagne Charlie, The Heidsieck Incident – and Tommy Trinder

 

In 1811 Charles-Henri Heidsieck rode into Moscow on a white stallion, just ahead of Napoleon’s advancing army. He arrived with cases of his Champagne and his order book, ready to celebrate with whichever side won the upcoming battle.

His more famous son Charles Camille Heidsieck (1822-93) was equally opportunistic. In 1852 he visited the United States, immediately grasped the potential of the American market and retained an agent. The mass import of Heidsieck Champagne that followed was a roaring success. When Heidsieck returned five years later, he was greeted in New York City with massive newspaper coverage and banquets in his honour. He became known as ‘Champagne Charlie’, a persona he nurtured carefully every time he visited, becoming a fixture of the New York high society scene.

In 1861 the United States Civil War began. With more than half of his company’s assets tied up in unpaid accounts in the US, Heidsieck quickly left Reims and set sail for the US. Upon arrival, he was informed by his sales agent that a new law passed by Congress aimed at absolving Northerners from having to give payment for cotton purchased from the South, also absolved the agent from having to pay his debt to Heidsieck!

Heidsieck immediately left for New Orleans to seek repayment directly from the merchants that had received his champagne. But because of the war, Heidsieck had to travel in secrecy. Upon arrival in April 1862, he found a bankrupt city. One merchant had a warehouse full of cotton that was in high demand in Europe due to the shortages caused by the Union blockade, so Heidsieck accepted the cotton as payment and tried to smuggle it out of the port of Mobile, Alabama. Despite ordering the ships to take different routes in the hope that at least one would make it past the blockade, both were intercepted and sunk.

By this time, all routes to the North were completely sealed so Heidsieck returned to New Orleans and attempted to charter a boat to Mexico or Cuba in hopes of making it back to Europe. To facilitate his passage, the French consul in Mobile gave him a diplomatic pouch with a request to deliver some documents to the consulate in New Orleans. Arriving in New Orleans on 5 May 1862, he found that the city had fallen to Union forces and was captured by General Benjamin F. Butler.

What Heidsieck didn’t know was that within his diplomatic pouch were documents from French textile manufacturers detailing the supply of the Confederate armies with uniforms! Despite Heidsieck’s pleas of ignorance about the documents, he was charged with spying against the Union and imprisoned in Fort Jackson, Louisiana.

The consequent diplomatic incident between the French and US government became known as the Heidsieck Incident. French diplomats and even Napoleon III contacted President Abraham Lincoln to campaign for Heidsieck’s release, which was finally granted on 16 November 1862. By this time, he was in frail health, with a bankrupt business and his wife selling off family property to pay debts. Heidsieck returned to France, demoralized and broke.

Then his luck changed. In early 1863 Heidsieck was approached by an American missionary with a letter from the brother of his former agent in New York. The man was so ashamed of how his brother cheated Heidsieck that he offered him deeds to land in Colorado as a means of repayment. The deeds accounted for a third of a small village known as: Denver.

Denver was in the process of becoming one of the largest and wealthiest cities in the American West. In a few years, Heidsieck was able to sell the land, repay all his debts, and invest his new personal fortune in re-establishing his champagne as one of Champagne’s premier houses.

The notoriety of “Champagne Charlie” was increased by a music hall song from 1866 with music by Alfred Lee and lyrics by George Leybourne. It was one of Leybourne’s most famous songs and he himself would later be nicknamed Champagne Charlie.

Here is Tommy Trinder leading the chorus from the eponymous film of 1944:

Finally, two bizarre footnotes: ‘Champagne Charlie’ was sung by the crowd at the public execution of Michael Barrett in 1868, the last public execution in Great Britain; and the melody of the original song was adapted by The Salvation Army for their hymn, “Bless His Name, He Sets Me Free”.

 

True stories from La Champagne 1914-1918 #5: The Second Battle of the Marne – The Turning of The Tide

 
The Second Battle of the Marne, or The Battle of Reims (15 July – 6 August 1918) was the last major German Spring Offensive on the Western Front during the First World War. The German attack failed when an Allied counterattack led by French forces and including several hundred tanks overwhelmed the Germans on their right flank, inflicting severe casualties. The German defeat marked the start of the relentless Allied advance which culminated in the Armistice 97 days later.

Here is another educational ten minutes from the BBC documenting the battle and why it was so important to the final Allied victory, featuring more original footage, WW1 veterans and commentary by Sir Ralph Richardson:

True Stories From La Champagne 1914-1918 #4: The Miracle of The Marne

 
The Battle of the Marne (5–12 September 1914) was the culmination of the German advance into France and pursuit of the Allied armies which followed the Battle of the Frontiers in August, which had reached the eastern outskirts of Paris. The counter-attack by six French field armies and the British Expeditionary Force along the river Marne forced the German Imperial Army to abandon its push on Paris and retreat north-west, leading to the ‘Race to the Sea’.

The Battle of the Marne (afterwards christened the Miracle of the Marne) was a victory for the Allies, but set the stage for four years of trench warfare on the Western Front.

Here is an excellent ten minutes from the BBC documenting the battle and its background, featuring WW1 veterans and a commentary by Sir Ralph Richardson:

True stories from La Champagne 1914-1918 #3: The five lost villages

 

On November 11th 2014 the military authorities of the department of the Marne will open the army training estate of Suippes in an attempt to preserve the forgotten stories of the lost villages of the Champagne-Ardenne region.

From September 1914 to 1918 the five villages of Hurlus, Perthe-les-Hurlus, le Mesnil-les-Hurlus, Tahure and Ripont were all on the frontline.

They were totally destroyed. Their inhabitants fled, never to return.

In accordance with the law of April 17th, 1919, the French state bought various tracts of land on the sites of First World War frontline areas, which were considered too dangerous and too expensive to redevelop due to the presence of unexploded weapons. The area comprising the five villages was designated a ‘zone rouge’ and turned over to the French army as a military training ground, covering an area larger than Paris. The villages were never rebuilt.

Today, the landscape is scarred with trenches and crater mines. Only a few remaining walls and ruins of the local churches serve as a painful and intriguing reminder of the destroyed villages’ lives.

le mesnil les hurlus

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

All that remains of the village of le Mesnil-les-Hurlus

Fabulous, Fizzing Floyd #2

 

We’ve just watched the Champagne episode of Floyd Uncorked (1998), in which our hero, having pointed out that there is no cuisine native to La Champagne, proceeds to cook the most extravagant dishes using Le Champagne.

Don’t try to cook this at home – you won’t be able to afford it anyhow – but enjoy that special, bonkers Floyd touch:

(If you just want the cooking bit, cut the first two minutes and last four; if you want to learn some stuff about bubbly, watch the lot)