Wine producing is a risky business
and the Champagne houses have always encouraged a ‘team spirit’ by
working together for the common good. This is how the concept
of sharing the benefits of champagne production between
shareholders, vine growers, employees and the local community
began. However it must never be forgotten that the product
must remain affordable for the customer.
battle against phylloxera
The Champagne houses first came together in 1879, when
they united to fight the curse of phylloxera, a devastating
disease which was affecting most vineyards at the time. The
vine-owning houses grouped their resources to fight the
disease forming the ‘Groupement de Vigilance Anti-Phylloxerique’.
1898 the group broadened its base, inviting other vine
growers to join and it became the ‘Association Viticole
Champenoise’ three years before the French government
gave such associations legal authority.
The Moët and
Chandon House provided a large building, called ‘Fort
Chabrol’, situated in the heart
of the vine-yards, for the association. Now a museum, ‘Fort
Chabrol’ stands as a tribute to the crucial research
into viticulture at the time and the training in grafting
methods given to vine growers, which is the only way of
avoiding this disease.
the ‘Champagne’ name
Commercially, the association strived tirelessly
to exploit the notoriety and popularity of the
fruits of their soil - dating from the days
of Louis XIV - both in France and across the globe.
At the 1889 World Fair, in Paris, the stand of
the Union of the Great Brands won first prize,
awarded by the President of the Republic. It was
regarded as a masterpiece of good taste and perfectly
highlighted J-F Millet’s painting ‘Les
Glaneurs’ which was subsequently bought
by Madame Pommery. Eleven years later another Champagne
stand at the World Fair, dedicated by the President
of the Republic Emile Loubet, won first prize again,
impressing visitors from all over the world.
The legal protection of the Appellation d’Origine
Controllée (AOC) Champagne brands
was another preoccupation of the association.
In September 1882 the idea of a ‘union’ to
promote the wines of the Champagne region was
launched, driven by the Mumm and Heidsieck houses,
with the aim of fighting forgery and the mis-use
of the ‘Champagne’ name. The ‘union’ established
contacts with all the French embassies and consulates
in Champagne-importing countries. As a result
it was able to collect information quickly, allowing
it to take diplomatic or legal action as required.
the years it was involved in a number of court cases to
reiterate that the word ‘Champagne’ could
only mean: ‘the place of origin of a natural product
from an important vineyard’ rather than ‘a
processing method, which produces sparkling wine from anywhere’.
1904 the Russian Imperial Administration banned, at the
union’s request, the activity of a company based
in Odessa which was fraudulently using the brand name: ‘Champagne
Henri Roederer, Reims’.
These frequent diplomatic and legal interventions also
limited and even frustrated the aims of some countries
who wanted to reduce Champagne imports by means of complex
regulations or, more simply, increased customs duty.
the name ‘Champagne’ hadn’t been
protected at this time, it would have fallen into the public
domain (like the names of many other quality French products)
and it would then have been too late to do anything about
regulation of wine production in the Champagne
region was initially devised by the Syndicat de Grandes
Marques and the representatives of the wine-growers
of the period. In 1911 the first Champagne ‘appellation’ area
was defined along with a ranking of the Champagne vintages.
first world war suspended this process for a time, but
after the conflict there was an expansion of the scheme
which has led to the detailed regulations of the present
Responsibility for research into all aspects of wine
production, as well as the work to promote the Champagne
appellation, which had been managed by the great brands
and the Champagne houses themselves since 1882, was transferred
to a new body in 1942 to emphasise the partnership between
wine makers and wine growers. The UMC as we know it today
Stop the abuse!
Stop the abuse!
and social patronage
the workforce has always been at the heart
of the Champagne houses’ activity since 1886, when
they contributed financially to the setting up of an organisation
to support cellar workers (Sociète de Secours
Mutuel des Ouvriers des Caves de Reims). Two more
joint committees emerged around this time, one in Reims
and one in Epérnay, because each area had different
salary structures and social benefits. Moët
even won a gold medal at the World Fair in Paris in 1900
for its social provision which encompassed free medical
services, aid for sick workers, family aid, housing, loans,
gardens, legal aid and pensions. At this time employees
of the Champagne houses enjoyed a package of social measures
which were the envy of other workers.
The contribution the Champagne houses have made
to the social fabric of the region can be seen today
by the Auban
Hôtel Historique de la Mutalité at
, recognising its commitment to mutual insurance
as well as the important Roederer
holiday centre on the Ile de Ré, provided
, is another example.
This commitment to social dialogue allowed the Champagne
industry to avoid being caught out in 1936, during the
period of the left wing Front Populaire (Popular
Front) government, as well as enabling it to come to agreements
with the trade unions more quickly than in other industries.
This commitment is still in place today, evidenced by the
generous salary levels and favourable social benefits,
negotiated with the trade unions. At the heart of this
process is a tripartite commission – representing
the employers and relevant trade unions - which
agrees the terms and conditions of employment of all workers.
The cultural patronage of the Champagne Houses can be
seen around the world in disciplines as varied as the arts,
literature and sport. However, it is becoming more and
more difficult for this to happen because of the legal
straitjacket imposed by the ‘Loi Evin’ (1991)
which aims to reduce alcohol and tobacco consumption, thus
limiting the ways in which businesses of this type can
the Champagne Houses which completed work on the restoration
of Reims cathedral, Americains set
in train by our generous American allies after
its destruction during the second world war. They have
contributed to the monumental stained glass window (Simon
1954), the repair of the bell and clock (1988), the spectacular
light show projected onto the cathedral in 1985 and the
renovation of the statuettes above the main door from 1992-1997. In
1970 another stained glass window in Reims cathedral – conceived
by Marc Chagall – was installed with money raised
by regional businesses, brought together under the presidency
of René Blondel.
1898, the Mumm house, of its own accord, gave the Japanese
artist Fujita the opportunity to create a chapel which
can still be visited today, while the Roederer house presented
the town of Reims with a statue to commemorate the 15th
centenary of the baptism of Clovis by Saint Rémi.
Madame Pommery, who bought the famous painting ‘Le
Glaneurs’ by Jean-François Millet, donated
the work of art to the Louvre museum after it had been
exhibited at the stand at the 1889 World Fair. The Pommerys
were not only known for their cultural patronage: in 1912
they were responsible for the ‘first great sporting
patronage in France’ when they opened a public recreation
ground on the hill at Saint-Nicaise.
This tradition of patronage was recently maintained by
the Veuve Clicquot house, when the president Joseph Henriot
and the cellar manager Charles Delaye raised the funds
to restore the organ in the Saint-Rémi basilica,
which was destroyed in 1914. In July 2004, the stone statue
of the ‘Beau Dieu’ was restored to its former
glory thanks to the generosity of the Taittinger house.
The UMC donated a painting by Charles-Auguste Herbé,
depicting the family of Jean-Nicolas Houzeau-Muiron (Reims
1801-1844), to the Vergeur museum in Reims. An industrialist
and member of parliament, he was responsible for the first
gas street lighting in Reims.
role of the UMC today - ‘May the best brand
roots of the UMC can be traced back to 1882 when the great
brands formed an organisation called the Syndicat
du Commerce des Vins de Champagne, then latterly the Syndicat
de Grandes Marques, based in Reims under the presidency
of Florens Walbaum from the Heidsieck company. Its role
was to defend and promote their collective interests.
In 1942 the interests of all Champagne producers were
united under the banner of the l’Union des Maisons
de Champagnes (UMC), although the smaller Champagne
houses formed their own organisation, based in Épernay,
in 1943, while still allowing the UMC to represent its
interests. Each body retained is separate identity until
1994 when they finally merged leaving the UMC as the sole
representative of the collective interests of all Champagne
houses. Since then membership of this statutory professional
body, has been open to any business – there are around
100 members at present – whose main role is to blend
selected grapes into wines and market their brand throughout
the world. In other words a ‘maison’ or
It is important to note that membership of the UMC is not
open to simple ‘wine-makers’ who produce their
own wines solely using their own grape stock. A Champagne
house will blend grapes from a variety of sources to ensure
the consistent quality of its product from year to year.