Origins, history and objectives:
the great brands and Champagne houses since 1882

I - "Unity is strength." II The UMC today
11 - The battle against phylloxera 21 - Origins
12 - Protecting the ‘Champagnename 22 - Team work
13 - Community patronage 23 - Partnership
14 - Cultural patronage 24 - Impartial advice and information
  25 - Industrial relations
  26 - Regional and national engagement

"Unity is strength"

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.

 The 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’.
In 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.

 Protecting 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.

 Over 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’.

 In 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.

If 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 it.

The 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.

The 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 day.

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 was born.

1984 SEITA
1993 YSL
 2001 Caron

Caption: Stop the abuse!

Caption: Stop the abuse!
Caption: Stop the abuse!

 Community and social patronage
  Helping 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 and Chandon, 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 Moët Hospital at Epèrnay, the Hôtel Historique de la Mutalité at Reims, recognising its commitment to mutual insurance as well as the important Roederer retirement home. The holiday centre on the Ile de Ré, provided by Taittinger, 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 commissionrepresenting the employers and relevant trade unions  -  which agrees the terms and conditions of employment of all workers.

Cultural patronage
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 promote themselves.
 It was 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.


Bronze de Bavozet - 1824

In 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.

"The role of the UMC today - ‘May the best brand win!’"

 The 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 Champagne ‘house’.
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.

The UMC is the means by which Champagne brands, regardless of their relative importance – from the small family House to the large international groups – and the owners of the vines work together. The UMC invests significant sums into researching the whole wine production process from vine to table, as well as promoting and defending the Champagne brand across the world.

The UMC maintains a constant dialogue with the wine-producers’ union (le Syndicat Général des Vignerons ()) and this rock-solid partnership sets out the professional relationship between the producers, who market two thirds of the Champagne ‘appellation’ and the vine-owners, who control 90% of the vineyards and are therefore a crucial supplier to the Champagne houses. They work together within the framework of the Inter-Professional Committee for Champagne Wines (CIVC) to decide common policy, to protect and increase the value of the Champagne brand and to invest in research to maintain and improve wine quality.

 Impartial advice and information
 The UMC provides information and advice to its members across a range of areas, such as regulation, exports and industrial relations. Each company is responsible for developing its own brand, both in terms of its marketing strategy and the development of its wines, according to the rules of the global free market. In France especially, as consumers know and trust the long-established Champagne brand, collective promotion would not only be a waste of time and money, but might even diminish the specific characteristics which individually define different brands. Small, medium or large, each brand exploits its own particular vintages, while developing together – for more than two hundred years now - the fame of the Champagne brand worldwide. It is also collectively that the Champagne houses can continue – together with the vine-growers within the CIVC framework – to produce information for consumers and defend the word ‘Champagne’ as one of the oldest and original brands.

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 Good industrial relations
 In the field of industrial relations, the great brands and Champagne houses have evolved their generous patronage of years gone by into a modern negotiating body which agrees the terms and condition of workers. The Commission Tripartite is an organisation which brings together the employers and the union representatives of vine workers, cellar workers and office staff. They negotiate the terms of employment, social benefits and the relatively generous salary structure for the sector. These general terms and conditions are often improved on still further by other complementary benefits offered by individual employers, which accounts for the invariably harmonious working relations within each company.

 Regional and national engagement
 The UMC is also represented on a number of bodies across the agriculture, food and drink industry. It is a member of the Confederation of French Managers (MEDEF), playing an active role. It also belongs to local management organisations, as well as attending the national meetings of the Great French Wine Companies (Enterprises de Grands Vin de France) including the likes of Bordeaux, Bourgogne and Côtes du Rhône and the Exporters’ Federation.

 Below is a list of the Presidents of the Union of the Great Brands and Champagne Houses since it was set up

Presidents ()
Managing Directors
Président Ghislain de MONTGOLFIER
Vice-président Jean-Marie BARILLERE
Yves BÉNARD (Moët & Chandon et Vve Clicquot)
From spring 1994, Union of the Champagne Houses - UMC - gather the whole of the Champagne Houses and their Large Marks. Under the presidency

Union of the Great
Union of the Great Brands and Champagne
of the Champagne House
1993 Jean-Michel DUCELLIER


The Epernay-based representatives of the smaller champagne houses allowed the UMC to represent all brands

The creation of UMC during the second world war allowed the great brands and houses to form a common alliance against the occupying forces
Florens WALBAUM (Heidsieck)
Dès 1882 (deux ans avant la loi sur les Syndicats), les Maisons de champagne se regroupent pour :
- lutter contre les usurpations du mot « Champagne », abusivement utilisée par de nombreux vins mousseux,
- organiser la lutte des Vignerons contre le phylloxéra.