5 stories of great champagne houses that you shouldn’t miss

Who doesn’t have eyes that light up when presented with a glass of champagne?
Regardless of its different qualities, champagne is always associated with glamour and elegance, but it is also steeped in great history and tales. Today we are looking at 5 wineries that have contributed to spreading the international fame of this sparkling French delicacy.

champagne

Moët & Chandon
“In victory you deserve to drink champagne; In defeat, you need it!”.
Napoleon Bonaparte.

Moët & Chandon is perhaps the best known champagne brand worldwide. It has the largest vineyard and one of the largest wineries in the region. The entrance is home to a sculpture of Dom Pérignon, the famous Benedictine monk who, as the story goes, exclaimed “I am drinking stars!” when he took the first sip of what would later be known as champagne.
The maison has a 28 km labyrinth of tunnels excavated under The Champagne Avenue in Épernay, through calcareous soils that are so typical of the area.
Did you know that Napoleon Bonaparte was the first to visit the Moët & Chandon cellars? That was in 1807.
In 2019, the winery celebrates its 150th anniversary. The Moët story began in 1869, when they decided to make their “Imperial Brut” champagne as a tribute to the relationship established in 1801 between Napoleon Bonaparte and Jean-Remy Moët, grandson of the maison founder.

Taittinger
“Give me Taittinger blanc de blancs… It is not well known, but it is the best champagne in the world…”
James Bond, in “Casino Royale” (1951) by Ian Fleming

They say that Theobald IV “The Minstrel”, who was king of Navarra and count of Champagne and Brie, was in love with Blanca de Castilla, who was the queen consort and mother of King Louis IX of France.
Theobald, to show loyalty to the king, joined the 1239 crusade, and when he returned from the East he brought back two treasures: a Damask rose and a vine of an unknown strain that may have been a predecessor of the Chardonnay variety. During this time, the story began of Taittinger and their relationship with the Counts of Champagne, who gave their name to the maison’s most prestigious cuvée, with permission from the last descendant of the Counts, and whose former residence has been in the hands of Taittinger since 1932.
The neck of every bottle from this mythical winery is the sealed with an image of the minstrel.

The maison is located in the crypts of the former Saint Nicaise Abbey, in Reims, 18 meters below ground, and is one of the “Coteaux, Maisons et Caves de Champagne” on the UNESCO world heritage list.

Veuve Clicquot
The name Barbe-Nicole Ponsardin may not ring any bells, but she was the first woman to run a Champagne house. What if we told you that she is the famous Veuve (widow) Clicquot?

The Clicquot widow, also known as “The Great Lady of Champagne”, was a bold, intelligent and brave woman who took risks and who, at the age of just 27, took over her husband’s wine business when he died and not only saved it from bankruptcy but managed to innovate and make improvements. She invented “riddling tables”, the unmistakable pupitres that are still used today to force foamy sediments into the neck of the bottle, making them easier to remove. This turned champagne into a crystal clear drink.

Now the famous yellow label champagne is a benchmark of quality worldwide. Veuve Clicquot has 395 hectares of vineyards of exceptional classification and spectacular wineries excavated in limestone in the Saint Nicaise hills in Reims, with about 24 km of tunnels (the Reims crayères) classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Pommery
Madame Louise Pommery was the author of success for Pommery Champagne. “The Lady of the Roses” as she was also known, took charge of the company in 1860, when her husband passed away, and is considered one of the key figures in the history of champagne.

La Maison Pommery was one of the pioneers in using the network of crayères or crayons of Reims, a network of underground tunnels carved into the limestone that is so typical of the Champagne region to store and age the wine in a cool, dark place and at a constant temperature. The Pommery Champagne winery has 120 crayères that connect 18 km of galleries, accessed through a beautiful staircase of 116 steps. This is the maison where Champagne becomes art because the galleries are decorated with immense bas-relief sculpted directly into the soft chalk of the crayères by the artist Gustave Navlet.

Another of Madame Pommery’s contributions was the creation of Brut champagne.
At that time, sweet or semi-sweet tastes dominated in sparkling wines and it was Madame Pommery who decided to introduce something new to the market: dry champagne. That was how the Pommery Nature 1874 was born, which instantly became a classic and had many following in her footsteps.

The Domaine Vranken-Pommery sits in a beautiful Elizabethan-style estate, just a few steps from Reims Cathedral.

Bollinger
Renaudin-Bollinger & Cie was founded in Aÿ, in 1829. In 1941 Elisabeth Law of Lauriston Bourber, better known as Lily Bollinger, took over the business after the death of her husband, Jacques Bollinger.

Lily Bollinger had no children. She led a quiet life, riding bikes through the Champagne vineyards until she was thrown into the business world, which was dominated by men. Lily increased production by buying more vineyards and turned Bollinger into the great Champagne maison that it is today.
She was a lovely woman and, during her numerous visits abroad, her natural grace charmed people wherever she went. She was also an excellent strategist and a fearless businesswoman. It was the precursor of the famous Bollinger Cuvée R. D. (Récemment Dégorgé), a long-aged champagne that reaches the market soon after disgorging.
Bollinger is synonymous with elegance and, while it is true that Taittinger is James Bond’s favourite champagne in Ian Fleming’s novels, Bollinger has also taken advantage of this famous English spy for marketing purposes, where it makes an appearance as 007’s favourite sparkling tipple. So much so that to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the James Bond film debut, the maison launched a limited edition, the Bollinger 002 for 007 (La Grande Année 2002, the most exceptional vintage of the decade and the only one that could meet the standard of quality that Bond demands).

If after this tour of some of the most famous and mythical Champagne houses you are still not sure when to open a bottle of champagne, here is some wisdom from Lily Bollinger to help you out:
“I drink it when I’m happy and when I’m sad. Sometimes I drink it when I’m alone. When I have company, it’s a must. I eat with it when I’m not hungry and I drink it when I am. I don’t drink it at any other time, unless I’m thirsty.”
It couldn’t be more straightforward! :)

 

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