The History of the Champagne House Moët & Chandon
It is often said that every six seconds, someone in the world opens a bottle of Moët & Chandon. The exact sales figure is a closely guarded secret, but sales of Möet Impérial brut non-vintage must be well over twenty million bottles per year.
Moët is inevitably imperial. It is the flagship wine of the Louis Vuitton-Moët-Hennessy group (LVMH) and the leading champagne on the market. It is directly linked to the Emperor Napoleon, who was first the client and then the friend of Jean-Rémy Moët, the grandson of Claude Moët, founder of the House in 1743. Moët & Chandon was the first company to start producing champagne in a region that had long been devoted to still wines, and Claude Moët supplied the court of Versailles during the time of Madame de Pompadour, Louis XV's favorite and a great lover of bubbles.
Jean-Rémy Moët took over the business in 1792 in the middle of the French Revolution. Despite its proximity to the Ancien Régime, the company survived: in the revolutionary courts, people sipped champagne while sentencing people to death good champagne while sentencing people to the guillotine. In 1801, Jean-Rémy supplied Napoleon and Josephine with champagne. The following year, he became mayor of Épernay.
Napoleon bought champagne every time he passed through Épernay on his way to the battlefields. To welcome them properly, Jean-Rémy had a replica of the Petit Trianon built in front of his house, on the future Avenue de Champagne. In 1814, he received the Legion of Honor for his participation in the organization of the defense and resistance of Épernay against the Russian Cossacks, which allowed Napoleon to reach the village before the allied armies. He will also open his cellars to house the reserves of his neighbors.
Jean-Rémy Moët died in 1841, leaving the company to his son, Victor Moët, and his son-in-law, Count Pierre-Gabriel Chandon, who had bought the ruined Hautvillers Abbey and its vineyards some twenty years earlier. At the turn of the 20th century, visitors to the champagne factory in Épernay were astonished by its industrial dimension: it employed 1,500 people. In 1902, George Kessler, the firm's American agent, boasted of a record level of imports with a total of 102,000 cases, or more than a quarter of Moët's worldwide sales. He organized lavish parties in New York and London: once, he flooded the courtyard of the Savoy to create a Venetian lagoon populated by swans, ducks and sea trout. At that party, Enrico Caruso serenaded the guests as they drank vintage champagne aboard a gigantic gondola. At the end of the evening, a huge cake was brought by... a baby elephant.
LVMH Group's sustainability assured
After this tremendous peak in consumption, the brand declined until a distant cousin took it over in 1932. It seems unlikely that Count Robert-Jean de Vogüé could save the House: he apparently prefers scotch to champagne, which he is said to drink diluted in soda water. However, he proved to be a dynamic and innovative director. He was bold enough to launch in 1936 the luxurious cuvée prestige Dom Pérignon despite the economic situation. Representing the champagne industry during the war, he had to deal with the führer of champagne, Otto Klaebisch. It was he who negotiated a six-fold increase in the price of grapes to help the harvesters and ensure the sustainability of champagne.
According to Moët marketing director Arnaud de Saignes, Vogüé was one of the first business leaders to understand the impact of public relations and the power of stars. Maurice Chevalier, considered for a time the highest paid actor in Hollywood, was courted in the hope of bringing some of his fame to the company's products. The company soon expanded: it acquired Ruinart in 1963, then Mercier, Veuve Clicquot and finally Krug in 1999. Today, LVMH represents about one fifth of all champagne and about two thirds of the U.S. market.
For Saignes, the reason the house has 1,180 hectares of vineyards, which covers more than a fifth of its needs, is because bigger is better. Benoît Gouez, the brand's respected cellar master, insists that quality and quantity are not mutually exclusive in the champagne business. The scale of production at Mont Aigu, in the brand new winery on the Côte des Blancs, is astounding, as is the digital and laser technology used on site. The LVMH group inspires respect in its competitors, to whom it certainly also scares a little. It is said that it intends to increase its production from 60 to 100 million bottles.