The History of the Pol Roger Champagne House

"Remember gentlemen, it is not only for France that we are fighting, but also for champagne!" Winston Churchill is said to have declared in a speech intended to encourage his troops during World War II. One can imagine that the statesman felt that France deserved to be saved in large part because of the bubbles it produced.

Churchill loved theexcellent champagneparticularly the Pol Roger. If, as rumor has it, he actually drank two bottles a day from his first order in 1908 until his death, he consumed a total of 42,000 bottles. Add to that Johnnie Walker's little diluted morning shot, nicknamed "Papa's cocktail," aperitif Scotch whiskies, liquid meals and digestives topped off with a highball, and it's a miracle he made it to 90, let alone guided Britain through its "dark hours." However, like the 250,000 cigars he is said to have smoked, the estimates of his consumption are mostly to fuel the legend of an extraordinary man.

Pol Roger founded his House in the family village ofAÿ in 1849. Three years later, he moved to Épernay under the name of "Champagne Roger" and ran the company until his two sons took over. In 1899, Georges and Maurice, who adopted the name "Pol-Roger", inherited a flourishing business, which had been licensed as a royal supplier by Queen Victoria since 1877. Their best champagneserved in the grand hotels of the Champs-Élysées and the chic West End of London, was also served in the House of Commons, where Winston Churchill probably tasted it for the first time.

Mayor ofÉpernay, Maurice Pol-Roger saw his town invaded by the Germans on September 4, 1914. He was taken hostage and threatened with execution four times before the departure of the troops a week later, following the battle of the Marne.

Immediately, the House of Pol Roger and its friends at Perrier-Jouët began harvesting the grapes while the bombs were still ringing in the distance. Throughout the war, they did not miss a single harvest. Although Épernay was not as devastated as Reims, a hundred bombs fell on the village one summer day in 1917, and the entire population took refuge in the cellars of Pol Roger and Perrier-Jouët.

The link with Churchill would be strengthened during the following war, during a reception in Paris marking the liberation of the city, in August 1944. The great man was captivated by Odette Pol-Roger, Maurice's daughter-in-law and a socialite beauty. Were they simply good friends? i'm sure he liked her," says James Simpson, director of Pol Roger UK, "but it was just an autumn friendship without malice, as someone said. Churchill promised that if he were to be invited to what he considered "the most delectable address in the world," he would tread on the grapes with his bare feet. He never went to Epernay, but Odette made sure to send him a case of her favorite vintage (1928) on each of his birthdays, while stocks lasted. In her honor, he named his favorite racehorse Pol Roger.

In 1975, ten years after his death, the House paid tribute to him by publishing a vintage cuvee Sir Winston Churchill with a black border. It wasn't until 2003 that the House left mourning, when it regained the license as a British royal supplier that it had been stripped of in the 1930s. "However, even today, some old eccentric will complain about the disappearance of the black piping," says Simpson.

The family champagne house retains its independence, particularly because it owns 91 hectares of vineyards that provide half of its needs for a production of 1.6 million bottles. Simpson admits that marketing may be leaning too heavily on their famous client, but, he adds, "If everyone remembers Pol Roger as a family House and Churchill's favorite drink, that's already much better than most other champagnes."

The bottles of Champagne Pol Roger found after more than a century in the cellars.

On February 23, 1900, Pol Roger 's cellar in Epernay collapsed due to extremely cold and wet weather conditions that deteriorated the foundations. The basement collapsed and on the surface the ground went down some 4 meters. Some 1.5 million bottles and 500 casks were buried. Pol Roger's sons, Maurice and Georges, were hopeful that they would be able to dig the buried wine out of the rubble. However, after a similar accident on the neighboring property of Godart-Roger, they gave up their hopes.

It was almost 118 years later, during studies prior to the modernization of their production facilities on this same site, that the first intact bottle was brought up. Until now, there are about twenty bottles of champagne dating from 1887-1898 have been recovered. The contents of these bottles could still be intact according to the champagne house...

The story continues with a statement from Patrick Schmitt of Drinks Business, who describes the event as follows: " Yesterday, several months after the underground explorations were completed, it was decided to open the first historic, buried bottles and see what they looked like. Two wines were opened very gradually in Pol Roger'sbottling facility before being served later in his tasting room to a small group of press."

The question that never ceases to hold us in suspense remains: is the champagne from these excavations still "good"? Still according to this champagne enthusiast , Patrick Schmitt: "the first wine would be the youngest, probably from the 1897 vintage, because it was still on its lees, and would have undergone a secondary fermentation when the cellar collapsed." Pol Roger's cellar master, Damien Cambres, described the Champagne, which had lost its sparkle, as "containing aromas of spice and vanilla, comparing the nose and flavors of the wine to aged cognac. "
"The second, thought to be older , disgorged and dosed, seemed to have a little more 'volume' " according to Damien Cambres, with "an freshness extraordinary, citrus and exotic fruit." Both wines marveled at their character vividness and, despite their old condition, by the fact that they were still pleasant to drink.

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