The vine and the Champagne during the 20th century
1908, birth of the « Champagne délimitée »
The first quarter of the 20th century is for both the vineyard and the “Maisons de Champagne” a particularly critical time. Surviving requires all the winemakers’ tenacity combined with the merchants’ dynamism.
In 1908 both parties obtain by common action the signature of a decree which defines the departments of Marne and Aisne to bethe exclusive area from which the wines must come to be called “champagne”. It is the birth of the "Champagne délimitée."
But the phylloxera crisis is in full swing and the harvests decrease. In 1910, as a result of bad weather conditions, the harvest is almost nonexistent.
The champagne winemakers whose misery is deep resent the production of champagne in other areas, which they judge abusive. In 1911 bustles and riots, especially around Aÿ and Epernay, require the intervention of the troops.
Then comes World War I to which the Champagne region pays double tribute: it loses many of its men and the land serves as a battlefield. The vineyards are furrowed with trenches, gutted by shells. Poison gas comes into the Montagne de Reims, ruining the vines. There is no more labour, fertilizer, processing means. In the cities, all businesses are exposed to bombing. However Epernay bombed by air, and Reims distant of only 1500 meters from the line of fire, still produce champagne.
But after five years of survival, the damage is huge: 40% of the vineyard has disappeared and what remainsis in poor condition.Stocks have been partially looted in the cellars and almost all the buildings on the surface have been knocked down.
Rebirth of the vineyard and improvements in wine growing
The necessity of reorganizing the vineyard lead to group the vines in areas where geographical conditions and microclimates were best suited to a quality production.
Thanks to new fertilizers, new discovery in the fight against insects and disease and to more rational ways of working, vine cultivation rapidly improves. The vines are not anymore planted "in crowd". They are now planted in rows allowing the passage of the first carriages and later of the clearance tractors.
The cooperative movement which started in the twenties keeps on expending.
The July 1927 Law establishes the boundaries of the Champagne vineyards
To be entitled to the appellation "Champagne", the law specifies the area from which both the grapes and the wine must come from. It severely restricts the allowed varieties and systems of pruning, the conditions of harvesting and handling, and the method of natural fermentation in the bottle.
Setting up of the AVC - wine growers get organized to face the crisis
Initially established (1898) to fight phylloxera, the “Association ViticoleChampenoise” concentrated on improving the vineyard. They encouraged and coordinated the efforts of scientists, those of the great Maisons de Champagne and those of wine cooperatives.
But while the vineyard has finally found a balance compromise which would last for fifty years, the global economic crisis of the thirties questions everything. The grapes do not sell well or do not sell at all; the winegrowers are sometimes at the edge of poverty. Therefore many of them decide to produce champagne on their own and with their own grapes, and not anymore with the cooperative.
1941, the birth of an inter-professional organization
Prosperity has only just returned when World War II brings again difficulties of all kinds to the vineyard and to the trade. So, in 1941, the “ComitéInterprofessionnel du Vin de Champagne » is created.This semi-public organization is intended to manage the common interests of winegrowers and traders; one of its core functions is to enforce the 1927 Law and to ensure that the rules justifying the name "Champagne" are respected too.
The winemaking is modernizing
War is over, peace is back. Basements and cellars are being modernized with the constant aim to keep the quality of the wine intact. The use of forklifts and pallet display is spreading throughout the cellars. Barrels are partly replaced, first with glass and cement tanks and then with stainless steel tanks. Cellars start being equipped with refrigeration facilities which provide better control of the first fermentation.
“Tirage”, disgorgement, dosing, sealing and dressing are more and more mechanized. When bottling, the use of crowned cap allows gradual adoption of automatic draining. Automatic shifting is a success. At the same time, other related industries such as glass, cork and packaging manufactures are expanding throughout the Champagne region
Champagne wine, the symbol of prestige and festivities
Until World War I, thanks to a prosperous peace, the 20th century saw the commercial expansion that began in the late nineteenth century being confirmed.
Champagne wine soon finds its place in family life. In 1910, annual shipments are approaching 40 million bottles. After the market disruptions caused by the two World Wars, in 1955 shipments are still the same. But again the economic conditions improve and in 1971 shipments exceed 100 million bottles. Nowadays they are close to 339 million bottles.
Domestic consumption grew faster than exports to represent 60% of shipments in 2000, while at the beginning of the century the proportion was reversed. However, exports increase pretty constantly, and it now concerns almost 150 countries.
Thus twenty centuries of history have given its pedigree to Champagne wine, which, thanks to the union of winegrowers and traders and to their constant efforts, has become the prestigious image of France.
"Champagne has become the symbol of the"Belle Epoque", the wine of all official celebrations."