Ask the average Frenchman to name one champagne house their answer would probably be Mercier. For all of its present popularity, Mercier Champagne House owes its biggest debt of gratitude to its founder, Eugène Mercier. He was a man endowed with amazing energy, innovative vision and a flair for extraordinary publicity stunts, and he was only twenty years-old! His simple ambition was to bring high-quality champagne to everyday folk which he accomplished through a series of stunning events, an aggressive price policy and a highly-creative advertising strategy that retains its brilliance a century later.
World’s eighth wonder
One of Éugene Mercier's greatest publicity stunts was a giant, twenty-tonne ‘Cathedral of Champagne’ cask – the world’s largest wine barrel. He wanted to build it from old Hungarian oak trees. For this reason, he sent his cooper, fittingly named Jolibois (literally ‘pretty woods’), to Hungary to handpick 150 oak trees, each of which were at least one hundred years old, which would be cut down for the vat’s construction. After fifteen years of hard work, on 7 July 1885 the Mercier’s inventory for that day registers: A 200,000 bottle barrel, estimated by the administration to hold 1,600 hectolitres, weighing 20,000 kilos and comprising 800 working pieces.
Only two years later, the grape harvest produced the needed 1,600 hectolitres of wine to fill the cask. It was the largest vintage ever achieved.
Eugène Mercier reserved his most breathtaking showmanship for the three world exhibitions held in Paris. For the first event in 1878 he had already built an enormous cask with a capacity of 75,000 bottles.
The ‘Eiffel Tower’ of wines
By the time the second fair was to take place in Paris in 1889, his ‘Cathedral of Champagne’ cask was ready. He announced that his cask would be one of the main attractions at the fair.
First, he had to tear down the walls of the enormous storeroom in which the cask was housed. Twenty-four hours later, on 17 April 1889, the cask was ready for transport to Paris. It took eight days and nights, twenty-four oxen from Morwan and eighteen horses, to transport this world’s largest wine cask with a 200,000-bottle capacity from Epernay to Paris.
On the journey, two bridges collapsed under the weight, and several others required major repairs. A large number of city lights and building facades were damaged. He had to buy five houses for a small fortune, which he then demolished in order to make way, but the publicity achieved made all the tough work worthwhile. Although the 20-tonne cask was overshadowed by the main attraction – the Eiffel Tower – it garnered loads of attention. Afterwards, it was returned to Epernay, where it was used for blending until 1947.