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Grand Siécle is an enigmatic champagne. Laurent-Perrier’s prestige wine, created by Bernard de Nonancourt, is cloaked in mystery. The origin of the grapes, the mixing ratio of the different varieties, and the age and production volumes of the wines are closely-guarded business secrets. What secrets does the prestige champagne, Grand Siècle, hide, and is the wine whose name honours the great epoch Laurent-Perrier’s best weapon in the face of increasing competition?
It seems that the microclimate in Champagne is bad for men, since many houses have had strong champagne widows, whose husbands have died untimely deaths. One of these houses, whose history perhaps embodies that trend more than any of the others, is Laurent-Perrier. The history of the house has been written by Mathilde Emilie Laurent-Perrier as well as Marie-Louise de Nonancourt. Now two sisters from the owner’s family, Alexandra and Stéphanie de Nonancourt, sit in the management group. It is no coincidence that Bernard de Nonancourt has chosen to produce champagnes with feminine elegance.
I set off from the champagne capital, Reims, towards a little village called Tours-sur-Marne. The cellars of Laurent-Perrier have been located here, at the crossing of the three main winery areas of Champagne, since its foundation in 1812. It is almost as if the village equals Laurent-Perrier, so easily is the impressive main building of the house found. Before I turn in to the yard, I notice a huge pile of soil next to the house. I wonder what they are going to build here.
We start by seeing the production facilities. We walk through the inner court towards a small loading dock. The small, one-truck dock looks like a relic, but our host assures us:
- Believe it or not, all eight million bottles of our yearly sales are sent off to the world from this dock. Our facilities have become hopelessly confined, and that is why we have a big investment project under way, to be finished during the coming year.
We go and see what the huge pile of soil is hiding behind it. Impressively large production facilities that are built mainly underground are under construction. Soon Laurent-Perrier will be able to say goodbye to the confined work premises. The massive investment projects alone reveal the huge success of Laurent-Perrier’s recent history.
WIDOW AND WAR WIDOW
The history of the estate dates back to year 1812, when the son of a cooper, Alphonse Laurent, began production in Tours-sur-Marne. His son, Eugene, and above all his wife, Mathilde Emilie Perrier, brought the house to fame. Eugene faced an early grave, being crushed to death in the champagne cellars, leaving his 29-year-old wife to manage the champagne house alone. The young woman did not lack ambition and enterprise. The widow of Laurent-Perrier changed the name of the house to Veuve Laurent-Perrier, under which name it was known till 1964. Mathilde Emilie Laurent-Perrier managed the house successfully for 38 years. After she died childless in 1925, the house declined for the next 14 years, reaching the trough in the bankruptcy of 1938.
At about the same time, the champagne family heir, Marie-Louise de Nonancourt, was experiencing difficulty finding her own place in their family business. War widow Marie-Louise was raising her four children alone, but could not resist seizing her advisor’s recommendation to buy Veuve Laurent-Perrier. This decision saved Laurent-Perrier, and the company has been owned by the same family ever since.
Marie-Louise de Nonancourt meant to buy the champagne house to be left for her oldest son. The Second World War, however, fouled up the plans. Both elder sons were active in the resistance movement. Maurice died in a concentration camp, but Bernard de Nonancourt survived the hardships. He had a high position in the resistance movement, and was, among other things, the first officer to go to Hitler’s Eagle’s Nest to evaluate its huge collection of valuable wines.