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The relationship between Champagne Pol Roger and Sir Winston Churchill dates back to a providential meeting at a luncheon given by the British Ambassador to France some months after the liberation of Paris at which was served the sumptuous 1928 vintage of Pol Roger. Attending the lunch was the beautiful Odette Pol-Roger as well as the Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, with whom she struck up an instant rapport. A friendship was born which continued until Churchill’s death, creating links between the Pol-Roger and Churchill families which are still as strong to this day.
The pressures of his post sadly prevented Churchill ever paying a visit to 44 Avenue de Champagne, the home of Champagne Pol Roger, but he nonetheless proclaimed it “the most drinkable address in the world”. As recompense for breaking his promise to visit he sent Odette a copy of his Memoirs inscribed “Cuvée de Réserve, mise en bouteille au Château de Chartwell”. He even named one of his racehorses “Pol Roger” and the lly strode to victory at Kempton Park in 1953, Coronation Year.
THE “CUVÉE SIR WINSTON CHURCHILL”
Champagne Pol Roger created their Prestige Cuvée in homage to Sir Winston Churchill mindful of the qualities that he sought in his champagne: robustness, a full-bodied character and relative maturity. The exact blend is a closely guarded family secret but it is undeniable that the composition would meet with the approval of the man to whom it is dedicated: “My tastes are simple, I am easily satisfied with the best”. Pinot Noir predominates, providing structure, breadth and robustness whilst Chardonnay contributes elegance, nesse and subtlety. Composed exclusively of grapes sourced from Grand Cru Pinot Noir and Chardonnay vineyards which were already under vine during Churchill’s lifetime, “Cuvée Sir Winston Churchill” is only made in the very best vintages and is always released later than the other vintage dated Champagnes from Pol Roger, marking Churchill’s appreciation for older wines.
The first “Cuvée Sir Winston Churchill” was from the 1975 vintage and was released, in magnum only, in 1984, with the launch taking place at Blenheim Palace. There followed 1979, 1982, 1985, 1986, 1988, 1990, 1993, 1995, 1996, 1998, 1999, 2000, 2002 and now 2004. The latest vintage, 2004, is the fifteenth and is released only after 11 years cellaring. Produced in very small quantities, it is available in 75cl bottle and 1.5L magnum.
Churchill and Champagne
Winston Leonard Spencer Churchill was born in 1874, in the same year as Pol Roger’s first vintage champagne. This wine was to make Pol Roger famous on the English market. Equally, Winston Churchill was to grow into a statesman of the highest rank. In addition to having been selected as the most significant person in British history, he was also awarded the Nobel Prize in literature. This multi-talented man was a skilled polo player, oil painter and carpenter. His interest in wine, cigars and gastronomy is well-known.
Champagne was by far Churchill’s favourite drink. Even during the war years he never travelled without at least one case of Pol Roger champagne, the vintage 1828 being his preference. Churchill’s alcohol consumption was vast, but he never appeared drunken thanks to his well-trained tolerance for alcohol. Legend says that there was always a measure of alcohol in Churchill’s blood. Labour Party Member of Parliament Bessie Braddock once told Churchill off for being drunk, to which the wordy man replied: “Bessie, you are ugly. But in the morning I will be sober”.
Churchill was a disciplined and determined man who started his morning by working in his bed. He read the daily newspapers and communications and dictated assignments. He even received visitors sitting by his bed side with Nelson, his cat, keeping him company at the foot of the bed. It was quite often during the tough years of war that he started drinking wine already in the morning. He, if anyone, had the weight of a nation on his shoulders. If possible Churchill stayed in bed all morning. He would gather together friends, relatives, politicians and army leaders for lunch. War strategy was discussed over lunch with the help of champagne and brandy. In the afternoon Winston Churchill needed a rest to refresh him for the evening’s meetings. Churchill entertained his dinner guests night after night with unlimited champagne, cognac and cigars. He commonly got to bed only at around three or four in the morning. Churchill’s lavish alcohol consumption was criticized from time to time. He defended himself by saying: ”I can only say having gotten more out of alcohol than it has gotten out of me”.
CHAMPAGNE: From this year, the most classic and refined champagnes were produced. Champagnes are long-lived and mature slowly to their peak.
Winter and spring were fairly mild. Inflorescences began in good weather in June. Already during the next month, the cloud masses swarmed to the Champagne province. Finally, the sky broke right before harvest. The harvest remained smaller than in the previous year. Even though the weather was unstable, the vintage produced fine and elegant wines, of which many have just reached their peak. The wines are marked by high acids and a concentrated, precise style. A real classic vintage. There is no rush to enjoy these wines, as they endure storage well and will continue to develop well for the next 10–12 years. Indicative of a slowly maturing vintage is that Krug released to the market first the Clos du Mesnil 1989 vintage before the 1988 vintage. This year has also stayed in mind as the vintage when Jacquesson & Fils produced the first of its three late bottled special cuvées – the Jacquesson DT (Dégorgement Tardif).