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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.
The Champagne harvest 2013– late, but potentially outstanding
It has been another strange year for Champagne, starting with a cold, wet winter, followed by a gloomy, chilly spring with a lot of rain. Vine development started two weeks behind the ten-year average, and never made up for that lost time.
Along the way came a hot dry summer, boosting fruit quality thanks to the most sunshine ever recorded in Champagne in July and August.
Rain came from 6 September onwards, which helped to fatten the berries - then fortunately stopped in time to allow good conditions for final ripening. Considering the lateness of the harvest, the weather this year was exceptionally good – almost summer-like with unusually warm temperatures and sunshine, and a wind from the east to help keep the grapes healthy.
It was a year of big differences in the timing of the harvest, with picking in the most precocious plots starting on 24 September and in the slower-ripening areas on 9 October. Most plots commenced harvesting in the first days of October – the latest start date seen in Champagne for two decades.
Bearing in mind the economic situation, Champagne's governing body has set the yield limit at 10,000 kilos per hectare. Most crus should achieve this yield, excepting only a few that were partially affected by millerandage (shot berries), hailstorms and botrytis.
An average potential alcohol of nearly 10% ABV and good acidity averaging around 8.5g H2SO4 per litre together suggest a promising balance for the eventual wine. The Champenois are already drawing favourable comparisons with the vintages of 1983, 1988 and 1998 – these too being the product of late harvests.