Champagne in WW1
We are very pleased to announce the first tour in a new series of wine and history tours. We are very pleased to have working with us Colonel John Hughes-Wilson, the highly respected military historian and also the President of the Guild of Battlefield Guides.
The First World War was a critical moment in the history of Champagne. It brought to a sudden close the golden age where Champagne had flowed freely all round the world especially in Britain, Russia, Germany, and the USA. In 1914 and again in 1918 climactic battles to save France were fought here. With John Hughes-Wilson as our guide we will look at how and why the French twice held the Marne.
We will also look at their disastrous ‘Nivelle Offensive’, just to the west of Reims. This in the words of Basil Liddell Hart was a ‘fiasco with a dangerous sequel’ caused in part by ‘folie de grandeur’. The men wearied of attacking barbed wire and machine guns and declared that whilst they would defend the trenches they would not attack. This was the great mutiny of the French Army. General Nivelle was sacked and it was left to General Petain to quell the mutiny. John Hughes-Wilson, author of the recently published ‘Blindfold and alone’ on the harsh discipline in the British Army at the time, will be most interested on the comparatively enlightened methods used by the French. (These methods are reported to have included liberal amounts of Champagne)!
In 1918, the German Armies again broke through to the Champagne villages on the River Marne, here they ran out of impetus and the vaunted discipline broke down. Amongst the growers cellars there were ‘disgraceful drunken scenes’ as the men ‘refused to obey their officers’. The Allied counter attack that followed was notable for the first appearance of the Americans. Interwoven with this narrative we have visits to Champagne houses and growers. We have a comparative tasting and a special visit to G.H. Mumm. At the beginning of the First World War, Mumm was the largest of the Champagne houses; it was expropriated from its German owners, the Von Mumm family, and through the war served as a French divisional headquarters for the defence of Reims. In the Marne Valley, close to where the German attack of 1918 stalled, we visit the cellars of J. Charpentier and enjoy lunch. Our other wine visit on the tour is the Bernard Hatte in the Montagne de Reims.
After the war, Reims had been ruined and most of Champagne’s export markets had been lost, but the French discovered that they loved Champagne and remain to this day its largest market.