Friday, October 4, 2013

The Champagne Region During World War I (1914-1918)

Epernay during WWI
Excerpted from "The Champagne Vine Country and Champagne Wine", 1920, by Georges Chappaz and Alexandre Henriot. 
Throughout the war the Champagne region was the scene of a tragic but glorious struggle. It was in front of the Reims mountain that the German front was immobilized from 1914 to 1918, and along the slopes of this same mountain, at the foot of the hills of the Marne, and in the neighbonrhood ,of Epernay, that the last German offensive in July 1918 was broken. The vineyards naturally suffered severe damage.

Trenches furrowed the vines, and shells uprooted them; peasants saw their houses and furniture destroyed by fire, and many lives were lost. But their activity never failed and in spite of shells and aeroplanes they kept on with their work as far as possible until 1918.

As soon as the enemy was gone, in October 1918, they camped out in their ruined villages, started to put the vineyards in order, and cultivated such vines as had been spared. So it was that as early as 1920 an excellent vintage was gathered amounting to nearly 7,000,000 gallons.

The merchants too suffered severely: from 1914 to 1918 the Germans were at the very gates of Reims, and bombarded the city every day, often with gas and incendiary shells. All of the houses in Reims were more or less destroyed, and many of those in Epernay suffered the same fate. Fortunately not a single shell, however big, was sufficiently powerful to break through into the cellars, which are deep and well built, and the stocks of wine were not damaged.

Like the peasants, the champagne merchants showed great pertinacity and never ceased working except from April to November 1918, when all civilians had to be sent away.

Immediately after the armistice, the merchants and their men got to work again in temporary buildings hastily thrown together over the cellars, and by 1920 work was again in full swing.

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