History’s Heroines

Louise Pommery – La Grande Dame of Champagne

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Louise Pommery 

1819-1890

     At 38 years old, Louise Pommery, born Jeanne Alexandrine Louise Melin Pommery, became pregnant with her second child. That this news came seventeen years after the birth of her first child, and at a time when she and her husband, Alexandre Pommery were planning to retire suggests surprise. Having made their fortune in the wool industry, Monsieur, and Madame Pommery, thus switched gears and rather than retire, entered the wine business.

It was in Reims, a town less than an hour from Paris by train, in what is known today as the Champagne region of France. that the Pommery’s lived when they began their winery.  It is only in that part of France that sparkling wines made of grapes and produced in that region may be called Champagne. In 1856, when the Pommery’s entered the wine industry they were making still red wines. Just two years into their venture, Alexandre died leaving Louise with a young child and a new business. In his absence, Louise took the helm at the winery. There, she changed not only the company’s focus from the production of still red wine to that of champagne but also, the very way that Champagne worldwide is now produced and tasted. At the time, Champagne was made from green grapes harvested in the spring. They were bitter and therefore the wine made from them required the addition of a significant amount of sugar in order to be palatable. It was served as a dessert wine sipped from small V-shaped glasses. Louise Pommery took a risk in asking her grape- farmers to wait until fall to harvest when the fruit’s natural sugars would be higher thus eliminating the need for the addition of processed sugars. It was a risk well taken and one that would result in the development of enormous markets worldwide as Champagne became a beverage of class and distinction.

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photo courtesy of Jetset Magazine

     Beneath the town of Reims are miles of chalk tunnels mined by Roman slaves centuries ago. With optimal temperature and humidity, Madame Pommery produced her champagne in these tunnels, as did Madame Cliquot, just a few miles away at her own Champagne house. In unison, Pommery and Cliquot developed the region as a wine destination for English and American tourists that still endures to the day. During WWI, Reims was one of the cities hardest hit, with the Reims Cathedral suffering significant damage along with vast parts of the town. Though they continued operations as best they could during the war, Pommery and Cliquot, along with other champagne houses in the region, tuned their miles of chalk tunnels into an underground shelter from the bombing with each arm being designated for various purposes: government, school, hospital, and housing for the town’s residents. The tunnels were used again to protect citizens during the Second World War.

 

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Photos courtesy of Messy Nessy Chic

     After her passing in 1890, Louise’s children, Louis and Louise, took over the company, eventually passing it down the generations on the daughter, Louise’s, side. Today, the company is part of the Vranken-Pommery- Monopole holdings. The Pommery Estate honors its founder, Louise Pommery with the vintage brut Champagne, Cuvée Louise.

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