CHAMPAGNE AR LENOBLE | Saving Family Heritage
Anne Malassagne’s Alsatian grandfather, Armand-Raphael Graser, flees from Alsace to Champagne during World War I and settles down in Damery in the Vallée de la Marne. At first he works as a wine courtier, his previous profession in Alsace, and soon becomes an important character in the region, helping to install wine presses all over the Marne and working hard to protect the vignerons against the big houses during the crisis.
He founds Champagne AR Lenoble in 1920. But in 1947 he dies a tragic death in a wine tank, in the middle of the harvest. His son, Joseph, takes over the domain, and Anne‘s father, Joseph’s nephew, becomes a vigneron. He works for two years until 1950, when heavy frosts plague the viticultural region, ruining a full harvest and driving many wine growers into poverty.
Looking to find a more stable job with an income, her father decides to study medicine – a more profitable job at this time. He eventually establishes himself in Reims as a doctor but still keeps the memory of working with the vines close to his heart. His uncle Joseph leads the family domain until 1973, when he decides to retire. His two children are supposed to take over the domain but Joseph has accumulated lots of debt and his children decide that they don’t want to risk pursuing this adventure. Anne’s father can’t bear to see his family domain disappearing down the drain.
“He took over the domain for a symbolic Franc, not asking for a salary as he still had his income as a doctor,” Anne Malassagen resumes.
For 20 years he carries out his dual activity as doctor and vigneron, commuting between Damery and Reims to save the family domain. Champagne is finally seeing better harvests and the explosion of sales which fuel the rising pride of the vignerons who increase their prices for the grapes sold to the negociants. The negociants in turn have no other option than to raise the prices of champagne on their side.
“It all collapsed in 1991 when the oil crisis brought about an economic drama,” Anne Malassagne resumes.
“The prices of champagne were falling rapidly and everyone had to lower their prices to still be able to sell their products. However, the bottles sold at this lower price were still produced from the immensely high-cost grapes from two years ago, so many family domains lost a lot of money and were ruined in the two, three years that followed.”
Many of those family estates were consequently sold to big champagne houses. “That’s what my father was ready to do as well” she continues. “With his main activity as a doctor, he didn’t have the same sales vigor as others and he just couldn’t keep up with the domain’s needs anymore.” (…)
This story was published in CUVÉE Magazine No. 3 | Spéciale Champagne.
Get the issue here to read the full story.