The History of the Family
Champagne Pol Roger is one of the very few remaining houses still owned and run by the founding family, who remain responsible for the winemaking and selection of the cuvées each year.
Pol Roger was born on 24th December 1831 in the village of Aÿ. He elected not to follow his father's footsteps by entering the law, but received his support when he showed a determined interest in the wine trade. Pol set up in Aÿ as a négociant or wholesaler at the age of 17, drawing initial business from his family's contacts and clients of his father.
The following year, 1849, saw the birth of the new champagne house as Pol Roger began to create his own cuvées (for release from 1853) rather than bring in wines solely from other houses. His sales for the first six months of operation were 3,769 bottles and 825 half-bottles. Today that has grown to around 1.5 million bottles per annum.
Establishing the brand
Historical events for Pol Roger champagnes in England began in the second half of the 19th century, which saw the rapid development of the business, in what was a golden era for champagne. In 1876 Conrad Reuss of Reuss, Lauteren & Co. of Crutched Friars, Mark Lane in the City of London was appointed as the first UK agent for Pol Roger, selling in to the top end of the hotel trade, prestigious clubs - and the following year to the Royal Household.
In 1887 Maurice Roger, the son of Pol, paid his first visit to England to learn the business here, starting a close relationship between the family and this country that has been maintained ever since. Georges later changed their surname by deed poll to Pol-Roger. By 1888 HRH The Prince of Wales and Prime Minister Gladstone were amongst those enjoying the pleasures of Pol Roger.
The second generation
On the death of Pol Roger, his two sons took over the stewardship of the company. Then in 1900 tragedy struck when the major part of the cellars in Epernay collapsed destroying 1.5 million bottles, much of it destined for England. Other champagne houses and agents rallied round to support Pol Roger and help the company maintain its export business.
In 1908 Winston Churchill, then in the Cabinet as President of the Board of Trade, became a customer for the first time, beginning a lifelong association with the brand.
The Royal Warrant was awarded to Pol Roger in 1911 and Pol Roger was served at the Guildhall luncheon held on George V's Coronation Day, 30th June.
The War Years
During the First World War hostilities affected Epernay (occupied by the Germans during the month of September 1914) and champagne production and exporting, since the front line remained just over 20 miles away for most of the duration of the war. In the interwar years, sales of champagne in England only picked up slowly, but were strong again by 1923 in large part due to the outstanding quality of the 1914 vintage.
In 1934 Champagne Pol Roger opened their new celliers at 34 Avenue de Champagne, still a landmark building in the town. In the same year King George V held a reception for 800 guests on the occasion of the marriage of his son the Duke of Kent to Princess Louise, serving Pol Roger.
Germany's invasion of France in May 1940 and aerial attacks on Epernay led to the suspension of shipments to England. Nothing was heard from the Pol-Roger family until France was liberated by the Allies in 1944.
The post-war years saw only a gradual restoration of exports to England as military and domestic market requirements in France restricted supply. In the 1950's the poor harvest of 1951 and the growth of local co-operatives led to the Pol-Roger family purchasing vineyards and developing existing land to control a fully owned area of 87 hectares to produce nearly half of their grape requirements and thus assure quality and supply.
In 1955 the introduction of 'White Foil' Non-Vintage (now Brut Réserve NV) helped to rebuild sales in England. An agent was employed in Scotland, Dick Yorke, who became the brand's ambassador there.
In 1966 the English agency arrangements changed, with the purchase of the Reuss business by H.P. Bulmer of cider fame.
In the 1970's worldwide sales of champagne topped 100 million bottles for the first time, but fluctuating harvest and the oil crisis of 1974 affected sales dramatically. The beginnings of the 1980's saw two poor vintages and very high grapes prices, and a second energy crisis. By the middle of the decade, with a high proportion of wholly-owned vineyards, sales recovered and the Cuvée Sir Winston Churchill was launched in June 1984.
Following three excellent vintages, in 1989 the opportunity came to change the company's sales representation in Great Britain, and Bill Gunn M.W, who had been responsible for the brand at Dent & Reuss, was appointed in 1990 Managing Director of a new company, majority-owned by Pol Roger in the UK - Pol Roger Ltd, with offices in Ledbury, Herefordshire. The company progressively took on the agencies for a number of independent, family-owned businesses producing premium wines and spirits. In 1993 Pol Roger Ltd assumed the agency for Scotland from RMR Yorke & Co. Pol Roger Ltd moved to Hereford, its present location in 1998.