Widowed in 1858 at the age of 39, just like her illustrious predecessor Clicquot, Veuve Louise Pommery did not inherit an established Champagne House, yet she also somehow mustered the audacity to challenge the traditional notions of Champagne and, over the next three decades, grow her modest company into one of the most powerful and physically impressive Houses in Champagne.
Indeed, Madame Pommery’s roaring entrepreneurial success led to rapid change, requiring the whole champagne industry to make greater efforts to improve wine quality, use better raw materials and, consequently, invest more heavily in the whole champagne manufacturing process. Of course, the huge improvement in quality that resulted also increased champagne’s reputation abroad, confirming its position as the ‘king of wines’, and global sales quickly exploded.
Like so many Champagne Houses, the origins of brand Pommery stem from a strategic alliance between finance and talent. In 1836, Narcisse Greno purchased the Champagne House of Dubois Gossart and began making still red champagne wines. Greno was a consummate sales agent but lacked capital, so two decades later, he invited Mr Pommery, a young member of a wealthy Reims wool family, to join him in the business and so Champagne Pommery & Greno was born. Although Alexandre Pommery was new to the wine trade, his family-owned large vineyards outside Reims and he invested heavily in the new business, putting it on a sound financial footing.
When her husband died unexpectedly two years later, Louise decided to take up the challenge of running the champagne house herself, but first she insisted that her business partner Greno agree to two conditions. Henceforth, Champagne Pommery would begin making sparkling white champagne instead of still red wine and, at the first available opportunity, the brand would focus on the lucrative British market. Narcisse Greno was happy to acquiesce to her demands and take early retirement on health grounds. Launching her new business with the motto ‘Qualité d’abord’ (quality first), Madame Pommery borrowed money to invest in more vineyards and, within three years, found that she had enough stock and enough funding to open a London office. In fact, within 10 years of her taking over the company, annual sales of Pommery & Greno champagne already exceeded one million bottles (more than Veuve Clicquot produced at the time).
Madame Pommery was quick to spot the huge potential for sparkling wine and noted the English palate’s marked preference for a crisp, dry style of champagne. Other champagne-makers were completely against the revolutionary idea of dry champagne – seeing it as heresy and folly – but when Pommery’s legendary 1874 vintage (with a dosage – or sugar content − of only 6-9 grams) took Victorian London by storm, the critics were silenced. This new, delicate style of champagne was a roaring success and Pommery was mentioned in songs for more than a decade afterwards.
Above her cellars in Reims, Madame Pommery created her own ‘folie de grandeur’ – a grand compound featuring imitations of parts of her friends’ castles: built with a mixture of spires, turrets and towers, half of them of brick, the other half of stone, all surrounded by a magnificent park comprising trees, lawns and flower beds in the style of a classic English country estate. When construction was finished in 1878, atop the massive heavy cast-iron gates that led to the impressive broad drive were carved the words ‘Pommery & Greno’ in large gold letters for the world to see. Louise Pommery’s supreme gift to her successors was the great vineyard estate that she acquired during her 30-year tenure as head of the company – 308 hectares of exceptional Grand Cru sites primarily around the Montagne de Reims.
After Madame Pommery died in 1890, her daughter Louise ran the House with husband Prince Guy de Polignac. The Polignac family continued to run the business until 1979, when it changed hands several times within a few years, eventually being sold to LVMH, which kept the vineyards but on-sold the brand name to Belgian entrepreneur Paul Vranken in 1996. Today, Pommery produces more than five million bottles per annum and attracts some 90,000 visitors from around the world to its magnificent estate in the heart of the city of Reims.
Pommery is a great name in Champagne history and the house-style is light and fresh, somewhat dry and steely, made up of young fruit, which can take several years aging in bottle to round out before its true potential shines through.
Pommery Brut Royal
Variety: 35% chardonnay, 35% pinot noir and 30% pinot meunier
Appearance: lemon gold with decent mousse
Nose: baked apples and honeyed brioche
Palate: lean green palate softened by sweetness on the finish – accessible ‘drink now’ style