Champagne riots

The Champagne riots of 1910-11 were a socially and economically driven series of riots that took place in France. The riots mainly took place in the wine-producing areas of the Champagne region but also affected other French wine-growing regions. 

The Champagne riots of 1910-11 were a socially and economically driven series of riots in France. The riots mainly took place in the wine-producing areas of the Champagne region but also affected other French wine-growing regions. The conflicting interests of the grape growers and champagne houses resulted in devastation as violence caused the streets to run with spilled wine. Several champagne houses were forced to close.

To understand the Champagne Riots, it is important to focus on the difficulties of grape growers and champagne houses at that time. For the grape growers, the problems were serious and continuous. In the early 20th century, rain and frost severely damaged crops and drastically reduced yields.

Mold and mildew ravaged grape production between 1902 to 1909. The devastating hailstorms and floods in 1910 destroyed more than 90 percent of the grapes. The phylloxera epidemic also destroyed the champagne province and the vineyards across the country.

On the other side, the champagne houses had long processing times, high production costs, exploding bottles, and difficulty storing the products. Despite the problems faced by both groups, champagne was considered a symbol of glory and sophistication and demand for champagne was increasing.

Due to a rise in demand and a decline in grape availability from the local region, the champagne houses started importing grapes at cheaper rates, mainly from Spain and Germany and labeled the product Champagne. The local growers were unhappy with this practice, and they called sparkling wine made from foreign grapes fake. They petitioned the concerned authorities to put in a law stating that at least 51% of the grapes used to make champagne must come from Champagne province.

The champagne houses tried everything, including violence and intimidation, to appease the local growers and get grapes at a low price from abroad. However, the local growers refused to sell their grapes at lower prices. Already struggling with low yields for several years, this attitude of champagne houses forced the local growers into starvation.

Champagne riots

Champagne Riots in France source/Wikimedia/public domain

The growers were exploited to the extent that they started riots against champagne houses in the towns of Hautville and Damery. They captured trucks loaded with grapes, wine bottles, and barrels from the Loire Valley and dumped them into the Marne River. The situation was worse in Ay city. A fire started and spread throughout the city. The houses of private citizens, as well as Champagne producers, were destroyed.

Thousands of wine growers burned vineyards, destroyed the cellars of wine merchants, and ransacked houses as hundreds of liters of wine were lost.

Failing to tackle the situation, the governor of Ay city asked for help from the French government. The French government sent an army to retain peace and started negotiations between the local growers and champagne houses to resolve the tension. However, WWI came stopping negotiations but uniting everyone in defense of the country.

After the war, the French government worked with stakeholders and presented rules and regulations in 1927 to avoid any tension in the future. Only wines from certain places, including Marne, Aube and parts of the Aisne departments, were named champagne. A classification system was introduced to resolve the pricing problem between the champagne houses and growers. Villages we’re rated based on the quality of grapes. This classification system is still present but is not obeyed as strictly as in the past.

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