The History of the Champagne Riots in France
The Champagne riots of 1910-1911 were a socially and economically driven series of riots that took place in wine-producing areas of the Champagne region of France. In the early 20th century, rain and frost severely damaged crops and drastically reduced yields. The phylloxera epidemic also affected champagne production and vineyards across the country. Between 1902 and 1909, mold and mildew impacted production, and hailstorms and floods added additional trouble. Champagne was very popular at the time and was considered a symbol of glory and sophistication.
Feeling the pressure
Demand for champagne increased daily while the region’s availability declined. As a result, champagne houses started importing grapes at lower prices from Spain and Germany. Local growers were unhappy with this practice, and they called sparkling wine made from foreign grapes fake.
The champagne houses tried everything, including violence and intimidation, to get grapes at the lowest price possible. If growers refused to sell grapes at their desired prices, they would simply buy elsewhere. Already struggling with low yields, this attitude and approach taken by wine houses pushed growers out of their livelihoods.
Inciting a revolt
The growers started riots against champagne houses in the towns of Hautville and Damery. They captured trucks with grapes from the Loire Valley and dumped them into the Marne River. They also tossed wine bottles and barrels from warehouses into the river. The situation was worse in Ay village. Houses of private citizens, as well as Champagne producers, were destroyed. There were also clashes within the champagne region regarding who truly represented champagne.
A fire was started that spread throughout the city. Failing to tackle the situation, the governor asked for help from the French government. The French government started negotiations and legislation to resolve the tension, but WWI interrupted and united everyone in the country’s defense.
The French government worked with stakeholders and presented rules and regulations 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 were rated based on the quality of grapes. This classification system is still used today but is not obeyed as strictly as in the past.
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