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Champagne during WW2: From vines to victory

The German army's official surrender in Reims on 8 May 1945 - Victory in Europe (VE) day - tasted particularly sweet for the canny, local Champagne winemakers and workers who spent much of World War Two outfoxing the occupying forces, writes Julian Hitner.

How the winegrowers concealed their Champagne from the Nazis

Throughout the occupation, Champagne’s winegrowing inhabitants were extremely devious (often with the help of the CIVC), adept at concealing and withholding their finest offerings from the weinführer and his henchmen. They would use unsound corks and dirty bottles, misdirect shipments to the Third Reich that did not exist, and fashion offerings for the German Wehrmacht with their worst wines. With any luck, their ‘enemy customers’ would fail to notice any faults.

At the same time, houses went to great lengths to prevent the Nazis from uncovering their finest cuvées. They usually constructed false walls in their vast underground cellars and concealed their best bottles behind them. When such an option was either unavailable or impractical, some houses (such as Bollinger) labelled their most illustrious bottlings as ‘poison’.

But what of the wartime vintages? According to Michael Broadbent, 1945 (the first vintage to be harvested roughly a year after the liberation of Champagne) yielded a ‘small crop of excellent wines. The firmness and acidity gave the ’45s vigour and a long life’. He highlights Pol Roger as a favourite – reasonable consolation for a house which lost so many of its prized ’28s several years earlier.

Also acknowledged are the ’43s and (to a lesser extent) the ’42s. Of the former, a large quantity of extremely fine Champagne was disgorged in 1953, just in time for the coronation of a young Queen Elizabeth II.

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