Bernard de Nonancourt, founding president of the Laurent-Perrier group, has died aged 90.
de Nonancourt’s mother Marie-Louise Lanson de Nonancourt had bought the Champagne house in Tour-sur-Marne in 1938, and Nonancourt became general manager after the Second World War – his elder brother Maurice, who was supposed to take over, had been killed in a concentration camp.
Both brothers had been actively involved in the French Resistance movement and Bernard won a Military Cross for his service with the 2nd Armoured Division commanded by General Leclerc.
After studying at the École Supérieure de Commerce in Reims and training at several different Champagne houses including Lanson, which was then owned by the family, de Nonancourt took over at Laurent-Perrier on October 1, 1948.
Over the next 50 years he built the company into one of the most successful businesses in Champagne.
Between 1950 and 2000, while Champagne as a whole increased its shipments tenfold, the Laurent-Perrier group, which also includes the houses of de Castellane, Salon and Delamotte, expanded a hundredfold.
By the time he retired in 2005 to become honorary chairman and member of supervisory board, Laurent-Perrier had moved from 100th position to become the third largest selling champagne brand worldwide, behind Moët & Chandon and Veuve Clicquot.
Affectionately known as ‘Le Grand Bernard’, the burly de Nonancourt was a great innovator.
Back in 1960, when Laurent-Perrier was still a relatively small house, he launched Grand Siècle (conceived seven years earlier).
Despite the existence of Dom Perignon, Louis Roederer’s Cristal, and Taittinger’s planned Comtes de Champagne, the concept of prestige cuvées was undeveloped at that time.
Perhaps more significantly in terms of the company’s success, de Nonancourt oversaw the launch of Laurent-Perrier Brut Rosé in 1968 in a cuvée based on the ripe 1964 harvest.
He had the foresight to put in a special-shaped bottle. Very little pink Champagne was being made at a time when total Champagne production stood at around 100m bottles, but rosé became a great success story for Laurent-Perrier.
Bernard de Nonancourt is survived by his wife Claude Merand and four children. His two daughters Alexandra and Stéphanie, who joined the house respectively in 1987 and 1995, are both now members of the Laurent-Perrier Management Board.
The funeral will take place at 2pm on Friday November 5th at the Basilica of Saint Rémi in Reims.
Written by Giles Fallowfield