15 July 1363
The Vintner’s Company of London receives its first Royal Charter.
The guild had been in existence for at least a century before this date, but the granting of this charter is considered to state the official year of birth of the company. Royal charters were documents issued by the kings to bestow some privilege to an individual or an organisation and this one in particular granted gave to the company’s members the monopoly of wine trading with Gascony.
The Vintner’s Company role has changed much during the centuries, but the organisation is still relevant in the world of wine At present it concentrates much on wine education, in particular it supported the creation of the Institute of Masters of Wine in 1953 and it provided the fundings for the constitution of the Wine and Spirit Education Trust (WSET) in 1969. No small role in wine History.
18 July 1760
The Croonembourg family sells its best vineyard to Jean-François Joly de Fleury, who transfers it to Louis François de Bourbon, Prince of Conti.
The plot, known as “Romanée” since 1631, was then renamed “Romanée-Conti”. Yep, that one.
The book “Shadows in the vineyard” by Maximilian Potter “novelizes” the story really well. The Prince of Conti was a fascinating and ambiguous figure: blood cousin to Louis XV, count, spymaster of the king though Huguenots sympathiser and involved in a plot against His Majesty’s life, lieutenant general, playboy, philosopher and so on.
The reason why the prince acted through Joly de Fleury to acquire the land is not entirely clear, but it may have been to avoid the attention of Madame de Pompadour, royal mistress and his fierce rival at court. The vineyard was already famous and prized, but Conti decided to put it off the market, using the wine for his own purposes or giving it away to those whom he liked.
Louis François de Bourbon died in 1776, likely from cancer and the vineyard passed to his son, but the French Revolution took it away from the hands of the family. It was auctioned off in 1794. The name survived and was passed down to these days, a legacy of its noble history.
29 July 1866
Barbe-Nicole Ponsardin passes away in Boursault. She was 89.
A woman with balls of steel, Barbe-Nicole had married François Clicquot in 1798. Her husband was a banker and wool merchant, but he also produced Champagne wine and he was working to expand this last activity. Sadly the marriage lasted only to 1805, when François died, probably from typhoid fever.
Though only 27 years old, Barbe-Nicole, now Clicquot widow or “Veuve Clicquot”, stood up for the challenge. At the time women had far less legal rights than men and were controlled by either their father or their husband, but this did not apply to widows, which enjoyed more freedom and could run their own business. Veuve Clicquot did exactly this: trained initially by her father-in-law, she became the first woman to take over a Champagne house, eventually launched her own house, “Veuve Clicquot-Ponsardin”.
It was not an easy time in Europe, and in France especially: first the Revolution and then the Napoleonic wars made this Country shunned by pretty much all the rest of the continent, at least until 1815. Nevertheless, Madame Clicquot was always able to keep her company in business, sometimes taking bold decisions, like when he sent her champagne to Russia just weeks before the end of the Napoleonic conflict, to sell it as soon as peace was declared (following Napoleon exile to Elba).
She is also known as the inventor of the riddling process, used today to get rid of the lees left in the bottle after the second fermentation.
31 July 1395
Philip the Bold bans the “disloyal Gamay” from the Beaune and Dijon area.
The 14th century was not a simple period for Europe: wars and plagues devastated the continent with far reaching consequences, namely the beginning of the end of the feudal model. Countryside was depopulated and its inhabitants had to be careful even in times of peaces, when bands of mercenaries without wars to fight roamed the land creating trouble.
In such a context it is easy to see how Gamay, a grape variety easy to grow and capable of generous yields, was enjoying a good popularity. At the time it was a matter of life or death, who wanted to lose time with that fussy Pinot Noir?
However this situation did not suit Philip the Bold: Gamay made objectively worse wine and it was damaging Burgundy reputation abroad. As wine was also instrumental in the prestige of the ruler, the duke decided to enact a series of ban, most famously the cutting down of Gamay vines. It was not the only measure though: Philip the Bold also forbade the use of fertiliser, hot water addition to wine and he warned against the abandonment of good vineyard sites in favor of high yielding lesser plots.
It is not easy to assess the effectiveness of the edict, but historian Susan Rose thinks that the banning actually worsened the condition of the common people of Burgundy, already vexed by wars and diseases.
Anyhow, similar edicts where promulgated in the following centuries (1441, 1567, 1725, 1731), confirming the dislike of Burgundian rulers for Gamay and shaping the present Burgundian wine industry.