Champagne against prohibition 1919-1933


Yves Tesson

Yves Tesson is a historian of champagne. Doctor from the Paris-Sorbonne University (Paris IV) and associate member of the Roland Mousnier Center and the Georges Chappaz Institute, he works as a consultant in close collaboration with champagne houses in order to enhance their archives. Author of a thesis on Veuve Clicquot, he continues in parallel his scientific work and is thus part of the research team which is interested in the Champagne winemaker world since 1945 as part of the Univigne project led by the International Institute Champagne wines. He is a member of various scientific committees including those of the Mission Coteaux Maisons and Champagne Cellars in charge of the management of the UNESCO file, the future Musée d'Epernay and the future Musée du Pressoir d'Aÿ.

When in 1919, the Volstead Act banned the consumption of alcohol in the United States, champagne is particularly affected. The American market represented up to 4,500,000 bottles out of the 30 million bottles sold each year before the 1914 war. Now the Russian revolution has just closed what was once one of its major markets. The Trade Union of Champagne Wines will then become one of the major players in the fight led by professionals from all wine regions to abolish this ban by participating in the creation of the International League Against Prohibitions, which will develop a whole speech opposing the spirits, really responsible for alcoholism, against wines, best allies of temperance.

Alongside this official commitment, the Champagne merchants do not hesitate to take part in the smuggling by making contact with the bootleggers. Their action is even coordinated by a special committee created by the Trade Union of Champagne Wines and chaired by Marcel Heidsieck, in charge of codifying the prices of wines passing through Saint Pierre and Miquelon and Canada. The end of the prohibition opens new problems: how to distance oneself from bootleggers who do not hesitate to sometimes blackmail houses and seek to maintain parallel networks? How can we avoid the prohibitionist policy giving way to a protectionist policy aimed at promoting the revival of Californian wines? How to reclaim the taste of consumers while Prohibition has favored strong alcohol at the expense of wine?

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