Pol Roger – The “British” Champagne House
The name Pol Roger stands for more than 160 years of Champagne Excellency. Today, we will introduce you to this famous House, its history as well as its Champagnes.
History of Pol Roger
The house of Pol Roger is among the long-established and traditional family enterprises in the Champagne region of France. It was founded in January 1849 in the town of Aÿ by the 18 year old Pol Roger under the single name of Roger. In 1851, the company moved to Épernay where they still reside to this day. In the beginning, they did not own vineyards and produced exclusively for other large houses like Perrier Jouët or Moët & Chandon. However, by 1855 Pol Roger had acquired his own vineyards and decided to produce sparkling wine under his own label. He decided to focus on Brut Champagne since this was the kind the British preferred.
When Pol Roger died in 1899 at the age of 68, his two sons Maurice and Georges decided to change their surnames to Pol-Roger in order to honor their father. Consequently, the name of the brand was also changed to Pol Roger.
Champagne & Winston Churchill
In 1908 Winston Churchill drank Champagne from Pol Roger for the first time. However, he did not develop a close affinity to the brand until 1944. At the end of the WWII, Churchill attended a party at the British Embassy in Paris, where he met the beautiful Odette Pol-Roger who had married into the champagne family. The two got along marvelously from the very beginning and Churchill probably became the most prominent “ambassador” of Pol Roger. After their meeting, Churchill regularly received a case of his favorite Vintage Champagne from 1928. When this year ran out, he drank the 1934 until his death in 1965. He was always very loyal to the family and even named one of his prize winning race horses “Pol Roger”. When Churchill sent Odette his biography, he signed it with the words:”Cuvée de Réserve, mise en bouteille au Château Chartwell.” With such an overwhelming endorsement, the champagne gained in popularity.
Even before Churchill championed the brand in Great Britain, Pol Roger always had an excellent reputation in the UK since it was named by Appointment To His Majesty the King purveyor of Champagne to the Royal family in 1911. As such, Pol Roger provided the Champagne for the coronation of George V. At last, due to the close relationship between the families Pol-Roger and Churchill, in June 1984 Pol Roger’s best Vintage Cuvée was named after the Great British politician.
Pol Roger Today
Pol Roger is still family owned in the 5th generation and its Champagne remains very popular. After all these years, Pol Roger is still considered to be one of the smaller houses in the Champagne region but this is absolutely no reason for the family to be concerned. Currently, they “only” produce about 1.8 million bottles of champagne a year, which is less than 1% of the total of 300 million for the entire Champagne region. However, Pol Roger was never about quantity. Much rather they always wanted to excel and only produce champagne of top notch quality.
Today, Pol-Roger owns about 220 acres of vineyards in the Vallée d’Épernay as well as the Côte des Blancs which are all family managed. These vineyards are exceptionally well suited for champagne production and as such they are a fantastic base for top quality sparkling wine. To supplement production, Pol Roger buys grapes from another 180 acres of vineyards, which are then processed into champagne. In general, champagnes from Pol Roger are renowned for a light gold color, a winey and flavorful aroma, slight hints of Brioche and a gentle flowery and fruity bouquet.
Pol Roger currently offers seven different kind of champagnes.
- Brut Réserve, a so-called Non-Vintagethat consists of grapes from various years; Varietals: 1/3 Pinot Noir, 1/3 Chardonnay and 1/3 Pinot Meunier.
- Pure, Non-Vintage, Varietals: 1/3 Pinot Noir, 1/3 Chardonnay and 1/3 Pinot Meunier. Zero Dosage – this means that the Champagne has 0 grams of added sugar per litre of champagne. However, it still has a total of 2.5 grams of sugar As per litre from the first fermentation. As you can imagine this is a very dry champagne.
- Rich / Brut Demi-Sec, Non-Vintage, Varietals: 1/3 Pinot Noir, 1/3 Chardonnay and 1/3 Pinot Meunier. Literally translated, demi-sec means half-dry, which makes for a slightly sweet champagne that is an ideal companion for desserts.
- Blanc de Blancs, a so-called Vintage which
uses only grapes from a single year, Varietals: 100% Chardonnay.
- Rosé Vintage, Vintage, Varietals: 50% Pinot Noir, 34% Chardonnay and 16% Vin Rouge in order to achieve the pink color.
- Brut Vintage, Vintage, Varietals: 60% Pinot Noir and 40% Chardonnay.
- Cuvée Sir Winston Churchill, Vintage, Varietals: unknown – there is an agreement between Pol Roger and the Churchill family not to disclose the varietals of this Cuvée(a Cuvée means that only the best, gently pressed grape is used in the production). The varietals are probably 70-80% Pinot Noir and 20-30% Chardonnay, which are harvested exclusively from Grand-Cru vinyards. (only the
best vineyards in Champagne receive the Grand Cru classification and today only 8.6% of the vineyard fall into that category). The Cuvée Sir Winston Churchillis produced on the lowest and hence coolest level of the almost 4.5 mile long cellar of Pol Roger. It is only sold in Magnum bottles. All of these components result in a complex flavor and very fine bubbles. Atypically, the label of the bottle is navy blueand has a dark red stripe on it but is was designed based onWinston Churchill’s Naval uniform.
The Philosophy of the House
Pol Roger’s philosophy is characterized by understatement and elegance. The family seeks neither presence in the media nor associations with modern day celebrities. When a famous pop singer tried to order a number of cases of Pol Roger for her wedding, the request was politely declined. The family is generally very discreet and anglophile: Instead of the French Tricolore flag, you will only find a Union Jack on the premises and the guests of the wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton will drink Non-Vintage Pol Roger Brut Réserve champagne. Moreover, the Royal Warrant as purveyor to the Queen is more appreciated than any wine critique. In addition, Pol Roger has a separate distribution and website just for the English market.
At Pol Roger, many things are still done by hand. For example, grapes are harvested by hand and the bottles are supposedly turned manually. For men, the so called remueurs, move about 40,000 bottles a day so the yeast can accumulate in the bottle neck. The labels are attached by hand and the cases are put together manually. Despite all this respect for traditional techniques, within the last decades, Pol Roger has modernized many functions in the basement in order to continue delivering top notch quality champagne. However, the family is still reluctant to increase production because they fear a decline in quality.
Personally, I really enjoy drinking Pol Roger champagne. It is admirable that at Pol Roger, people value quality over quantity and the family owned tradition continues.
Back then, it was Pol Roger’s sophisticated aura that made me want to give it a try. After I have now enjoyed the champagne myself, I can wholeheartedly say that I like the sparkling wine as well as the philosophy behind it. Now, you should should try a glass and judge for yourself – cheers!
A bottle of Pol Roger Brut Réserve can be found between $35-50 at good liquor stores or online.
In our second article about champagne houses, we will introduce you to Dom Pérignon.
Contact details:Champagne Pol Roger
1 rue Henri de Large, B.P. 199,
51206 Épernay Cedex
Tel: +33 (0) 3 26 59 58 00
Fax: +33 (0) 3 26 55 25 70
Pictures from Pol Roger & Nic’s Blog.