Based in its gorgeous mansion in Epernay, on Avenue de Champagne, Pol Roger is the most British of all Champagne houses. Its style and success developed on its strong link with this key oversea market, where it became an official supplier to the Royal family and the favorite of Winston Churchill. The house is still owned by the founding family and their ties with the UK remain very strong, with their champagnes having accompanied the weddings of Prince William and Kate Middleton in 2011 and Prince Harry and Meghan Markle in 2018.
Pol Roger, the son of a notary, was born in Aÿ in 1831. When he was 18, his father contracted an incurable disease and could no longer carry on his practice. This forced him to go into business. He decided to enter the champagne trade and founded his house in 1849. The firm developed rapidly and from Aÿ, it moved to Epernay in 1851.
As early as 1855, Pol favored the production of brut champagne, the type that the English–a major market–preferred. There, he obtained great success and gained the Royal Warrant to supply to the Royal family in 1877. When he died in 1899, he had transformed his business into one of the most respected houses in Champagne and had forged strong trade links with Britain.
His two sons, Maurice and Georges, succeeded him at the helm of the business. Given the success of the brand Pol Roger, they changed their family name to that by deed poll. Exports progressed and many crowned heads and top restaurants became their customers.
In the first half of the 20th century, WW1, the Russian Revolution, the Prohibition in the United States, the Crisis of 1929, and WW2, made exports more difficult. Yet Pol Roger was present in more and more countries, and the firm’s expansion continued. The founding family’s direct control over the firm helped it to maintain its identity as it grew.
In the post-war period, the emblematic figure of Winston Churchill will leave his indelible mark on the house. The British statesman, a great champagne drinker, is rumored to have drunk 42,000 bottles during his lifetime. He was an unwavering client of Pol Roger, and his appreciation for the house grew further when he met Odette Pol-Roger, the wife of Jacques Pol-Roger who was at the helm of the business. Odette was in charge of the brand’s promotion in England. The two became great friends and Churchill even named one of his horses Pol Roger. When he died in 1965, the house put a black lining on the white labels of the Pol Roger vintages–Churchill’s favorite–that were sent to England.
The house continued its expansion and the range of wines was widened and in 1975, it launched its much-celebrated prestige cuvée Winston Churchill in his honor. This gave an additional impetus to the international development of Pol Roger.
With the beginning of the 21st century, the house revived its expansion strategy, with the introduction of new cuvées and the appointment of new importers in Europe, and Australia where it is also known as “Polly.” Today, Pol Roger is still owned by its founding family who sits on the company’s board, while Laurent d’Harcourt, a native of Burgundy, was appointed president in 2013.
Vineyard and Production
The house owns 92 ha in the Marne Valley, the Montagne de Reims and the Côte des Blancs. They cover about half of their supply needs and source the rest from selected vine growers to produce about 1.7 million bottles per year. From 2001 to 2011, the winery underwent a complete renovation so that former Chef de Cave Dominique Petit could craft champagnes of greater quality and consistency. They perform cold settling of the musts to avoid any reduction aromas and taste at the end of the first fermentation that is always carried out in stainless steel vats to maintain the purity of the aromas and flavors. Their champagnes undergo longer than average aging, both before and after disgorgement.
The house uses the words distinction and elegance, refinement and pleasure, and fullness without extravagance to describe its style. More specifically, their wines are characterized by complexity but also finesse, forward fruit and very fine bubbles, and a dry and mature overall style that is particularly evident in its iconic vintage cuvées.
The non-vintage range is focused and based on dosage, with brut, extra brut, and demi-sec. The vintage range is super, made of Brut, Blanc de Blancs and Rosé. Sir Winston Churchill, the prestige cuvée (vintage), is to me, the epitome of what I love: mature, dry, rich and elegant champagne. But I like all their cuvées as they are all great wines.