I found recently this great document showing in detail how Champagne was made in the early 20th century. This issue of Le Monde et la Science subscription magazine (it was to be an Encyclopedia at the end when you collected all the issues) seems to have been one of these short-lived publications profiting from the new opportunities of mobile photography, as cameras were getting easier to transport and set up even if tripods were still used routinely. I initially thought this magazine to have been published around 1930 [there's no publishing dates on the 4 issues I bought] but as I've done a short research it seems that it dates back probably from around 1910. This issue caught my eye among the couple dozens issues I saw on this village flea market as it showed something few people know today : that trellising and wires were unknown then, as Nicolas Renard told me incidently during my recent visit, it has no historical roots in the viticulture, it was invented for the convenience of mechanisation, for tractors in short, and like in the rest of France vines in Champagne were until then grown on échalas or posts.
Another aspect of this report is to restrospectively highlight how natural the viticulture in Champagne was at that time, all these people on these pictures would have been dumbfounded to learn what would be done in the vineyard later in the late 20th century/early 21st century, like this casual walk in randomly-chosen parcels shows. For us today, it's a good reminder that Champagne knew a more authentic viticulture not so long ago (100 years is not that far away). Many of the technical words are also different from what is used today, it seems to me, in this sense it's also an information mine.
If the picture settings look great in general it's almas not very sharp and the contrast is sometimes poorly managed by the printers, I hopê all these silver plates have been saved somewhere and could be used again for a big-size quality printing.
Here on this first page of the 17-page story you can see this incredible vineyard landscape in Champagne around 1900-1910 : a forest of wooded posts which (another unexpected thing) would be taken out after the harvest, steamed (pic lower right) in order to kill all the pests or their larvae and stored until april. The lower-right picture shows what they call the provignage (what we call marcottage to day I think) : replacing the missing vines by lying the next vine so that it takes root in its place.
This page dscribes all the handmade vineyard work in these times, beginning with bringing the manure in wicker backbaskets. The writer says that usually one square meter of manure is used for one are surface. The writer says that abn important work which is done before the first frost in autumn, the fumage, consists in digging in the back of the rootstock a 25 by 12 cm deep hole in wich manure is packed down with foot.
The page also tells interesting things about the grape varieties (with names slightly different from what we know today) : the Pineau Noirien (for Pinot Noir), or Franc Pineau (same thing), the Pineau Meunier, and for the white, the Pineau Chardonnay [sic]. The plantation is made en foule with a 40 000 to 60 000 density per hectare. All tilling is done by hand, it says, viticulture costs are thus high, 4000 to 7000 Francs [of which year ?] per hectare for yields [take a seat, we're here much lower than today's yields in Champagne ! ] of 20 to 25 hectoliters/hectare. Man, Champagne must have been very different with these conditions...
A few words here about the hand picking, the clustered grapes being delicately put into hand baskets after the rotten grapes have been taken off, then the grapes are brought in a central place near the parcel where the éplucheuses a group of women sort them again with scissors. Generaly the tesxt says, the grower don't make wine himself but sells his grapes to the Grandes Maisons who have all the chais and tools to do that. They pay per kilogram of grape or per 60-kg caque (box). Transportation to the chai is done with care using high cart so that the grapes don't bleed and arrive intact.
The page interestingly doesn't show anything related with pressing, like if the maisons de champagne didn't want to show them this stage. It thus posts other pictures about the grafting and the tying of the vines on échalas (posts).
On this page we have interesting pictures about the sulfure sprays, the two different types, the powdered and the liquid ones. On the upper right you see the copper-mix sprays done as soon as the buds come out, made with either bouillie bordelaise, bouillie bourguignonne or bouillie verdets (we should ask a grower for the difference between these). The picture is also interesting because all these posts seem to close from each other. I don't understand why nobody tries this planting technique again, with échalas, but that's maybe because the appellations system would ban it ?
On the center left you see the powdered sulfur and on the right, the liquid carbon-sulfur spray that is supposed to keep the vine in production in spite of the presence of the phylloxera pest.
Keeping listing the press stage, the writer says that a typical load in the basket press makes 4200 kg for red grapes or 4000 kg for white grapes in order to get 2000 liters of juice using a manpower to turn the big screw.
This page show the harvest time, lots of people in the vineyard indeed, including children. The sorting of the grapes (a first sorting is said to be made by the pickers themselves) is interesting, only women (called the éplucheuses or the peelers in French) supervised by men standing around them, a whole different era... The "bad" grapes are put on the side (the détour and will be used to make a simple wine named here la boisson de l'année, the drink of the year, possibly the everyday drink for the growers and their family.
The picture of the havest lunch (repas des vendangeurs) is an interesting document, it's a tradition that survived to this day, even if its nature differes from domaine to domaine, the natural-wine domaines offering the best ones, be it for the quality of the food and wine. In many conventional wineries though the pickers have to bring their own food. the lunch is said to start at noon and last 1 hour, it consists typically of meat stew with beans and potatoes. The writer says that in the evening the pickers get another copious meal in the refectory with beef or pork and vegetables as well as Marolles cheese, then they go sleep in dormitories on clean straw, men and women (with children) being in separate rooms. Some days the owner provides an orchestra to entertain the pickers...
So as said we mysteriously miss the pressing stage in this report and land directly on the vatting part. This is all wood at this time. All the vinification being done by a few maisons de champagne this means the chai and vinification rooms are big and can hold lots of wine. The specialized vocabulary of that time is interesting, sometimes it's similar sometimes different, there's the rebêchage when you reshape the pomace cake to press it again, the bellon is the receiving container for the juice under the press, the cotte is the creamy foam that appears at the surface of the juice, the dépotage seems to be the pumping, when you put the juice in 200-liter new barrels that got SO2 beforehand. the wine will be stores in casks grouped according its origin (Ay, Vernezay, Bouzy, Avize, Cramant, Oger...). Interestingly there's no Aube village named of course, the region being still the underdog then where the growers would shop at rock-bottom prices but not communicate on it...
The tasters in the Maison de Champagne will decide which wine will become what depending of the quality
Racking of ther casks into large-capacity wooden vats, this happens after the tasting and classification according to quality. Interestingly there's no pump used here, it's all by gravity. The writer says that as the wines must reach 10 % alcohol at least they routinely add sugar, using what is called a liqueur (doesn't mean liquor), a mix of a wine from a previous vintage with cane sugar dosed at 500 grams/liter.
The fermentation can be wild in the cask and they cover the cask hole with a vineyard leaf held tight with a piece of tile. This fermentation reaches its peak in 5 to 8 days then slows down and ends after a total of 20 to 30 days. Seems a long fermentation, they certainly didn't use lab yeast then. After that they close the casks, letting only several rye straws out so that CO2 can come out and prevent germs from coming in.
The fining is described, they're not shy at the time saying they use fish extracts, they'd not be as transparent today about similar practices.
When cold settles in in autumn the wines get clear, they're finished and ready for racking. Then comes the blending of the different barrels, the whites with the Pinot, the extensive tastings will decide which containers will be blended, there will be signs on the barrels telling impressions of the repeated tastings and preparing for the blend, we're in chartered territory here. The people doing these tastings are the boss and the main employees, like the chef de cave, all having in mind the history of previous vintages and blends.
It is said that generally the crus that have more body and solidity are the ones from the montagne de Reims, with Sillery, Berzenay, Mailly, Verzy, Ambonnay, Bouzy etc.. while there's more tendeness and smoothness in the crus of the Marne river, Mareuil, Ay, Hautvillers, Dizy etc... and refineness and lightness is found in the montagne d'Epernay with the crus of Pierry, Cramant, Avize, Mesnil,etc...
Here we see the pre-bottling stage with the rinsing of the bottles, as well as the adding of the liqueur which is a wine-sugar mix designed to have the wine referment when bottled. Another rare information is given by the writer here who says that at this stage a tannissage of the wines is routinely done, this is the adding of 5 to 10 grams of dry tannin in each 200-liter barrel, the goal being to prevent the grease effect (graisse), a special turbidity accident which come and go in certain wines. This is very interesting because that's something known in the natural wine especially for the whites, a fault that is mostly visual but not that harmful for the quality of the wine.
The bottling is also very interesting here, hand made by gravity using a 8-spout filler, you can't have a smoother bottling I think. Again, I can't stress that Champagne must have been very different from what we taste nowadays...
The storing and handling of all these heavy bottles once filled with the wine and sugar dodage was a specialized work, building these long bottle wall was tricky I guess. The bottled wine is said to be left in the cellar horizontally for 2 or 3 years, sometimes more so that the wine evolves quietly (mûrisse). When it's mûr (ripe) and reached the right bubbling and alcohol they put the bottles sur pointes, upside down on the riddling tables, turning them progressively to the vertical position so that they bring the sediment in the bottle neck.
The bottles in the grandes maisons de Champagne are often stored in these crayères, quarries with huge rooms having small openings in the ground surface. One of the pictures (middle left) shows a cellar gallery with electrical lighting, this was rare enough to underline it, the two pictures in the bottom showing workers moving the bottles on the riddling tables with a simple candle.
The page shows two types of disgorgement, the traditional one on the left (also a candle as lighting by the way) and the one using ice, freezing the bottle neck so that the sediments get out in one block. This technology was certainly costly at the time.
We can see that for the dosage as well as the corking there were mechanized tools already, although hand powered.
This is not the most interesting of Champagne making (we'd have liked better to have pictures and description of the pressing stage) but it shows that all the final touch after the bottling needed lots of manpower.
This page tells about the dosage, a secret mix made of still wine, cognac and cane sugar added at the end to replace the volume of the disgorged sediment : it's made accordingly to the destination and country where the Champagne will be shipped. The same cuvée will have a fresh, light and very sweet dosage for Russia [we're pre-1917 and Russia was a big buyer], there will be no- or less sugar and more Cognac england or America [the United States I presume] while for France it'll be made with an aromatic wine with low alcohol and moderate sweetness...
More pictures about the finishing of the bottles, it seems lots of women are employed in this part. The Champagne production employed lots of people at the time, it'd be interested to compare the employment/retail price ratio then and today, it's possible that more ordinary people profited from the trade then.
The bottles are put in wood boxes for shipping, with straw between the bottles to smooth the shipping vibrations and shocks.
This page shows the trucks (and what trucks ! that must have been the very first trucks made in France...) parked in front of the train station for shipping. On the right there seems to be also ox-drawn carts (this would be too heavy for horses it seems to me).
The corks are prepared to slide easily into the bottle necks, female workers putting some candle wax on them to facilitate the corking. Because of the high pressure the Champagne cork is made much wider than the bottle hole and putting it requires a powerful tool to compress it back to its destination's diameter.
Here we see the cleaning of the empty casks before their re-use, you can see on the left part of the central picture the multidirectional water shoot that allow to clean the indide of the barrel. It's not clear if they reuse the cask immediately or if they do a sulfur wick and then store it for a later use.
The writer tells us here that the lees are put aside and sold to négociants who will use them for lower-quality Champagne wines. It's not clear if the négociants will add water to these lees and have them referment in order to make cheap Champagne wines.
On the lower-right picture you can see the long stairwell going down to the cellar, but it's even more interesting to see all these workers posing all along its 116 steps, that's a lot of people indeed.