Finest Hour 163, Summer 2014
Raymond Campbell is a local artist based in Sussex. In 2009, through Royall Fine Art, I commissioned him to do a “Pol Roger” painting for the David Cameron-Margaret Thatcher awards dinner in London. We were most grateful to Pol Roger for donating the champagne that evening, as they have for so many Churchill Centre functions over the years.
Pol Roger was established in Epernay, south of Reims, by Jacques Pol-Roger (the family name is hyphenated) in 1849. It was one of a score of grand marques which together fixed levels of quality for champagne that still prevail. Churchill often recalled the words of Napoleon: “I could not live without champagne. In victory I deserve it, in defeat I need it.”
Churchill had been a Pol Roger customer since 1908, but his friendship with the family began in 1944, when he was introduced to me. Odette Pol-Roger by British Ambassador Alfred Duff Cooper in Paris. The grande dame of Pol Roger Champagne, Odette encapsulated Churchill’s romantic vision of France; he was as captivated by her elegance and beauty as by the champagne served that day: Pol Roger’s full-blooded ’28. He left instructions that every time he returned to Paris, Odette Pol-Roger was to be invited to dinner.
In 1953 Churchill sent Odette a copy of Triumph and Tragedy inscribed, “Cuvée de Reserve / Mis en bouteille au chateau Chartwell.” He proclaimed Pol Roger’s headquarters, 44 Avenue de Champagne, “the world’s most drinkable address,” proposing to visit and “press the grapes with my feet.” It was a vivid image, but he never got there. He did, however, name his favourite filly “Pol Roger.” On the day of the Queen’s coronation the horse won the Black Prince Stakes.
When Churchill died, Odette Pol-Roger was invited to attend his state funeral at St.Paul’s Cathedral. Afterwards, Pol Roger began to border all labels destined for the British market in black; only recently have her nephews declared an end to the period of mourning and for a few years switched to navy blue to mark his naval connections.
In 1984 Pol Roger launched a prestige cuvée, in tribute to its illustrious devotee. The Sir Winston Churchill Cuvée is composed of the best grapes, from Pol Roger’s best vineyards in the finest vintage years declared by the House. The friendship between the Churchill and Pol Roger families endures to this day.
Adapted from the Daily Telegraph, 30 December 2000 and FH 109