A bottle of Pol Roger 1914 – Winston Churchill’s favourite vintage of his favourite wine – which has lain undisturbed in the cellars of the champagne house for 100 years, was sold at auction house Bonhams’ Fine Wine Sale in London on 24 October for £5,640.
The proceeds will be donated to the Imperial War Museum to support the refurbishment of its First World War Galleries.
Pol Roger 1914 is regarded as one of the finest vintages of the 20th century, but the grape harvest that year nearly didn’t take place. The German offensive at the beginning of the war came through Épernay where the Pol Roger vineyards are sited.
On the evening of 4 September the commander of the French forces, General Joseph Joffre, issued the order: ‘The hour has come to advance whatever the cost and to die where we stand rather than retreat.’
The subsequent battle of the Marne established the front line about 10 miles north of Épernay. The adversaries dug in for the years of trench warfare and the grape harvest was saved.
Saving the harvest
All able bodied men in France under the age of 45 had been called up so the harvesting of the grapes was done by women, children and men who were too old or unfit to fight. There was no guarantee the Germans would not return and the harvesting was accompanied by the sound of constant gunfire in the distance.
In the words of Pol Roger’s head winemaker at the time, the wine was, ‘harvested to the sound of gunfire but [would] be drunk to the sound of trumpets.’
Some of the grapes were picked earlier than usual because the champagne house feared the Germans would renew their offensive. This made the wine acid to the taste when young, but as it matured the flavour blossomed and the initial acidity contributed to its unusual longevity.
Bonhams’ Head of Wine, Richard Harvey MW said: ‘I’m delighted that this very special wine made such a good price and that the proceeds are going to benefit such a worthwhile cause.’