We also include details of Sir Winston Churchill, the Greatest Englishman of the last Century, who bought his cigars from two of the stores on our walk (Alfred Dunhill and JJ Fox). But Sir Winston Churchill loved the good things in life and that included Pol Roger Champagne.
The Cuban Cigar Walk London passes Berry Brothers and Rudd in St James’s street, the oldest wine merchants in central London. The business was established in 1698 by the Widow Bourne and the store has changed very little since that time.
The shop front, which was built in the 1730s, is one of the few surviving 18th century shop fronts in London.
The stores wine cellars stretch beneath St. James’s Street and Pall Mall. In 1852 the cellars had to be shored up for the Duke of Wellington’s funeral due to the enormous weight of the funeral carriage.
In 1908 Sir Winston Churchill, at the time in the Cabinet as President of the Board of Trade, was a customer of Berry Brothers and records, including his earliest invoice show that at that time he was buying the 1895 Pol Roger vintage.
The Champagne House of Pol Roger was established in the Epernay in 1849. Today it is one of very few family-owned independent Champagne houses. It has “a respect for nature, a devotion to quality and a certain joie de vivre”.
Pol Roger owns 87 hectares of vineyards on prime sites in the Vallée d’Epernay and the CÃ´te des Blancs. Its cellars, extending to 7 km, lie on three levels in the chalk below the streets of Epernay and are among the deepest and coolest cellars in the region: contributing to the slow maturation and creation of fine, persistent bubbles which are the hallmark of all Pol Roger champagnes.
Sir Winston famously said “A single glass of champagne imparts a feeling of exhilaration. The nerves are braced, the imagination is agreeably stirred, the wits become more nimble.”
In 1944 his long friendship with Odette Pol Roger the grand dame of the famous champagne house began. Sir Winston first met her at the British Embassy in November 1944. Churchill became Pol Roger’s best, and certainly most influential, customer. Odette sent him a case of his favourite vintage (the 1928) for his birthday every year while stocks lasted.
Odette had a “merry smile, ebullient charm and love of parties, she had no trouble in fulfilling the task she set for herself – “to encourage people to enjoy champagne” – and she soon came to seem the sparkling embodiment of Pol Roger.” Reported the Daily Telegraph in her obituary.
When Sir Winston died in January 1965, as a tribute to their most loyal client, through whose cellar it is estimated more than 500 cases of Pol Roger had passed in the last ten years of his life, a black border was added to the labels of all bottles of ‘White Foil’ sold in the United Kingdom
My favourite story about Odette Pol Roger is taken from her obituary published in the Daily Telegraph in December 2000.
She spent summers at her chateau in Normandy on the Andelle, one of the best trout rivers in France, to which she often invited friends from Britain. There was little that could distract her from the chance of a fine catch. “The other night,” she told The Daily Telegraph in 1970, “I was in Paris, dining at the Embassy with Christopher Soames, and afterwards I got into my car and drove to Normandy.
“As the sun was coming up I was thinking of getting a bit of sleep when I looked down from my bedroom window and saw a huge trout in the stream which runs through the property. So I grabbed my rod and rushed down and caught him – still in my dinner gown. Well! Life must be enjoyed, no?”
I am a fly fisherman and after I read this article I made my way to Normandy and fished on the Andelle on a beat very close to the chateau and it is one of the most beautiful chalk streams in the world. For more details the Gourmet Fly Web site has full information and some wonderful pictures.
In 1984, The Pol Roger Cuvée Sir Winston Churchill was launched made from a secret blend, and only produced in exceptional years, is a Champagne of exquisite finesse and balance and one that rivals the very best of the region. The grapes are all from Grand Cru vineyards which were under vine during Churchill’s lifetime and it is only ever made in the very best vintages. It is made in a style which Churchill himself favoured: robust, mature and long-lived.
There are many great Churchill quotes and many associated with Champagne:
At the time of the first world war: “Remember gentlemen, it’s not just France we are fighting for, it’s Champagne! “
“In victory I deserve it, in defeat I need it.” (he borrowed this quote from Napoleon)
“I am easily satisfied with the best.”
“A single glass of champagne imparts a feeling of exhilaration. The nerves are braced, the imagination is agreeably stirred; the wits become more nimble. A bottle produces the contrary effect. Excess causes a comatose insensibility. So it is with war: and the quality of both is best discovered by sipping.”
“Meeting Franklin Roosevelt was like opening your first bottle of champagne; knowing him was like drinking it.”
* * *
Reprinted by permission. The original article can be found at Sound Advice – Nic’s Blog.
About the author
Nic Wing is the owner of CitiesinSound.com, producers of city audio walks. Audio guides are the best way for travelers to get to know a city. Whether you are new to a city or you think you know it well, before planning your next trip, visit CitiesinSound.com to get the inside track. To learn more about the “Cuban Cigar Walk – London,” click here.