Coming of age: Patrice Noyelle, Pol Roger

Created for the British market, Pol Roger’s links with the UK include its Pol Roger Portfolio agency business, 21 this year.

Although best known for its historic association with Sir Winston Churchill, Pol Roger also has strong connections with racquets, royals and, indeed, the Côte d’Or. The links concern the Champagne’s long-standing union with real tennis (discussed later), its royal warrant (first awarded in 1911) and president Patrice Noyelle’s dual position as director of Burgundy’s Domaine du Clos de Tart.

However, this year specifically, it is Pol Roger’s relationship with the UK trade that is worthy of particular mention. This is because 2011 marks 21 years since the Champagne house set up its own UK subsidiary, and 21 is, of course, when  one symbolically becomes an adult.

And for Pol Roger Portfolio, as the  British business is known, there is a strong sense that it has come of age. It now represents Chile’s Cousiño-Macul, France’s Josmeyer, Drouhin and Nicolas Perrin, Hungary’s Crown Estates, Italy’s Querciabella and, in spirits, Scotland’s Glenfarclas and Cognac’s Hine.

Furthermore, it has just opened a London-based office to complement its headquarters in Herefordshire, and managed to bring its share of non-Pol Roger business in the UK market to almost 40%, from 10% just ten years ago. It has also shed a few less profitable agencies, notably from Australia and New Zealand – a clear sign of a maturing operation.

But, even without this business, the UK is extremely important for Pol Roger – it is the label’s largest export market – as well as crucial to the Champagne’s image. As head of the house Noyelle states: “Pol Roger is so special in England because the brand was born in England.”

Noyelle, who joined the company from Mommessin 14 years ago, explains that although the operation was founded in 1849 as a négociant supplying wine for a range of labels in France and the UK, it was the British who convinced Pol Roger to bottle its Champagne under its own name and, by 1876, a newly-launched Pol Roger cuvée had its first UK agent in Reuss, Lauteren & Co, which later became Dent & Reuss.

Indeed, the label was only introduced to France because of UK demand: travelling Brits, particularly to Pau, were requesting Pol Roger in hotels and restaurants.

But the brand’s success more famously stems from what is the Champagne region’s most lasting piece of celebrity endorsement – Winston Churchill. His very public devotion to Pol Roger began in the early 1900s and continued throughout his life. He even insisted on carrying cases of the Champagne into war zones, declaring that “in defeat I need it, in victory I deserve it”.

The association was cemented in 1975, 10 years after Churchill’s death, with the launch of Cuvée Sir Winston Churchill, which was initially produced in magnums only. Prior to this, Pol Roger had already displayed its regard and affection for Churchill by adding a black border to the labels of its White Foil following his death in 1965, later lightened to a navy blue to reflect his position as a former First Lord of the Admiralty.

But to return to that symbolic number, 21, Pol Roger set up its own UK subsidiary in 1990 when cider’s HP Bulmer closed down Dent & Reuss. However, some continuity was maintained, as it was Dent & Reuss wine director Bill Gunn MW who established the new office.

Today, Noyelle understandably describes Britain as “a very dear market” and, portraying the brand as both “old-fashioned and modern”, talks of it in terms of its UK audience: “Pol Roger is, historically, the champagne of the British Establishment but is increasingly being discovered by a enthusiastic audience of new younger followers.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Subscribe to our newsletters