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Pol Roger launches 2018 vintage at lavish 175th birthday bash

Pol Roger launched its 2018 vintage in London last week at a lavish dinner at private members’ club Oswald’s, where the Champagne house celebrated its 175th birthday.

The event, held on Tuesday 5 March, saw 95 members of the UK wine trade dine on oysters, caviar and fillet steak – see menu pictured below – as well as imbibe an incredible selection of Pol Roger Champagnes, starting with the latest release from the house: the 2018.

Introducing the event, James Simpson MW, who is managing director at the Champagne maison’s UK subsidiary, Pol Roger Portfolio, stressed that the gathering had been held to mark three major aspects to 2024.

The first was Pol Roger’s 175th Birthday – with the first recorded sale of wine by M. Pol Roger taking place on the 2 January 1849, although, as Simpson joked, celebrating the milestone anniversary on exactly the same date might not have been as popular.

The second was the launch of the Pol Roger 2018, which he said was the fifth in line of great ‘8 vintages since 1900, with the latest release following the legendary Champagne harvests of 1928, ‘88, ’98, and 2008 – two of which were later served at the dinner, both from large formats.

As for the third, that is the 150th Birthday of Sir Winston Churchill – with the great British statesman, who had such close ties with Pol Roger, being born in 1874.

Indeed, Simpson told the assembled mix of sommeliers, fine wine buyers and press that Churchill’s affection for the Champagne and its owning-family stemmed from a lunch in the British Embassy in Paris on 12 November 1945 – shortly after the Conservatives were voted out of office – where Churchill met Odette Pol Roger, and at which Pol Roger 1928 was served.

Simpson also pointed out to the guests why it was that the Champagne house had chosen to mark the occasion at Oswald’s, having taken over the entire club for the evening.

He said, “There is a strong link between the Churchill Family and Sir Oswald Birley; after whom the club is named – and who is the grandfather of Robin Birley.”

Continuing, he explained, “Birley painted Churchill a total of five times; the last – competed in December 1951 – being a painting of Churchill at the age of 77 in his siren suit.”

Simpson also recorded that the painting was the favourite of Mary Soames – the youngest and last surviving child of Winston and Clementine Churchill – who had the picture placed behind her armchair in her house in Holland Park until her death in 2014.

Simpson said that Mary had accompanied her father on that trip to Paris, and had then became great friends with Christian Pol Roger and Christian de Billy and, after Churchill’s death in 1965, approved the release of the first Pol Roger Cuvée Sir Winston Churchill in 1984.

Also representing Pol Roger at the dinner was Hubert de Billy, from the fifth generation of the Pol Roger family, as well as Laurent d’Harcourt, MD of Pol Roger in France, “and the man responsible for the great building works in Epernay, which have not only brought Pol Roger entirely up to date but have prepared them for the next 25 years”, according to Simpson.

Simpson also introduced Martin Heidsieck – a member of the sixth generation of the Pol Roger family and Hubert’s nephew – who is now working with Pol Roger in the UK.

Laurent d’Harcourt, who also spoke at the event, stressed that London was the first place that the Champagne house had chosen to mark its 175th anniversary, while noting that the 2018 vintage was the fifth in the history of Champagne-making when the harvest had started in August, while recording that the picking period was unusually drawn-out – lasting four weeks, it was in sharp contrast to the most recent year, 2023, when the grapes had to be rushed-in over 10 days.

Along with the 2018 vintage that was served during the event, d’Harcourt said that the 2008 Pol Roger, which was poured from magnums, came from Simpson’s cellar, although the other Champagne served that night – Jeroboams of 1988 Pol Roger – had come directly from Epernay.

Looking ahead, d’Harcourt said that this summer will see the unveiling of a ‘vinotèque’ of Pol Roger Cuvée Sir Winston Churchill from the ’98 and ’99 vintages, which will feature the original release’s black label.

Meanwhile, Hubert de Billy praised the development of Pol Roger’s UK office, telling the guests that it had been started with just three people in 1990, but had grown to 21 employees today, including the aforementioned Pol Roger family member – Martin Heidsieck.

Concluding, de Billy said that while he and the team from Pol Roger were “very pleased to celebrate our 175 birthday”, he added that the Champagne house was “preparing for its 200th”.

Indeed, as you can read about here, Champagne Pol Roger has invested almost €50 million in a state-of-the-art facility at its headquarters in Epernay, which follows a considerable revamp in the winery, which took place in 2008.

Pol ’88 from Jeroboam, captured by Christopher Lockhart (@christoel), who is a sales manager at Hallgarten

About the Pol Roger Brut Vintage 2018

Pol Roger notes:

“For only the fifth time since the turn of the 20th century, climatic conditions have proved providential enough for Pol Roger to release a vintage from the eighth year of a decade. Whether coincidence or not, these vintages have all followed disappointing harvests the previous year, and have all been characterised individually as “muscular, generous, firm, rich, powerful and demonstrative”. 

“While 2008 is still considered as one of finest in Pol Roger’s 175 year history, it is surely the 1928 vintage that will draw the greatest comparison, in this 150th year since Sir Winston Churchill’s birth. It is widely known that the robust Pol Roger 1928 vintage was a firm favourite of Sir Winston Churchill, who continued to enjoy this wine, until supplies ran out in 1953. 

“Pol Roger Brut Vintage 2018 benefitted from wonderful summer conditions of long, warm sunshine-filled days, leading to an early harvest on 20 August. The harvest yielded a plentiful crop (much like in 1928) in immaculate condition, with just over 10% potential alcohol and abundant aromatic levels.

“While acidity levels are lower than those in 2008, Pol Roger’s careful treatment of the must (with one cool settling in the press house and a further settling at 4c in the Pol Roger cellars), coupled with entirely temperature controlled stainless steel fermentation, mean the wine gives a wonderful impression of tautness and freshness to underpin the undoubted power of the vintage. The dosage has been reduced further to 7g/L in order to show off the expressive aromatics and to further balance the weight on the palate.

“Sir Winston Churchill loved the robust and mature wines of Pol Roger, and whilst the cépage has changed with the times (to include a higher proportion of Chardonnay), the structure, power and longevity of Pol Roger vintages remain. The House remains dedicated to vintage wines that will stand the test of time, and we are quite sure the Brut Vintage 2018 is a wine that could be enjoyed at Pol Roger’s 200th Anniversary in 2049.”

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