For more than 10 centuries, the magnificent Argonne forest, situated
60 kms. to the east of Reims, provided the wood for champagne barrels.
This stretch of land, 40 kms. long and 10 kms. wide, is without parallel
in the world. The soil, a type of siliceous sandstone, is naturally
heat-resistant and was used in iron foundries and glassworks from
time immemorial. The oaks are remarkably deep-rooted. I fell in love
with them at first sight.
Retracing the ancient traditions, I ordered the construction of
a number of barrels made from Argonne oak wood and subsequently
a number of very successful wines. I became very attached to this
region where I made several remarkable discoveries.
The first was the Giraud oak, one of the three most ancient trees
in the forest (named after the Napoleonic curator who first identified
The second discovery was Dom Perignon.
The legend of champagne has its origins in St. Menehould, situated
in the heart
of the Argonne forest, approximately 5kms. from the Giraud oak. In
1670, the tree was just a sapling when the famous monk was appointed
chief cellarer of the Aÿ-Hautvillers abbey.
The hills of the Argonne region form part of the natural defences
of eastern France. During the First World War, my grandfather,
Léon Giraud, a curassier
who fought in the battle of the Marne, defended the Vauquois hillside, 5 kms.
east of the Giraud oak. On his return from the battle front, his company sought
refuge in a barn owned by the Hémart family, where they were able to recuperate.
After demobilization, he married one of the daughters!
So, by a strange quirk of fate, the
Giraud oak, the history of
champagne and my family tree became curiously intermingled.