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“The champagne will be Pommery; the gowns and perfume by Lanvin-Castillo”: My first experience with old Champagne

I can now count the number of times I have tasted truly old Champagne on three fingers.  The last two experiences, courtesy of Mannie Berk, proved engaging but the first was dreadful.  That I saved the first bottle for all of these years is due to the scarcity of old Champagne in Washington, DC.  Though the wine was bad it turns out that this bottle bears a story which deserves to be told.

Nearly a decade ago, I found myself at Schneider’s wine store between the Capitol and Union Station.  I was at the store killing some time before my friend William arrived on the train.  I spied a bottle of old Champagne on the clearance shelf as I was checking out.  Old Champagne seemed worthy for starting our weekend gathering so I promptly grabbed it.   I felt that the low price was both indicative and worthy of the gamble.  It was of no surprise then that the bottle had been badly stored and I could not even recommend that William or Jenn take a sniff.

I had to some degree forgotten about the bottle until this past weekend when Mannie opened a similarly old bottle of Pommery & Greno Drapeau Americain Sec.  Memories of my old bottle came flooding back; the color of the foil, the color of the label, and that my bottle with the date of 1956 lay packed in a box somewhere.


I found the box up in the attic.  The bottle did not just bear the year of 1956 but a very specific 19 Avril 1956.  This is the wedding date of Prince Rainier III of Monaco and Grace Kelly.  Above this date appear the worn profile of the engaged couple.


At the time of the wedding, Pommery was owned by the de Polignac family.  It was the Prince’s uncle Prince Guy de Polignac who was running Pommery.  Prince Guy de Polignac did not simply send over regular bottles of Pommery Champagne he sent over a commemorative royal wedding cuvee.

This royal cuvee was intended for the wedding reception and lunch.  Each bottle bore a gold seal showing the Rainier-Kelly profile along with the wedding date of April 19, 1956.  The bottles and magnums of this cuvee were sent over to Monte Carlo on Tuesday, April 10, 1956, just two days before Grace Kelly arrived.[1]  The Champagne itself was from the 1949 vintage.[2]  While these details are corroborated by multiple accounts, the quantities produced are unknown and reports on the number of bottles sent to the wedding vary.  Most likely only 50 magnums and 500 to 840 bottles were sent for the wedding.[3]


This raises the question as to why my bottle of Pommery & Greno, Champagne Brut, Prince Rainier and Grace Kelly wedding cuvee 15 April 1956 made it to America.  This particular bottle bears a torn tax stamp on the front and on the back, the import strip of Munson G. Shaw Co., a large New York based importing firm.  This suggests that the bottle was not spirited away from the actual wedding reception.  In addition, the photograph of the official release of the Champagne contains a bottle with a label that does not bear the mundane details of volume and alcohol content.

Perhaps due to Grace Kelly’s immense popularity, extra bottles were sent to America.  Grace Kelly was an American actress who won both a Golden Globe and Academy Award nomination in 1954, just two years prior to her wedding.  Already in the limelight due to her movie career, Grace Kelly’s marriage to Prince Rainier III ensured that she remained the focus of national newspaper coverage throughout her life.  These bottles then, allowed her fans to share in her fairytale wedding.

[0] Famed In-Laws to Welcome Grace. Date: Monday, March 5, 1956 Paper: Boston American (Boston, Massachusetts) Page: 7
[1] Generous Gift, All in Family. Date: Wednesday, April 11, 1956   Paper: Oregonian (Portland, Oregon)   Page: 1.  See also The Lyons Den. Date: Friday, April 13, 1956 Paper: Advocate (Baton Rouge, Louisiana) Page: 4
[2] As stated in Thierry de Maigret, Maitres Francois Issaly et Julien Pichon,  and other auction catalogs.
[3] One article states that 12,000 bottles were sent over then contradicts with the subsequence statement that 70 cases and 50 magnums were sent.  Date: Friday, April 13, 1956   Paper: Advocate (Baton Rouge, Louisiana)   Page: 4

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