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One of the best-known Champagne Houses, Laurent-Perrier claims various “firsts”: one of the first Champagne Houses to use stainless steel tanks; the introduction of the first ever prestige cuvee made from a blend of exceptional years, and in 1981 Laurent-Perrier becomes the first House to reintroduce the concept of brut nature (no added dosage) Champagne.
The history of Laurent-Perrier begins with a man called Alphonse Pierlot, a cooper (barrel maker) who uprooted himself from his ancestral village of Chigny-les-Roses, and moved 20 kilometres south to Tours-sur-Marne, where he began producing champagne from the ruins of an 11th century abbey.
In 1881, Pierlot’s cellar master (and third generation grower), Eugene Laurent, took over the House when the childless founder of the champagne production plant decided to pass over the company to him and his wife.
Eugene Laurent and his wife, Mathilde-Emilie Perrier, ran the company together for a few years, but when Eugene Laurent died in 1887, his wife took control of the estate, and fused together their two names, creating the brand Laurent-Perrier. With Mathilde-Emilie at the helm, the champagne business flourished, and in 1914 produced a record-breaking 50,000 cases of champagne.
When Mathilde-Emilie died, the business was passed on to the couple’s daughter, Euginie Hortense Laurent. She inherited the company in 1925, which was a difficult time for even the most established manager. With Laurent-Perrier still recovering from the effects of WWI, and with WWII looming on the horizon, Euginie Hortense sold the company to Madame Marie Louise Lanson de Nonancourt (the sister of Victor and Henri Lanson who ran the family’s own champagne firm – Lanson).
Nonancourt poured her life savings into Laurent-Perrier, which was on the verge of going under – in fact, there were only 1,000 mortgaged cases at the time of purchase. She guided the company through the Second World War – even hiding her 100,000 bottles behind a wall at one point. While Nonancourt did an admirable job of keeping the company afloat, it wasn’t until the years afterwards the war that the brand really took off.
Nonancourt had groomed her elder son to run the company, but he was taken prisoner and died in the concentration camp of Oranienbourg. Nonancourt’s other son, Bernard, took over instead. When he became manager, Laurent-Perrier was 98th among the producers of Champagne, but by the turn of the century, it was one of the top houses.
Part of Bernard’s success was down to his philosophy, inspired by his mother, whose mantra was: ‘You will never be a good director without first being a good worker.’ Bernard acquired new export markets, such as West Africa, while he also specialized in coteaux champenois back home, producing more still white wine than anybody else in Champagne.