|“In this region, we are entirely too much taken with the idea that the Ardennes woods and the Meuse River will shield Sedan and we assign entirely too much significance to these natural obstacles. The defenses in this sector are rudimentary.”
Mention “Taittinger” and the mind’s eye invokes images of bubbles racing up crystal flutes. One can hear the cheerful pop of the cork being released and see glasses raise up to clink to the good wish “à ta santé!” To your health!
Before acquiring Forest-Fourneaux in 1931, Pierre Taittinger was a war hero and recipient of the Légion d’honneur. Prior to the war, he had run a successful champagne distribution and exporting company with his brother-in-law. But it wasn’t until he was injured as an officer in the Great War that he discovered a deep passion for Champagne, the region from which the tiny bubbles take their name. Transferred to the 18th-century Château de la Marquetterie, a major French command post south of Épernay, the young, convalescing Taittinger was so impressed by the elegance, beauty, and history of the building that he vowed to buy it if the opportunity ever arose.
As it were, by 1931, Forest-Fourneaux was on the brink of financial disaster. The venerable winery, founded in 1734 by a wealthy textile merchant, had been ravaged by World War I, the Great Depression, and Prohibition. Exports had ground to a halt, the final blow to France’s third oldest champagne house. Seizing the opportunity to fulfill his vow, the House of Taittinger was thus born.
Forest-Fourneaux was not alone in its misfortunes. More than any other country, the war had laid waste to France. More than 1.3 million Frenchmen were killed and another 4 million wounded. On a per capita basis, the losses were unmatched. But it was more than the loss of life – French industry had been devastated, its markets disrupted, and the country’s finances ruined. Before 1914, France had made loans to countries that were now bankrupt including Russia, which proved particularly costly. Combined with funding the war, the national debt proved so crushing that the franc had to be devaluated to such an extent, countless insurers, lenders and banks were wiped out.
The country splintered at its seams, losing its national identity. In the decade through June 1940, 23 cabinets were formed and fell. The leadership vacuum was compounded by decimated military morale with high officers openly conceding that France could never survive another war of such magnitude. Working conditions in the collapsing economy were so poor as to invite far Left movements. And wealth decimation left the upper echelons bitterly demanding new systems that inevitably leaned far Right. The vast majority was silenced, supporting neither extreme but so distraught by war and depression they were paralyzed. The one galvanizing force was pacificism.