Domaine Pommery, a life’s work

‘I wanted this estate to read like an open book, telling the story of the changing world around it and the passage of time. Leave your mark here as I left my eternal trace. May it be worthy of respect for this champagne that is now our shared soul, one that bears—now and forever—the memory of our art’. Madame Pommery

In July 1868, Madame Pommery launched what would be the largest construction project of the century in Reims, the transformation of chalk quarries into wine cellars. French and Belgian miners dug 18 kilometres of interconnected galleries formed of barrel vaults and rib vaults. It is a giant subterranean town. Working by candlelight, Navlet adorned the plazas, formed by ancient wells, with immense bas-relief sculptures, going blind in the process.

The bas-relief artwork accentuates the surreal beauty of these grandiose galleries, which are cast in permanent twilight. A splendid monumental staircase with 116 steps is the sole connection between this underground world and the one outside. 

 
 

A feat of urban planning

Today, the estate measures 50 hectares, which is the equivalent of the Louvre, the Tuileries, and the Place de la Concorde combined. The buildings and landscaped gardens are just as fascinating to tourists as they are to art and architecture historians. Their layout is at once rational, obeying the dictates of operational efficiency, and aesthetic, integrated with the urban landscape. Where elsewhere the rational is at war with the aesthetic, here the two modes are complementary.  English society set the tone for the entire world.

The Elizabethan neo-Gothic style was very popular in Reims, with its turrets, crenellations, and donjon towers and red brick ties covered with a blue-grey façade. However, the avant-garde spirit was still prominent. Built on an H-shaped open plan, the buildings were arranged contrary to Champagne’s architectural tradition, according to which houses should face inward onto themselves, like 18th-century French mansions. There was however a concrete reason for the open plan: it made future expansion easier. It is also characteristic of a certain philosophy of breaking down barriers, inviting people in, opening up to the outside world, and opening up the world. 

 
   
 

The underground world of Pommery

Madame Pommery also started the tradition of naming the cellar galleries after major world cities once her champagne reached their markets. Visitors enter through the Carnot cellar, the company’s central building topped with its imposing donjon tower, which stands right on top of the grand staircase. The inside and the outside worlds were built almost at the same time.
The first cellars were already in use when the Franco-Prussian War broke out in 1870. Large-scale works were inaugurated in 1878. The gardens were designed starting in 1880.

 

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