The headquarter of the winery is located in the city of Épernay, Champagne country, in northern France. It's a substantial, historical complex along the Avenue de Champagne, called “the most expensive street in the world” as it houses about 200M bottles of expensive bubbly on three cellar levels underneath its surface. The main building prominently displays the statue of Dom Pérignon - a Benedictine monk who pioneered many techniques of wine making. The art of making it is very manual to this day, and, after almost 300 years of tradition, impossible to re-create anywhere else.
A guided tour of the cellars with champagne tasting at the end, and later a visit to the store, is a great way to spend Saturday afternoon. In this environment dropping a small fortune on a bottle of Dom’s finest seems like the right thing to do.
Not far from Épernay, on the same afternoon, under grey clouds and persistent drizzle, president Macron and Chancellor Merkel laid a wreath at a solemn ceremony at Compiègne as they marked the centenary of the armistice signing, which ended the Great War. In a bizarre turn of events president Macron chose this anniversary for advocating the idea of European army, claiming that NATO, for which he refuses to pay his fair share, doesn’t provide enough protection. The idea of pan-European army makes a lot of sense for Germany, and also for the EU, as it provides Brussels with more than just warnings and penalties in disciplining its members. The legal provisions for it already exist in the Lisbon Treaty, so there is more to this initiative that the young Emmanuel is willing to reveal.
It is impossible to understand European politics without realizing that the order on the continent is re-negotiated with some frequency. And as much as the Treaty of Versailles at the end of the First World War was a disastrous settlement that laid foundation for the 2nd, more bloody, war in a short time, the one before it was really good. The order negotiated at the Congress of Vienna in 1815 lasted 100 years and provided Europe with the longest period of prosperity and growth. The Congress was called by all the kings of Europe to establish long term piece plan after the Napoleonic wars, which were a product of French Revolution. What ended the arrangement, were the nationalists and liberal movements tearing Europe apart in late 19th century.
The order negotiated at the Yalta Conference at the beginning of 1945, had also more staying power than the Treaty of Versailles. It lasted 40 years until mid-1980’s, when the European countries in Russian’s sphere of influence were becoming unstable.
It was then, when the Russians suggested something extraordinary.
During a 1985 meeting in Geneva, Mikhail Gorbachev offered Ronald Reagan a proposition of a new order in Europe, which was accepted by the Americans. The proof of it were annual meetings held from 1986 to 1989, while the new deal was taking shape.
What happened next has no precedence in European history – the Russians agreed for the re-unification of Germany and removal of their army bases from Eastern European satellite countries in exchange for the guarantee that NATO will not be extended to the East. A silly promise, not taken seriously by any side of the negotiations, I am pretty sure.
So, there was likely more to it, like it is to Emmanuel Macron latest idea.
It appears that the Russians just changed their form of presence in Eastern Europe after 1989, from vertical to horizontal, so to speak. Instead of army bases they exerted their influence in the economical (and by extension political) life of the former satellite countries. It was a brilliant move by master chess players. One could say that their absence there is a higher form of presence.
Going back in time and checking into Château de Saulon in Burgundy last Friday night, the concierge asked me about plans for the weekend.
“I have a business to do with Dom Pérignon,” I said, “and it will be mutually beneficial.”
Tom Kubiak is the author of The Traveler