Henri Giraud History
Contemporaries of Henri IV and his descendants, the Hémart family settled permanently in Aÿ at the beginning of the 17th century. Their history took root there and became closely interwoven with the momentous historical events relating to champagne from the 18th century onwards.
At the opening of the 20th century, Léon Giraud, cuirassier in the battle of the Marne, married a Miss Hémart.
He reconstructed the magnificent family vineyard, which had been ravaged by phylloxera.
To achieve this, he used the latest techniques : the grafting of vines (vitis vinifera) on the cuttings taken from certain American vines.
Today, the 12th generation of the Giraud-Hémart family, in the person of Claude Giraud, is in charge of the fortunes of the family business.
The Champagne Henri Giraud Vineyards
Each vineyard is located on the Ordnance Survey map with a memory store containing details of the developments in soil analysis and improvement, crop-spraying, the annual cycle of work and the harvest. All relevant information has been recorded in detail, right up to your bottle of champagne and includes the HACCP* food safety analysis.
The Giraud Oak Tree
The Argonne Forest – 350 years old – 35 metres high – 5.30 metres in circumference – listed by the Forestry Commission
For more than 10 centuries, the magnificent Argonne forest, situated 60 kms. to the east of Reims, provided the wood for champagne barrels. This stretch of land, 40 kms. long and 10 kms. wide, is without parallel in the world. The soil, a type of siliceous sandstone, is naturally heat-resistant and was used in iron foundries and glassworks from time immemorial. The oaks are remarkably deep-rooted. I fell in love with them at first sight.
Retracing the ancient traditions, I ordered the construction of a number of barrels made from Argonne oak wood and subsequently produced a number of very successful wines. I became very attached to this region where I made several remarkable discoveries.
The first was the Giraud oak, one of the three most ancient trees in the forest (named after the Napoleonic curator who first identified the tree).
The second discovery was Dom Perignon. The legend of champagne has its origins in St. Menehould, situated in the heart of the Argonne forest, approximately 5kms. from the Giraud oak. In 1670, the tree was just a sapling when the famous monk was appointed chief cellarer of the Aÿ-Hautvillers abbey.
The hills of the Argonne region form part of the natural defences of eastern France. During the First World War, my grandfather, Léon Giraud, a curassier who fought in the battle of the Marne, defended the Vauquois hillside, 5 kms. east of the Giraud oak. On his return from the battle front, his company sought refuge in a barn owned by the Hémart family, where they were able to recuperate. After demobilization, he married one of the daughters!
So, by a strange quirk of fate, the Giraud oak, the history of champagne and my family tree became curiously intermingled.