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1878-1903

Pleasure Wine: 1878-1903 Chartreuses

 

The Chartreuse of 1878-1903 (Fourvoirie)

 

The Meunier family became extremely famous in 1888-1889. Of course, they were authorized to use the "Chartreuse" name since 1842, but they were now credited by the press as the actual inventors of the Chartreuse. Technically, they owned the original recipe of the green liqueur and they were allowed to mention the brand's name, but the whole situation was turning into a real problem for the monks. Not only that, but Henri Meunier (the grandson of Charles Meunier, who received the recipe from the hands of Dom Emmanuel Antoine Nivière, as a reward for helping the order during the Reign of Terror in France) was now successfully exporting the Chartreuse to the United-Kingdom.

Thus, in 1894, the Carthusian Fathers organized to buy back their brand and get exclusive right to it. Meanwhile, Henri Meunier did everything he could to create confusion among his customers: he changed the shape of his bottles, added the "Chartreuse" name to labels that looked a lot like the original ones, chose the same corks and wax…Dom Grézier fought back, of course, and sort of won: the judges decided that the Meunier family was not guilty of counterfeiting, since it legally owned the original recipe, although it was condemned for aping the monks' product. To make sure the matter was settled, the Fathers offered 150,000 Francs to the Meuniers if they promised they would never use the Chartreuse brand again, nor mention the original recipe given to Charles Meunier. They accepted and, in 1897, the Carthusian order became the sole owner of the Chartreuse brand.

It was a huge victory for Dom Grézier and the brothers, but bad times were coming. The Law of Associations, separating the State from the Church, was passed in 1901. Its article 18 stipulates that any unauthorized religious order would have its properties confiscated. The politicians and industrialists of the time used the law as the perfect excuse to get their hands on the Chartreuse business, which was earning the monks millions of Francs every year back then. As they felt things were getting dangerous for them, the Carthusian brothers planned their retreat to Spain, where they just opened an Union Agricola (a liqueur operating company).

The worst that could happen happened: in June 1902, Émile Combes was elected Prime Minister of France and, as soon as December, he started to remove any trace of Catholicism from the country. The Carthusian monks (who were giving almost every cent they earned selling liqueur to build roads, schools, hospitals and other public facilities) were now accused of promoting alcoholism and taking advantage of poor people. The elected official worked with André Pascal, a disgruntled doctor formerly employed by the Fathers, who later wrote a pamphlet against them. In spite of his efforts, Dom Michel Baglin (who was the head Father at the time) couldn't make the State budge. The temptation of seizing the monks' riches and the secrets of the Chartreuse liqueur was simply too great.

In March 1903, Parliament passed the law. The Carthusians would be evicted and all their belongings taken by the Government. Dom Valéry Rey, the former attorney of the Grande Chartreuse Monastery, declared that the Fathers would never give up their brand. Still, the liquidation of the monastery began in April 1903, supervised by Henry Lecouturier. The latter was in charge of inventorying everything the Fathers owned and selling the goods in the name of the State. Ousted by the police, who were clearly reluctant to do the deed, the monks left the country by boat and sailed for Italy and Spain. Before leaving, they made sure to take all their tools and equipment with them, as well as burn every stock of plants they could find. Lecouturier ended up with nothing but ashes.

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