1904-1929 | Les Liquidatreuses
The Chartreuse "Liquidatreuses" of 1904-1929 (Fourvoirie / Voiron)
The 1904-1929 period takes place right after the Carthusian Fathers left the country, exiled by the secular Government of Émile Combes. Henry Lecouturier was charged with retrieving the monks' possessions, once the Law of Associations of 1901 came into effect. Before he could even start his inventory, the Grande Chartreuse Monastery was ransacked by looters. When they were done, not much was left for Lecouturier to find. He also soon realized that the Carthusians took all their tools and equipment with them before leaving. They set fire to the stocks of herbs and plants, too. The State was forced to reverse engineer the Chartreuse liqueur, using some bottles that were hidden away in the building.
The Cusenier family of liquorists was then hired to help and they were quite happy to snag their biggest competitors' brand. In October 1904, Lecouturier founded the "Entreprise des Grandes Marques Alimentaires" company. It was to donate 16% of its revenues to the French Government, with a guaranteed minimum yearly turnover of 800,000 Francs. Cusenier, famous for being the creator of the Grand Marnier and the Oxygénée absinthe, was put in charge of the Chartreuse production in Fourvoirie. For three years, France had thus been selling State Chartreuses, sarcastically nicknamed "Liquidatreuses" by the public, as a reference to the liquidation of the monks' assets.
Despite poor sales (less than 10% of what the Fathers used to sell), Lecouturier kept going. He created a limited company that he called "Compagnie Fermière de la Grande Chartreuse", in July 1905. Cusenier was one of the founding members, and the company bought the Chartreuse brand in June 1906, for next to nothing. The Compagnie Fermière moved its headquarters in Voiron, in the monks' former building (the Fourvoirie offices cost too much to rent), in 1911. Unfortunately for Lecouturier, the sales were still at an all time low. Two reasons: the company couldn't export its products (a court decision of 1908 recognized the Carthusians to be the owners of the Chartreuse brand outside of the French territory); and the original Chartreuse enthusiasts were extremely critical of what they considered to be a bad imitation.
When Élisée Cusenier died in 1928, the Compagnie Fermière was in jeopardy. It went under in 1929. Friends of the Carthusian Fathers took ownership of the company's remains and started to plan the return of the monks from Spain. The post-war financial crisis was now the main preoccupation of the French Government, which gave many religious orders an opportunity to come back home. In September 1929, the former Compagnie Fermière was renamed "Compagnie Française de la Grande Chartreuse" and the Fourvoirie distillery opened its doors once again.Read more