In 2019, the Caves St Martin wine estate is celebrating its centenary. A perfect opportunity to get out old photographs which can tell a story that has become somewhat forgotten, but which is nonetheless unusual.
Since its foundation, Caves St Martin has always been one of Luxembourg’s most popular tourist destinations. This is partly to do with its exceptional location – downstream from Remich and facing the Moselle – and also partly due to the vision of the men who founded it: Eugène Koch, Jean Faber, Eugène Knepper, J.-P. Hartmann, Pierre Wurth, Jean Beissel and Mathias Ley.
Their vision resulted in several hundred metres of underground galleries being dug out, hewn out of a huge limestone rock where the temperature remains constant at 12 degrees, both in summer and winter. Quite a challenge at the time – this enormous undertaking was only finished in 1921.
Although many archives went missing as a result of the Second World War, the Gales family, which currently owns the estate and is heavily involved in winemaking in the Moselle, has worked tirelessly searching everywhere for clues of this glorious past and has finally succeeded in tracking down many documents. Photographs printed on postcards, snapshots taken by private individuals, posters, guidebooks and so on. “Most of what we have found comes from Belgium”, explains Isabelle Gales. “Since most of the visitors came from Belgium, and today these mementoes have become collectors’ items.”
These documents are extraordinary because they tell us about the huge success of one of Luxembourg’s main attractions. They all date from the period between the two wars, when stopping off at Caves St Martin was more or less obligatory for tourists out enjoying themselves in the Grand Duchy. This was a period when travelling for pleasure was becoming ever more common as leisure opportunities opened up to new social classes. To mark its centennial celebrations, this top tourist attraction wants to revive this passionate and rather eccentric approach. So step aboard now!
“This picture dates back to the 1920s, shortly after the cellars were opened in 1921. Already, the words Caves Saint-Martin are marked out in large letters high above on the cliff, showing how the idea of attracting tourists was there right from the outset. The idea of promoting the cellar’s wines was also a forerunner. This was done by offering guided tours of the underground galleries, and then, having followed the various stages in making St Martin sparkling wines, visitors would sample the estate’s wines in the tasting pavilion (centre of the photo). Although the pavilion is in a different location nowadays, the tours follow the exact same pattern and finish off in the tasting cellar.”
“After the First World War, new outlets had to be found for Luxembourg’s wine and sparkling wine since the end of the First World War also spelt the end of the customs union (Zollverein) with Germany: during this period Luxembourg wine had been exported in barrels to the German market where it was turned – very successfully – into ‘Sekt‘ (sparkling wine). From 1921 onwards, Caves St Martin took the gamble and started bottling their wine themselves, concentrating on Belgium and making it their main export market. Thanks to extensive advertising, up to 90% of visitors were Belgians, which ensured a successful future for the Caves. What’s more, a great many ministers and well-known figures paid a visit. In the 1930s, even Miss Paris was seen here!”
“This is the souvenir picture… still taken today, even if the giant bottles have been replaced! Right from the beginning, this space called the studio, where a large bottle was displayed on a podium, was set aside for taking photos. Such emphasis on tourism was way ahead of the times. We have lots of photos of this place with visitors – everyone simply had to come and be photographed here! What’s more, visitors were very well looked after. Good customers would be given albums with ten postcards as a gift and every ten thousandth visitor would be presented with a free case of Château de Dreiborn, the estate’s flagship wine… There could be up to 100,000 visitors in the busiest years, which is quite a remarkable number!”
“As in Champagne, here we can see riddling racks on which bottles of sparkling wine were twisted and tilted (remuage) as well as the disgorging area, where second fermentation deposits were removed before the expedition liqueur was added. The ‘Champagne method’ was often referred to in advertising brochures since this was obviously the model to which to lay claim. It was systematically emphasized in order to explain that Saint-Martin sparkling wines were the fruit of much labour, based on a prestigious method. There was no hesitation about making direct references to Dom Pérignon! All the production stages took place in the underground galleries and visitors were able to observe them close up.”